Can social movement go too far?

Helen Bevan explained to me once that social movement is about followers. I vividly recall the crazy man dance video and the analysis she gave and how his can be an example of social movement. Most social movements are powerful change agents. 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 recently as an outrage to the French government’s proposals to increase fuel by a further 10c, this is on top of a 25% increase in the last 6 months due to various factors.


The movement has no leaders, which has been the challenge for the government to negotiate. But their intention is to reverse the government’s decision on fuel tax. They achieved that this week. But at what cost?

The approach was simple, strategically placed roadblocks, in the main peaceful. This with demonstrations that started peacefully but regrettably tipped into violence and criminal damage. However, 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. But it wasn’t President 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.That in itself is a political statement.

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.

What’s next?

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.

Originally published at @DigitalGerry.