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Can social movement go too far?

I learnt a long time ago from Helen Bevan that it’s about followers. I still vividly recall the crazy man dance video and the analysis she gave and how his can be an example of social movement, all it takes is one follower, then another and so on.

Most social movements have powerful effects. But power is about manipulation. So can a social movement go too far?

In my opinion yes, and I believe the ‘Gilet Jaunes’ movement in France is an excellent example of this. For those unfamiliar with this ’cause’ it started as an outrage to the French governments proposals to increase fuel by a further 10c – this is on top of a 25% increase in the last 6 months or so (not government entirely).

The movement had no leaders, which has been the challenge for the government to negotiate. But their intention was to reverse the government’s decision. That was achieved this week. But at what cost?

Their approach was simple, strategically placed roadblocks in the main peaceful, and demonstrations that tipped into violence and criminal damage. The line got drawn last weekend when the Arch de Triomph was damaged with other national buildings, and the well seen scene of farmyard sewerage sprayed over one of the Ministerial building’s including a well aimed attack on an open window!!!!

The French have revolutionary in their blood and this is a significant revolution in that the government who normally doesn’t back down was forced to. In fact it wasn’t Macron who capitulated it was the Prime Minister who said you’d have to be blind not to see the anger in the proposed approach.

So who has won? In fact no one; while the initial grievance was about fuel increases, in fact the social movement agenda has widened. Their axe is now about the wider cost of living, which here in France is very high. The fear now is wider revolutionary tactics this weekend as they’ve had a win and the fear now is wider demonstrations at scale. This morning the authorities in Paris are closing the Eiffel Tower in anticipation of potential violence.

One hopes the social movement will not stray that far and in fact may capitulate as they have achieved their objective. What has been prominent about this one was the simple symbolism, a yellow high viz vest in ever car (legal requirement) but placed on a dashboard has become a national symbol of enough is enough.


Also published on Medium.

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