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How France’s Yellow Vest protests could influence the U.S.

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: December 17, 2018

Dayna Oscherwitz is an associate professor of French and Francophone studies at Southern Methodist University. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

There is something eerily familiar about the strikes and demonstrations paralyzing France over the past several weeks. Precipitated by rising income inequality and deeply unpopular economic policies, the “Yellow-Vest” protests seem to be just one more iteration of the strikes and demonstrations that erupt in France semi-regularly, one facet of a demand for greater equality and a culturally-specific expression of democratic will.

In some ways these weekly Saturday strikes and demonstrations bear similarities with other French protest movements, from the 2005 riots to the strikes of May 1968. But the targeted use of violence against both businesses and the state, and an expressed desire to overthrow a democratically elected government distinguish the Yellow-Vest movement. Arguably, not since the revolutions of the 19th century has widespread national action sought to topple a legitimate French government. Not even the actions of May 1968, which ultimately brought down Charles de Gaulle, had regime change as a specific objective.

If the current actions in France are like previous French political demonstrations, they also bear a resemblance to events in Maïdan, Ukraine, in 2014. There are, in fact, whispers to that effect, and fears that France is on the verge of an anti-democratic revolution, whose ultimate goal is the overthrow of democracy and its replacement by nationalist autocracy. While these fears might seem overblown to Americans, who often regard Western democracy as a settled question, they are less so to many in France. The continued call for protests and demonstrations even after the concessions from the Macron government on Dec. 10,link them to both the French far-right and Russia, both of which are anti-democratic at their core. READ MORE