TITLE: INGRID AND THE YELLOW VESTS
We know the pictures. The Yellow vests on the street.
against President Macron began from the bottom of France.
SB, Stéphanie Surrugue: Now they shot with tear gas.
SB: Down with Macron.
I live and work in the midst of the violence – and I follow the rebellion with mixed feelings.
SB, Surrugue: Ah, I’ve got a lot of tear gas in my
Everyday we are millions of people in France who ask ourselves: How will this end?
It’s more than four months since France started flaming.
In my attempt to understand where the Yellow Vest’s rebellion is heading, I begin in the poor Northern France.
NAME SIGN: STÉPHANIE SURRUGUE
”Stand up” in car: Now we are heading home to Ingrid Levavasseur, she is one of France’s most famous yellow vests and then she is from up here – Normandy, just one of the regions where the Yellow Vests stood strongest when the rebellion broke out. I hope she’s home.
SB, Surrugue: Ah, hello Ingrid.
NAME SIGN: INGRID LEVAVASSEUR
SYNC, Ingrid: Ny name is Ingrid Levavasseur, I am 31 years old. I am a social- and health care worker. Right now, I’m unemployed. I am also a voluntary firefighter.
This is one of France’s best-known traffic vests.
SYNC, Ingrid: Here it is.
Stéphanie reads aloud: It’s enough! Social and health care worker with 1250 euro in monthly salary while shareholder fill their pockets. King Macron is with the noble while the people … live …?
Ingrid: Dies of hunger with their mouths open.
Stéphanie: King Macron is with the nobles while the people die of hunger with open mouth… it’s almost revolutionary slogan?
Ingrid: In the beginning, it was really what I was thinking. And it feels a bit like Macron is a monarch who only works with the nobility and forgets the people.
Ingrid: There is also blood on it. It’s stained, it’s really dirty.
Stéphanie: Where does the blood come from?
Ingrid: It’s Charles who got shit with a flash ball right in the head. He was completely open, you could see the skull. So, I gave him first aid.
Ingrid Levavasseur has grown up in a poor and divorced family with her three siblings.
SB, Ingrid: That’s my father. I am there.
She left school after the 9th grade and became a mother for the first time as a 17-year old.
Ingrid: I dreamed of being a midwife. But my mother didn’t really give me any choice. It was totally unrealistic for her that I should study, because we could not afford that. Maybe I could get an apprenticeship, but I had to start making money quickly.
Ingrid: I became a single mother as a 23-year-old.
Ingrid: You have to be inventive when you are poor. One must be able to make a small meal out of nothing. Rice with corn prepared on the frying pan for example. Sometimes, especially when I don’t have the kids, I don’t eat three meals a day.
The revolution is in their blood. In Denmark we like consensus – in France they like the confrontation. The French have protested, demonstrated and struck as long as I can remember. As then, the farmers in the 80’s and 90’s blocked the roads for weeks because grain prices fell. So, in a way, it’s not surprising that a new protest movement has reported its arrival.
SB, Macron: There is no government that has launched such an ambitious plan for fuel, petrol and production closure that we have done.
It all began back in November last year – there President Macron announced a climate tax that raised the prices of gasoline and diesel, which meant one liter rose to more than ten dollars.
And it hurt the private economy of a France, where the large population in rural areas drives many kilometers by car to work.
In protest, the poor middle class took a yellow traffic vest and blocked the roads around the country. The dissatisfaction has lurked long – for decades, in fact.
SB, Stéphanie: The social inequality here in France, it is massive. Let’s just try to look at three numbers: 8,8 million French people live below the poverty line. This means that they live for less than DKK 7,600 a month. Every fifth Frenchman cannot afford three meals a day. And then there is unemployment, it is almost twice as large here as it is in Denmark. It is over 9 percent. But for the young people, it is much worse. Unemployment for them is just over 25 percent.
The first big demonstration took place on November 17 – more than 280,000 angry people went out into the French streets. A new movement was born.
Ingrid: At that time, I worked for a home care service, so I drove 900 kilometers a month to take care of my work. A tax increase on gasoline would have made my budget impossible. It was simply too much. It was the last straw.
