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Gilets Jaunes movement is going viral

Gilets Jaunes movement is going viral

Les gilets Jaunes «Yellow Vest», in France, is a social militia movement that has become viral. It appeared in October 2018 and unifies more than 280000 people protesting in the streets with high visibility vests, in different French cities. Until now, they protested in 9 acts, organised through Facebook. The French people are complaining about the rise in the prices and the situation of the middle class in general. The «Gilets Jaunes», demand a change of the tax policy and they want President Macron to step down. It started with a small online petition and some street actions, and it became a big movement, creating troubles and worries for the French government. How this social movement has gone international and how has it been spread through and out of Europe?

The Gilets Jaunes movement is born in social media, especially on Facebook. Facebook was, in this case, a good tool to unify people. In France, 22 Million persons use it daily and have access to each event created by and for the movement. It started online, developed in the streets and on the traffic circles, and still continues to influence people through online social networks.

It took cultural importance: even the stars and influencers are using the symbol of the yellow vest to make a buzz on the internet and social media. This high visibility vest became a symbol of resistance and unification for the French people: it is accessible to every social class, it always has the same color and it is identifiable. These events gave a new signification to the yellow color: now, at least in France, it represents dissatisfactions & riots in some cases. 

In France, the two rappers Bigflo et Oli, posted the cover of their new album on Instagram, as a parody. The original cover shows the two brothers with their parents, as they were children. For the parody, the same picture appears, with everyone wearing a yellow vest. They changed the name from «Une vie de rêve» to «Une vie de grève», («a dream life» to «a striking life»). Born in a middle-class family, the two siblings’ rappers show their interest and support for the cause.

Art can find its place in the movement. The graffiti artist Pascal Boyard realized a fresco on a wall in Paris, inspired by the famous painting «La Liberté Guidant le Peuple» by Gilles Delacroix, «The liberty leading the people». The same characters as the original ones, with the only difference that they wear the yellow vest, the new symbol of people unity.


Another noticeable online buzz was from Bella Hadid, the American model always at the top of the fashion. She seems to have been influenced by the movement on January 9th, 2019. In fact, she appeared, dressed with a big white shirt, and a yellow jacket designed by Louis Vuitton. The model did not give any explanation about this outfit but with the context, it feels like she gives her support to the French protesters and that she spreads the yellow vest fashion on the other side of the ocean. With all these yellow vests actions, the price of those has increased by 22% in Amazon.

These revolts not only had an impact on cultural and symbolic aspects. It has been spread throughout Europe and even outside of the European borders and seems to be an inspiration for the militants’ practices around the globe. On a close scale, the movement has inspired Belgium and Germany. The Belgian people are rioting against the price increase. The protestors aimed to block the fuel depots and gas stations. Like in France, the main demand is to make petrol more accessible to everyone. In Belgium, the protests turned to clashes and 60 persons were interpellated by the police.

In Germany, the extreme right organizations have taken the idea of demonstrating with yellow vests to ask the chancellor Angela Merkel for stepping down. In Bulgaria and Netherlands, new protestations occurred. Fighting for more or less the same as the French people, some Bulgarian use mass mobilization in front of the Parliament to protest against the expensive cost of living in general. They call this «Occupation» and also ask for the government’s demission. As Bulgaria is much poorer than France, prices are much more outrageous: one person spends on average 21% of his or her salary for one-gallon fuel. The goal of this mobilization is to block main roads and border checkpoints between Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece to make the government realise how expensive it is to have a car and to live. 

In Serbia, even the deputy Bosko Obradovic brought a yellow vest to the Assembly, as a symbol of protestation against the too expensive fuel in the country. He explains that the situation is threatening and that Serbia will have yellow vests protestors in the streets very soon if the prices don’t decrease. Out of Europe now, the inhabitants of the city of Bassora, in Iraq, have suited up their vests to denounce mass unemployment and the absence of the State. Apparently, the first yellow vests manifestations in Iraq had occurred in 2015, but the Parisian passionate movement has revived it.

Sudan has become so insecure for its people that they protest for more dignity and rights. Omar Al-Bashir’s government does not answer these claims. In Sudan, they do not wear any identifiable vest but the noises of streets are almost the same: People want a more competent and sensitive government. In Burkina Faso, the yellow vests do not have the same color, but the claims are the same: the «red shirts» want to low the price of gasoline, which has increased by 12%. They also reject the political class and want ministers to get lower salaries. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, 40% live under the poverty line, while the richest have a lot of privileges.

Briefly, media and social networks are spreading a feeling of unity and hope towards the French Yellow Vests. The poorest as the richest have Facebook, and the events appear to them. Even if the movement doesn’t really has a leader and a good organization, the fact of using this prop as a symbol of community and belonging, makes the trend stronger. Facebook is the HQ of the demonstrators, and that is the tool to make leaders and icons emerge. Amateur videos, photos or petitions are used to counter the traditional media information and it works as a reinforcement of this feeling of belonging. The movement and the idea of rebelling against high prices have been spread so fast in a couple of months. Will this become worldwide? Will this Facebook organized revolution cross a lot of borders?

Elise Girod 

Bada'lya البدائلية