In Amiens, a city in North France, I stood guarding a door for the Jeunes avec Macron (Macron’s Youth). It was believed that yellow vest protestors would attempt to sabotage the meeting, so someone had to make sure uninvited guests would not disturb us.
I was there because I believe in Macron’s vision for France, and also to network with others who share this vision too. This meeting would offer me fascinating lectures on the art of making alliances to the art of negotiation. However, these theoretical lessons stand undone by reality.
In the span of those two hours, guarding that door against yellow-clad intruders, I reflected on this duty:
Why aren’t we opening our doors to everyone, welcoming discussion? Are we so scared of the yellow vests that we do not even advertise our meeting on Facebook? What use is it to travel 400 kilometers from The Hague to here, just to debate with people who do not need convincing?
This situation saddens me. France is my country and I am a firm believer in the concept of national unity. Amidst an international climate of doubt and rejection of progress, France does is not spared. Political elites are overthrown, globalization and European integration is increasingly questioned, and a paradoxical withdrawal from politics is coupled with a drive to participate more actively in the decision-making process. The yellow vests are the embodiment of this new trend.
But, I remember adhering to the Macron’s Youth for exactly the same reasons.
I did not feel traditional political parties where the adequate body to tackle modern challenges. Globalization and the European Union were not flawless. And I, as a simple citizen, wanted to be able to influence Macron’s policies. What if Macron and the yellow vests were two sides of the same coin? What if the latter explosion of the yellow vests was a direct consequence of the former presidential election’s explosion? What if both sides were digging up decades of repressed uneasiness amongst French society?
As someone who was not naturally sympathetic to the yellow vests, I had to look beyond all the violence and the self-proclaimed representatives surfing on the wave of discontent. This effort taught me two lessons. First, the massive, structural depoliticisation of whole chunks of society. The uneasiness of society, the rise of the “protest vote” in the embodiment of the National Front, the abstention. And more importantly, the failure to mobilize for an ideal, the absence of momentum. The yellow vests changed that. Now, they rose, realizing the sheer power democracy gave them. Understanding their strength, they fought against, but they are now fighting for. No longer is their concern about an obscure tax but for fiscal justice, the world’s future and above all, Participation. Albeit, as in all new movements, everything is messy and the temptation for grimmer prospects is always present, but I will not disregard the core aspect of the yellow vest.
This naturally leads me to my second lesson: humility. For too long have political scientists stayed in their ivory towers. Aiming to give politics a mathematical elegance, we forgot its beauty: Art. Politics is like theater, it follows rules, can be objectively bad, but is in every case subject to the subjective, unpredictable applause of the spectator.
Almost every actor will follow the rules. Good ones will provoke the magical applause. However, exceptional actors will break the fourth wall and bring the spectators to play a part in the play.
I have no doubt that Macron’s sense of realism, efficiency and his vision of Europe will make him a good president. But, will he break that division between politicians and people, between performer and spectator?