Ingrid: We were really many people. We were more than 300. More and more cars came and parked and we all sound the horns, it was a bit like a wedding and I thought: WOW, we are many!
Ingrid: And when we started walking, we were a bit like little solders. We were proud!
The movement is growing. It has no leader, no overall requirements, no headquarters. The vests find each other on the streets and on social media.
Until now, Ingrid Levavasseur and thousands of other poor have felt invisible in French society – suddenly they are seen throughout Europe.
SB: Macron, step back! Macron, step back!
It is by chance that Ingrid Levavasseur becomes one of the rebellion’s front figures.
Ingrid: My first interview, it was on the highway at Bouville. It was November 22, five days after it all started. A journalist in a car was punctured and kept waiting for the roadside assistance, and meanwhile he decided to go out and interview a few yellow vests.
Ingrid: I felt I was in a parallel world to my own life. Suddenly, I told millions of French people the truth. Now I have freed myself from the shame. It’s just the truth. That’s the way it is. I can’t lie about what I serve.
INGRID LEVAVASSEURS PHONE RECORDING
With a completely new confidence, Ingrid Levavasseur decides to run for the European Parliament elections in May. It is a decision that has consequences.
The first November-Saturday with demonstrations runs roughly peacefully. But then it starts to go wrong.
SB, Ingrid: We are being strangled by tear gas. It’s terrible.
The next few weeks there are battles with the police in cities such as Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes and Paris.
In December, a pressured president is trying to reach the protester by raising the minimum wage, shelve scheduled taxes for the poorest pensioners and freezing the famed climate tax on fuel.
Sync, Macron: I do not confuse the armed forces with the fellow citizens trying to express their views.
It is only the beginning of a long and bitter strength test between the West and the President. The protesters, they want more.
Higher wages in the worst-paid jobs, more influence on society through multiple referenda – harder taxation of the nation’s richest.
DEMONSTRATION, MARCH 9
Song/guitarist: We are here /we are here / for the worker’s dignity / for a better world / although Macron does not want it / we are here / The yellow vests – we are here.
Stéphanie: We’re here, yes, ok.
Man: He is there.
Guitarist: We are here / we are here / for the dignity of the worker / for a better world / even if Macron does not want it / so were are here / the yellow vests – we are here.
Stéphanie: You’re the Yellow Vests answer to Bruce Springsteen!
Guitarist: What an honor. Booooorn in France!
For the outside world, Emmanuel Macron was a political wonder when he entered the scene – directly from the banking world and a short meteoric career in the Treasury. The French allowed the doubt to benefit him – but they quickly regretted it.
Chris (craftsman): Control yourself, Macron! We cannot live for 1,200 EUR a month. We’ve had enough, god dammit!
They call him “the Sun King” – the president who, on the one hand, forces the population through tough reforms of the labor market and pension system, while he on the on other hand spends 190,000 DKK on his own personal makeup artist and goes on a ski trip while the Yellow Vests demonstrates.
Stéphanie: Don’t you feel listened to?
Chris, craftsman: They don’t listen to us. Now it’s the seventeenth demonstration and nothing happens. Petrol prices are rising again, I have just fueled petrol and paid 40 euros. They lie all the time, the politicians. That’s why we’ve had enough.
Man with beard: And I hope the French will open their eyes and get their fingers out, because wages will soon rise. Otherwise, it may end up with weapons.
Stéphanie: As you can see, they shield the sideways, to keep control of the crowd, and then we move very little. As long as the police have all the demonstrators gathered here, there is simply more control – the situation is more under control.
ARCHIVE – FRANCE/PROTESTS
France looks like this on Saturday after Saturday. More than 9,000 protesters have been arrested. 1,500 officers have been injured. And the police have shot more than 200 people with large rubber balls and have been sharply criticized for excessive use of force.
Eric Roman, Police superintendent: We use those weapons to keep people at a distance, to avoid having to use our service weapons or use our batons, which can also cause great harm. So we need tear gas and rubber balls, which unfortunately means that there have been a lot of wounded. It has not been an excessive use of weapons; it has been a necessary use of these weapons. But of course, there are always things that can get better.
Ingrid Levavasseur arrives in Paris for some busy days.
Ingrid: Oh, hello.
Stéphanie: Are you used to living on a hotel?
