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THE movement of the gilets jaunes in France continues to grow despite President Emmanuel Macron’s attempts to “appease the situation” and his backing for the most drastic repression.
New regulations against protests have been introduced. They punish demonstrators who fail to give advance notice of their protests and make organisers responsible for any damages that may ensue.
Preventive arrests, confiscation of protective masks against tear gas, and the beating and maiming of demonstrators are routine.
The first month of protest (mid-November to mid-December) showed an unprecedented 3,700 people convicted, 216 of whom were jailed.
Weapons like flashballs and explosive grenades, now routinely used by the police, have been criticised by human rights organisations for their lethal powers.
Among the gilets jaunes, 10 people have died, over 100 have been wounded and maimed, losing a limb or suffering other mutilation, and several thousands have suffered less severe injuries.
As for Macron’s “Grand débat” (the big debate), nicknamed the “Grand dégât” (the big mess) by his critics, it is essentially a PR exercise conducted through a series of gatherings with mayors in the run-up to the European elections in May.
When he announced his two-month consultation, Macron made clear that the discussion would not reconsider previous decisions on taxation and austerity.
The gilets jaunes’ demand to bring back the tax on big fortunes was off limits.
On January 19 protests, named Act 10 — the 10th Saturday of demonstrations — showed no sign of the gilets jaunes giving up.
Instead, female gilets jaunes are now organising their own marches on Sundays in dozens of smaller and bigger towns, chiefly denouncing police violence.
A coming-together of women’s initiatives is currently being discussed on Facebook pages set up by female gilets jaunes.
Act 11 took place Saturday January 26, along with other women’s marches and contingents during the weekend.
Simultaneously the first national gathering of gilets jaunes took place in Commercy, a small town of 6,000 people in the north-east of France.
Last December, their local gilets jaunes assembly called for the “creation of popular assemblies everywhere in France.”
The national gathering, “assembly of assemblies,” discussed demands, follow-up actions and internal democracy.
They object to the “increasing number of gilets jaunes (or who claim to be) self-proclaiming themselves as spokespeople or representatives or who are running as candidates to the (European) elections.”
They proposed “a different model, a democratic movement from the grassroots.” This perspective seems popular as we were told by the organisers they struggled to accommodate all the delegations in attendance.
The outcome of this gathering could be defining for the future of the movement.
Benoit Martin is an activist with Payday, men working with the Global Women’s Strike.
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