Any Given Saturday in Paris

Hundreds of thousands of “Gilet Jaunes” (meaning “Yellow Vest” in French) have taken to the streets of France in recent weeks, which have left Paris’ famed Champs Elysée and the streets that surround it in utter chaos.

After a call on social networks, French citizens from all over the country gathered in the French capital after government officials rejected to meet with them. “We do not want this, but we will keep fighting for our rights until someone from the Government will meet us,” said Antoine, a retired man from the western region of Bretagne (Brittany). “I hate violence, but this is the only way that we have to be heard, as French citizens we have that right,” he adds.

Protests by the “gilets jaunes” originally began in mid-November in reaction to increases in fuel prices and taxes, but have since continuously expanded to a broader and ill-defined set of demands, including the resignation of French President Emmanuel Macron. Without a leader, the “gilets jaunes” have mobilized people of drastically different opinions, unified mostly by their shared discontent with a rising cost life, using social media to spread calls for demonstrations.

People taking part in the demonstrations, which have included professional vandals (referred to as “casseurs” in French) numbering at least in the hundreds, ransacked storefronts and banks, set vehicles and buildings on fire, painted graffiti landmarks and uprooted the pavement, in neighborhoods adjacent to the Champs Elysées, the Opera and numerous other popular tourist attractions, while overwhelmed police forces launched tear gas and stun grenades, and attempted to disperse protesters with barricades and water cannons.

While the cost of the damage is still to be determined, early estimates come to several millions of Euros, while business owners are discouraged by the new wave of violence that has shaken the area and what the next protests, already being announced, could bring. “I have lost several thousands of Euros during last Saturday. My windows are smashed, and all the exterior is filled with graffiti,” says a shop owner who prefers to keep her identity hidden for fear of retribution. “I support the fight of the Gilets Jaunes, but I cannot understand this reaction to our business. I am just a worker who invested a lot of money and if this continues I am afraid I will lose everything,” she concludes.

More protests are announced...

We are a pacifist movement, we don’t like violence, and it is time for the media to make a difference between many of us and others that come here just to create chaos. Just wearing a yellow vest does not make some a yellow vest,” says Pierre, a retired Parisian. “People like me are worried about the future of our family – what future will they have? This government does not care about the people, and we won’t stop until Macron resigns. It does not matter how long it takes, but Macron is going to go, I can guarantee you that,” he concludes.

Photography: © Omar Havana. All Rights are Reserved

This story has been published in Al Jazeera English