Ingrid: No, never. I am never on hotels. Even if I’m at holiday, I never sleep on hotels. Then we are camping with tents.
Macron: It’s not OK when a country has a minimum wage that one hires people without respecting the minimum wage.
Ingrid: He should have had “disappointment” as a point in his electoral program. It would have been an election promise he had complied with. Ask anyone. Everyone is disappointed with him. All of them.
Among the Yellow Vests, there are fractions that will not only overthrow the Macron Government – they want anarchy. So when Ingrid publishes her candidacy for the European Parliament, the tense atmosphere turns against her. Some see her suddenly as a part of the hated elite.
Stéphanie: They are really rude to you…?
Ingrid: Yes, it’s bad, it’s really, really bad. I thought only of one thing: How do I get away? I really feared for my life. They start to pull my hair. And I just repeated the same thing over and over again: “Stop, you give the movement a bad reputation”, while I looked around and didn’t know how to get out of this life alive?
Ingrid: I’ve been here from the beginning.
INGRID IN TV
Ingrid: How beautiful, the Eiffel Tower.
As the threats continue, Ingrid Levavasseur chooses to drop her candidacy for the European Parliament.
Editor: I’ll see you soon.
Ingrid: Yes, I’ll see you in there.
Ingrid: Now, I’m ready for the Senate.
Ingrid will be in the news and talk about the internal division in the movement.
Ingrid: Why is it so bad that I have tried to be constructive?
Female host: Do you still wonder?
Ingrid: Yes, because I support the Yellow Vests. I support the demands, I support those who suffer, and I struggle for us to be heard.
Female host: Thank you Ingrid Levavasseur.
OUT SIDE OF THE NEWS STATION
Ingrid: Oops, there is a Paris number calling me. Well, that’s another TV station I guess. They’ve probably seen me in Paris. Well, but that’s good enough. I’m not so stressed by TV anymore, I’m not so nervous about how to do it. If I’m going to say something wrong. It was really put bluntly when I had to talk about the European election, but now I don’t care. I have recovered all my spontaneity, because there is no longer any political at stake. It’s not bad if I make a mistake, because I’m not lynch because I’m a bad politician. I really don’t care.
SB, Ingrid: Do you know the address? – Yes.
Reading up fan mail: “I wake up, make my breakfast, turn on the television and who do I see? Ingrid Levavasseur, the real one, with her infinite strength, her natural class, her clear way of speaking, and no doubt. It’s good to see you that way. Good luck. Follow your beliefs. You are the best. Kisses”
Stéphanie: Who wrote it?
Ingrid: An ambulance colleague of mine.
Stéphanie: It’s cute.
Ingrid: Yes, it’s sweet.
SB, Ingrid: Anti-anti-anti-capitalist! A ha. Anti-anti-anti-capitalist! A ha.
After long deliberations, Ingrid Levavasseur has chosen to join the demonstration today. But she no longer wears the yellow vest. And her friends take care of her.
Ingrid: I’ve got death threats. I have been threatened with rape. I am subjected to verbal abuse of a sexist character. I got a letter with faeces in. I have received pornographic pictures …
SB, Ingrid: Hi, Sophie.
SB, Sophie: We protect you! We protect her. She belongs with us, she is welcome.
(Man – selfie)
SB, Ingrid: Should we do this together?
SB, Man: Would you mind taking a picture of us?
Sb, Ingrid: Now, I blush.
Men: Thank you, Ingrid.
Ingrid: Thank you.
(Man with sign)
Man: In 2019, we are still fighting.
Several come to discuss with Ingrid. One of them is from her home region.
Young man with beard: You need to know what we think in Normandy: We are more than disappointed. When we met you, we were very clear about what we thought of your politicians plans.
Ingrid: OK, but I just have to ask: Who have I promised myself to? None.
SB: The Yellow Vests are angry / we are strong / we are proud.
Ingrid: I am yellow in the heart and will always be, but wearing the vest feels more like a provocation today. And after what I have experienced, I prefer not to wear it.
SB, woman: Sexist violence – social violence – it’s the same fight against the capital.
The weekly demonstrations in France cost the state a staggering number of overtime hours for the country’s police officers.
