Yellow Vests: Was March 16th the “Swan Song” of the Movement?

After Act 18 of the Yellow Vests took place one of the groups of the movement – “Cerveaux non disponibles” – published a communique that clarifies the position of the Yellow Vests vis-a-vis violence. After the Macron regime announced some measures to “get tough” on his own people. Thus, on March 20th the same group published a follow-up, translated and presented below, that acts as a response to these draconian initiatives, which only serve to pour fuel on the fire…


The strength of a movement is to always be in motion. Do not repeat the same practices and modalities day after day.

It is partly for this reason that the trade union movement has lost a lot of its appeal and strength, particularly in collective actions and on the streets. That’s why “cortège de tête” has been so appealing for several months, until it becomes a ritual that burns itself out, and thus falls into the trap of a movement that only repeats its past successes.

In this sense, the Yellow Vests brought a new and powerful breath into the landscape of struggles. From roundabouts to wild protests, barricades, blockades of oil depots, yellow shacks or toll booths, the Yellow Vests showed that they were not trapped in a ritualised and codified practice of fighting.

Simply because the vast majority of these Yellow Vests are not “professionals” of social unrest. And that’s good. And this is what bothers the authorities, because its unpredictability makes the response more difficult.

Today, the movement is at a crucial moment. Act 18 was a success in the sense that the issue of Yellow Vests was placed very centrally on the political and media agenda. But this can also be seen as a failure, as the authorities (and the mainstream media) address this issue only by force – through violence and how to contain it. Social, economic, and societal issues have hardly been addressed in recent days.

Faced with repression that looks even more indistinct and blind (the authorities are no longer hiding it), facing a media steamroller of indignation at the broken windows and burned shops, it seems important not to fall into the trap of unnecessary escalation.

Again, the question is not whether or not to smash a bank or Fouquet’s. The question remains to find ways to radically fight against a government and a political system that has at its disposal the entire police, judicial, and even media arsenal.

We know that demonstrations that are sanctioned and totally harnessed from the beginning to the end by the police have no interest. Discussing with the prefecture to define how the day will “go well” is to accept that the authorities can sleep comfortably at night. This is unthinkable in a society where tens of thousands of people are left behind to starve to death.

To prevent them from sleeping quietly, and also to go to their luxury restaurants or on the ski slopes, we do not have a lot of tools. But we are not helpless. We know what matters to them: their wallet, their comfort, their interest, and their media image. It’s up to us to find out how to undermine these aspects.

It is up to us to put issues of substance back at the front of the stage: social, climatic, and economic injustice. This seems almost obvious, and we think that all the French people are aware. But it is necessary to constantly remember the daily consequences of ultra-liberal policies on our society and on those left behind, whether rural or suburban.

The authorities hope that the 16th of March was the swan song of the Yellow Vests, their last ditch stand. They hope for this so much that they shout it from every roof.

Exhaustion will arrive…

18 November: “They will not remobilise themselves”

04 December: “After this violence, it is finished”

15 December: “The announcements of Macron killed the movement”

30 December: “We see clearly that it is the end”

27 January: “The movement has nothing else to give”

17 March: “It was their swan song”

…or not!

But we know that the Yellow Vests still have resources and will surprise again. It remains to know when and how.

We are no longer an obedient class. We are not afraid of being outlawed in a society where laws become anti-freedom and anti-democracy. We are not afraid of being (badly) judged by a cynical and violent government, and even more so by its media watchdogs. In several decades from now history will judge who has been on the right side.

In the meantime, let’s be inventive and motivated. Let’s try to derail the system while proposing non-violent actions. Let the line of demarcation no longer be that of the good demonstrators against the bad breakers, but of those who want to change the system against those who accept to live in a society that allows its most vulnerable to die.

Let’s not worry about the judgment of those we’re fighting, but let us try to make as many people as possible understand the justice of our cause and the injustice of this society. This may involve less divisive actions on the aspect of violence. But this should in no way remove the radicality of the movement. Otherwise it will become docile and painless for the powerful.

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