A Saturday in November 2023. Despite the foggy sky, the moment shines like a clearing. Friends in yellow vests remake the world, like every Saturday, on the lawn of the Europe roundabout, at the entrance to Bagnols-sur-Cèze (Gard). A friendly moment, around a thermos of coffee and a cake cooked by a jovial little lady, her nose wearing yellow glasses. “Well done, you’re still here!” says a motorist while honking. The little troop raises their arms, all smiles. Laughter and chatter mix with the squealing of tires on the asphalt.
Since November 17, 2018, when 750 of the 18,000 inhabitants of this Gard commune met on the lawn of the roundabout to protest against the increase in fuel taxes, the gatherings have never stopped, even if the bulk of the forces ‘gone away. Over the years, those who remain have ended up forming bonds, sometimes even real friendships.
Christophe Prévost, 55, loves “these moments of sharing” with his “brothers and sisters in the struggle” stationed on the lawn, at his side. Far from being disillusioned, this trader repeats his credo: “Justice, fairness and solidarity.” Some time ago, he hosted Christiane for three months. The octogenarian had broken several ribs in a fall. She, who lives alone and no longer speaks to her children, was particularly sensitive to the gesture.
Isabelle also benefited from the help of friends. A cup – yellow as it should be – in her hand, she drinks a vermicelli soup and tells herself: a former cleaning lady now at the RSA due to a bone disease, a single mother, she only eats once a day. day. Until the irruption of the great yellow wave, activities and friendly encounters were rare in his daily life.
From now on, with other yellow vests, she takes part in outings in the forest to pick mushrooms, follows sewing workshops which allow her to give a second life to her torn clothes, and goes to a restaurant, invited by one of his friends. “I feel less alone,” she slips.
A strong common memory of moments shared on roundabouts
Much further north, in the Somme, Loïc Lerouge talks about these friends he has kept for five years. Going to the roundabout had become “a hobby”, he said. After years of solitude and bitter youthful memories, he felt “revived” thanks to these moments of exchange around a fire. A new atmosphere for him.
At 18, the young man, who left for another department in search of work in fast food, found himself on the street. A salary that is too low, unstable parents telling him to “manage”, and a family allowance fund that is deaf to his requests… After a year of sleeping outside, a colleague came to his rescue, he took up a job in her hometown.
But with choppy schedules and weekends and public holidays at work, his social and festive life has been reduced to nothing. When the social movement broke out, he was heartbroken, until the demonstrations began to degenerate into violent clashes. He then turned away.
“Few experiences can forge friendships like those born from the yellow vests,” explains Magali Della Sudda, research fellow at the CNRS and researcher at the Émile-Durkheim Center, at Sciences-Po Bordeaux. “These men and women fought together against injustice, in sometimes violent environments; they sometimes worked night and day, this commitment creates a strong common memory.”
The bonds forged in the heat of action have continued into life. Christine, a part-time nurse in the Bordeaux suburbs, remembers: “We experienced intense moments but also suffered a lot. Comrades were in police custody, others lost their jobs and couples were broken up.”
Values shared among the yellow vests
During the first confinement, Christine and her companion came to the aid of a yellow vest friend by regularly providing her with some foodstuffs: bread, a salad, a pizza… She herself slips quietly that she benefited from this mutual assistance last summer, when she found herself out of work. “We, the vests, share the same values and we trust each other blindly,” she sums up, puffing on her cigarette.
Less visible than the gatherings on roundabouts, these friendships gave rise to a community spirit. Some have even launched associations, such as Les ronds-points du coeur, which bring together yellow vests from different regions. “In an increasingly individualized world, whether in rural or urban areas, residents no longer meet each other. The experience during the movement brought back a feeling of belonging to a common humanity,” develops researcher Magali Della Sudda.
Workers, employees, single women with dependent children, retirees with a meager pension, all found refuge and human warmth in the roundabouts. Among the 2018 demonstrators, 28% said they felt alone, and the vast majority of them said they suffered a lot from it. “We saw among the yellow vests many isolated people, away from the social fabric, whether associative, trade union or religious,” notes sociologist Michel Wieviorka.
In its own way, the brotherhood of the roundabout came to respond to the deterioration of the social fabric in small towns and villages. Tens of thousands of cafes and bistros have closed their doors since the 1960s; local businesses have struggled to withstand competition from mass distribution, and today from digital.
This Saturday, on the Bagnols-sur-Cèze roundabout, the closures of public services – very numerous in the provinces between 1980 and the beginning of the 2010s – are the talk of the town. Examples abound: “Before, the tax center was open all day”; “You have to wait two months to have an appointment with the town hall social assistance to get help with a bill”; “We spend our time on the phone anyway without seeing people”; “Soon we’ll just be social security numbers,” etc.
Everyone nods in agreement. “Fortunately I met the yellow vests,” testifies Isabelle, who found accommodation thanks to the help of her fellow fighters. In case of problems, I know I can count on them.” In her HLM in the Gard commune, she does not lack neighbors, but she does not know any personally. “Without the yellow vests, I would be nothing.”
Roundabouts to break the solitude of yellow vests
On the roundabout, the fifty-year-old often leaves on foot with the comrade known as “Titi”, forty-three years of battered life. Abandoned by his mother at one year old, his father in prison, the boy was partly raised by his grandmother. Suffering from serious epileptic seizures since the age of 18, he receives the allowance for disabled adults (AAH).
By harassing the town hall, his yellow vest friends managed to obtain, for him too, an apartment in which piles of drawings with large black lines, his passion, are piled up. Long hair camouflaged under a bandana and a beret, he takes out of a drawer large binders made by himself where he has recorded the press articles, leaflets and photos published on the yellow vests of Bagnols-sur-Cèze since the start of mobilization.
Unaccustomed to family gatherings, he had not shared Christmas with relatives for several years when a couple of friends from the roundabout invited him to their table. Other New Years followed. “Can you imagine?” he says, in an emotional voice.
Titi will also be welcome in the creperie that Christophe Prévost, another yellow vest friend, will inaugurate on November 17, on Place Auguste-Mallet and its old facades, in the heart of Bagnols-sur-Cèze. “A friendly and inexpensive place,” explains the restaurateur. A local shopkeeper advised him to mute his social demands if he did not want to see “three-quarters of residents boycott the restaurant”. He is in a hurry to bring his friends in chasubles together at the table. For the yellow vest, the law of the heart prevails over the wallet.
Will we see “yellow vest” lists in the next elections?
In 2018-2019, this popular insurrection shook power and the trauma remains within Macronie. Out of 500 roundabouts invested at the height of the movement, between 50 and 80 are still occupied every weekend, according to Jérôme Rodrigues, one of the media figures of the protest.
Collective action did not evolve into a political movement – during the presidential, legislative, European or municipal elections. In 2020, ten lists labeled “yellow vests” ran in the municipal elections. Certain figures, like Ingrid Levavasseur in Rouen, join the municipal council in the opposition.
A few months before the 2024 European elections, for the moment, none of them has officially announced a candidacy. In sight, perhaps, the presidential election of 2027?