Giving France’s Yellow Vest Their Due

Gulf Shores     The Yellow Vests or Gilets Jaunes protest in France began in the middle of November of 2018.  In July in rural France in the Rhone/Alps region when ACORN International organizers met at an old farm house fifteen kilometers from St. Etienne, less than ten minutes from our meeting place, we could still see the signs of the Yellow Vests as we passed through our last traffic circle before hitting the farm.  Nearby, just outside of the circle, a tent and plywood headquarters for area Yellow Vests and their protest was still standing and active, even if not fully manned and at the top of their lungs as they had been months before.  Though they might be the scourge of Paris, they seemed accepted and supported here in the countryside.

What is the real story on the Yellow Vests?  Was this a rightwing, Le Pen movement of the angry and anti-Semites protesting modest steps towards climate change or something different?

Yoan Pinaud, head organizer of the Alliance Citoyenne’s local group in Aubervilliers, the lower income, working class suburb of Paris, affiliated with ACORN International, had argued in Social Policy  that the Yellow Vests were a movement erupting to oppose the government for the right reason, mainly its support of the rich and the increasing burden placed on the rest of the population.  Was our organizer just a lonely, hopeful voice in the spring speaking more from hope than reality or was he onto to something?

An article in Harper’s Magazine for August by Christopher Ketcham entitled “A Play With No End:  What the Gilets Jaunes really want,” puts the finger of Yoan’s scale and weighs heavily in the direction that we were making the correct call.  Ketcham found no indication in his discussions with many, both in Paris and outside, that indicated anything other than direct anger at the neoliberal program of current President Macron and his predecessors, even from the Socialist Party.  He finds, with us, that this was a movement based in righteous anger at policies that were excluding the masses and benefiting the rich, where the last straw was the unequal fuel tax on rural and depopulating villages in France.   He cites an Oxfam study from 2015 that found that “the wealthiest 10 percent of French citizens emit some seventeen metric tons of carbon per capita…while the poorest 50 percent emit less than five,” noting in the US that the ratio is 50 metric tons for the same rich percentage versus eight for the poorest 50 percent.

In fact, Ketcham argues that the French establishment “slandered” the Yellow Vests “in service of class interests.”  And, then the established Western media ate it up like candy and repeated the false analysis raw.  The French bourgeoisie reacting to the disruption was as afraid of the Vests as they were in the 1800s of the sans-culottes in the French Revolution and the subsequent terror.  He finds them to be progressives looking for a party and politicians to oppose neoliberalism that has hurt them terribly, especially outside Paris.

They have also won results from their actions that we should all applaud.  Macron made $5 billion euros worth of concessions.  Lower-income families received a tax cut. Pensions were indexed to inflation.  Public service cuts were forestalled, including shelving Macon’s plan to cashier 120,000 public service jobs.  The privatization of Paris Airports has now been stymied and may be defeated.  Of course, Macron also rescinded the fuel tax which had ignited the protests.

Furthermore, and this is perhaps most telling, just as our observation of the Yellow Vest still active outpost outside of St. Etienne, Ketcham writes, it’s not over and still goes on,

“They have refused to be mollified by what they perceive as crumbs tossed from the throne of power.  Their war against the rich, in the age of climate change, is one driven by an understanding unique among protests movements in France:  that the privilege to lord and privilege to pollute are one and the same, and that confronting the climate crisis means a confrontation with unregulated capitalism.  It is a call to arms that should resound across the world.”

They hear it clearly in France, and I swear, I can hear it in the United States and everywhere I go these days.

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Please enjoy “I Only Cry When I’m Alone” by Beth Bombara.

Thanks to KABF.

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Welfare and the Public Charge

Gulf Shores     NPR was forced to fact check the spokespeople from the White House on their claims about the latest actions against immigrants referred to as the “public charge” rule because of its inaccuracies.

The rule is pernicious.  It would bar green cards to existing immigrant residents of the United States if they received any form of public benefits including food stamps, welfare, and housing assistance.  By denying a green card, they would not be able to work legally, so this is an attempt to force them into the shadows, out of the country, or impoverish them fully.

The rule is subjective.  It allows the agencies of the government to guess whether an immigrant or applicant for asylum would need any form of public benefits in order to enter and become a permanent citizen.  If the government guesses that you might, it is seizing the authority to deny entry on the basis that this family, often having fled their home countries with little more than the shirts on their backs, might be a public charge.  The message here, besides the fact that this is arbitrary and capricious, is that we no longer are willing to extend our arms to the tired and dispossessed at the Statue of Liberty.  In Trump world, we only want the rich, white, and well to do.

The White House’s rationale for the latest Stephen Miller inhumane outrage was twofold.  First, that they were simply cleaning up an issue already decided by President Bill Clinton’s passage of the anti-welfare Personal Responsibility Act of 1996 changing “welfare as we know it” in the mid-1990s.  NPR noted that this was not the case.  It misinterpreted even the requirements of that punitive legislation, and was amended differently in 2002.  Secondly, they claimed these were the American standards and values in relation to immigrants for the last two-hundred years.  NPR made quick work of that since there were large periods of American history where we welcomed immigrants heartily and bestowed benefits to them.

This caught my attention since I happened to be reading a biography of another Arkansas political legend with a different attitude on welfare than Clinton’s, and that was Orval Faubus.  Central to Faubus first surprising upset victory in 1955 over incumbent governor Frances Cherry was his ability to paint Cherry as heartless on welfare.  Cherry, tone-deaf at the time, was touting the fact that he had pushed 10,000 Arkansans off of welfare.  Faubus campaigned all over rural Arkansas on the fact that Cherry was taking a couple of dollars a month away from people who happened to sell a couple of broiler hens or had stashed away a couple of dollars for a dress to wear in their coffin.  He beat Cherry on that issue.  Roy Reed, the author of the book, noted that Louisiana’s governor at the time, Earl K. Long, used welfare the same way in an election arguing his opponent was trying to favor the rich and take away funding for a crippled children’s hospital.

How did so much change so quickly?  It’s hard to avoid the answer, and it is race.  When these were poor white families both living in the South and knocking on the door wanting to come to America, we were all in.  Welfare was supported for the hard-working poor down on their luck or the hapless immigrant family fleeing terrible conditions.  Once politicians from Nixon to Reagan to even Clinton, were willing to racialize welfare as black, it was time to cut the benefits.  Now that Trump is able to paint immigrants as brown, it’s time to rewrite history.

Our history isn’t all roses on immigrants and the poor, far from it, but that doesn’t mean that the values of a majority of Americans weren’t far better than politicians are claiming today in order to justify the worst parts of our history and imprint their views on our future.

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Please enjoy. Asa’s One Good Thing.  Thanks to KABF.

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