Eric Roman, police superintended: (The police) is physically exhausted, because for more than four months we have had demonstrations every Saturday, so we are on the street already from Friday, and also a little on Sundays. Add to that we also have our common tasks all week. And then one should not forget that we have a fight against terrorism that has demanded exceptionally many man-hours in recent years in France.
For us, it is un-paid. Among the Yellow Vests, especially in the beginning, because today there are activists from the extreme left among the protesters, but in the beginning there were all kind of people with. My father was a Yellow Vest, some officers took a yellow vest when they took off from work, and we … We really cry for the separation between the police and the people. It is due to a government that has used the police against its people to discredit a political movement, without even making a political response.
SB, man: Hey, this is not Hollywood!
Ingrid is interviewed for French TV, when she is interrupted.
SB, man: It’s best if you just leave. That’s better for you.
SB, man 2: I don’t need balls. I tell you to fuck off.
SB, Ingrid: Please stop. We are filming.
SB, man 2: I don’t care. You are not welcome here.
SB, Ingrid: OK, it’s enough. Please stop. Everything went fine.
Ingrid Levavasseur withdraws.
SB, Stéphanie: Are you OK?
SB, Ingrid: Yes, I’m OK.
SB, Stéphanie: They were after you?
SB, Ingrid: At least they were drunk.
SB, man: Are we going back to the demonstration?
SB, Ingrid: No, no, no.
Today’s demonstration proceeds fairly peacefully. But a new one is waiting next week.
Stéphanie: Scarf, if there will be tear gas… and water if they will be tear gas. It’s nice just to be able to wash your eyes. Safety helmet if cobblestone is thrown. And then I put all this security equipment into a small lady’s bag, to seem least provocative and least possible journalist-paranoid. Because for the French camera crews who come with security guards and such bulletproof vests here, they immediately provoke the protesters, wo we are actually trying to seem fairly quiet.
Stéphanie: You can feel that the atmosphere is different today. It’s more tense. It’s still morning. There are lofs of gun strokes. There has already been some sort of clash with the police. It’s a bit like people are waiting for something they don’t quite know what is. And that… it gives such a tension in the air.
It is Saturday morning at France’s most famous avenue – the Camps Elysées. The atmosphere is tense. I try to talk to some of the most hard-boiled protesters, why they think street fighting and anarchy are the way forward. They are here… but they do not want to speak to us.
SB, activist: Do not film here! No camera, you fucking photographer. Fuck off. You’re not French? OK, go-go-go.
(The riots begin)
Stéphanie: Do you wear your helmet now?
Lau: I’m wearing it now, yes.
After almost 20 weeks, the Yellow Vests are frustrated that the demonstrations do not get the government to respond. Today, they let the anger float in Paris. And 5,000 police officers on the street can’t prevent it from developing into chaos.
SB: Let him be!
The air is heavy with tear gas.
SB, Stéphanie: Ah, I’ve swallowed a lot…
SB: We hate the police.
After several weeks of predominantly peaceful demonstrations, it has gone completely wrong again.
SB: (song about Macron) Emmanuel Macron – what an idiot – we are coming to get you.
Today, after more than four months of social uprising, the Yellow Vests can no longer gather hundreds of thousands of people in the streets.
The movement has lost power because many – both with and without vests – have had enough of all the violence and all the strife.
But there will be a France before and after the yellow vest.
Ingrid: The Yellow Vests have achieved much more than some trade unions have in 30 years. First, the 10 billion euros that came on the table, which has meant up to 100 euros extra a month for some people. And then the big debate, one must think about it as they want, but which at least has opened a dialogue. And then the unity that has arisen between many people.
Ingrid is invited to speak in the Senate. She – and other movement’s main characters – are no longer invisible citizens. Some of them have put the vest away. But their fight against poverty is no longer a lonely battle.
Ingrid: Mr. President has no understood that even though we have a job, we cannot live with dignity.
Today, Ingrid Levavasseur is in the process of establishing an organization to help single mothers get an education.
Her revolutions, it is peaceful. Next battle is the municipal election in Normandy.
Ingrid: I want a little more human politics, a little more empathy. I must at least make politics. That’s for sure. I believe in fate. I believe there is a reason why all this has happened.