Those talking heads who say they saw the insurrection coming? – in this amplitude, in this form? are lying. Or, at best, kidding themselves.
A few facts, as the rain and the sanitation trucks collaborate to try to clean the trashed streets of Paris:
Yesterday didn’t quite add up to the apocalypse that some, including members of the government, had feared. No one died. Perhaps thanks to a change of strategy: the 89,000 police and gendarmes mobilized in all France, roughly twice as many as the week before, were more widely dispersed and quicker to search and seize (flashbombs, hammers, ‘boules’, masks etc) than on December 1. They made almost two thousand arrests, again more than double the week before.
The government’s agreement to major yellow vest demands (tax repeals, raising the minimum wage etc.) seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Irrelevant? The number of demonstrators nation-wide: 36,000, same as on December 1. That said, there is an increasing split between the ‘peacefuls’ and the violent activists, who are an unlikely brotherhood of radical left, radical right, and young, male ‘Christmas shoppers’ from the outlying ghettos.
The radical group counts for about 20% of the movement and its demands, supported on via social media, grow more grandiose daily: yesterday’s declared goal was to occupy the Elysée. There are multiple calls to assassinate Macron and other government figures.
Public opinion, initially overwhelmingly sympathetic to the yellow vest demands, may be starting to swing: 69% condemn the violence, without reservation.
Cars were burned to skeletons, stores and banks bashed. A boy’s face was burned. However, many came for the party; I heard people on their phones, telling friends how ‘cool’ it was. My own neighborhood dodged the worst. Are we indebted to the brass band that kept circulating here, Pied-Piper-like? The marchers were singing, dancing, laughing. Letting off steam. Demonstrators offered flowers to the police. I smelled more pot than tear gas at the Bastille.
Department of Only in France: yesterday Paris also hosted a – peaceful – Climate March. Apparently numerous yellow vests, put off by the violence of their group, moved over to march with the green vests – and this despite the fact that the eco-tax on gas was the match that lit the whole yellow movement!
So where do we stand, on December 9th? Paris Mayor Anne Hildago declared the material damage even greater than on the previous Saturday. No numbers yet. Economy Minister LeMaire describes a ‘national crisis’: ‘This is a catastrophe for our economy.’ President Macron will speak to the nation early this week. High hopes for a return to national dialogue. Low expectations.
Besides the economic cost, and even beyond the talk of the government stepping or being voted down, there is the historical-political blow to the very model of representative democracy. To the rule of law. To liberty and fraternity, when citizens are prevented by a minority from going to work or venturing out on the streets.
And the damage to psyche of a nation and a city? Paris this morning is a sad, shaken, and apprehensive place to be. We smile at each other – uncertainly. With the national shrug that expresses it all.