Organizer Of The Yellow Vest Protests In France Discusses Reasons For Protesting

21 hours ago
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We reached Christophe Chalencon in Paris yesterday. He's an organizer of the yellow vest movement. He's an iron craftsman from southeastern France. We spoke to him before today's protests began. Monsieur Chalencon, thanks very much for being with us.

CHRISTOPHE CHALENCON: (Speaking French).

SIMON: Why have you joined these protests?

CHALENCON: (Through interpreter) I'm 52. I've seen French society slowly slide towards the Dark Ages. We have people today who have jobs and yet have to sleep in their cars and under bridges. That's unacceptable.

SIMON: How did the gas tax affect you and your family?

CHALENCON: (Through interpreter) The problem is that political power is centralized on Paris, and Mr. Macron's government have certainly not lived in rural France. To get around, to get to the dentist, I have to drive 80 kilometers. To pick up equipment I need for work, it's the same. So this gas tax - it's really a tax that's directly on labor.

SIMON: So a gas tax would greatly increase what it costs you just to live?

CHALENCON: (Through interpreter) Yes, it has a direct impact on buying power.

SIMON: And what kind of choices do you have to make in your family budget?

CHALENCON: (Through interpreter) The choice becomes about food. Some people can't even fill their fridge, and those who can no longer buy quality food.

SIMON: So you feel French society is stacked towards people with money.

CHALENCON: (Through interpreter) Exactly. And, unfortunately, in French society, right now, you have three categories. You have the very rich who no longer pay taxes. Then, you have rural France, and you have the suburbs, which have been abandoned for 40 years. Today, they're rising up and want to destroy the country.

SIMON: And what would satisfy you now? What would make you stop demonstrating? Or is there anything?

CHALENCON: (Through interpreter) We're not asking for Mr. Macron to step down or to dissolve Parliament. That would plunge France into chaos. We just want Mr. Macron to start talking to the people, to talk like the father of the nation and not like the president of a startup. He has to tell us that he understands us, that he hears us, that he's going to change course. But he seems incapable of that. He used to be a banker, and bankers only think about numbers. They don't think about people. People have to become the focus of politics, again.

SIMON: And, I mean, he's already decided to either not impose or delay the gas tax. That's not enough?

CHALENCON: (Through interpreter) Not at all. We demand a change in government, including the resignation of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

SIMON: Christophe Chalencon, who's an iron craftsman from southeastern France and an organizer of the yellow vest protesters, thanks so much for being with us.

CHALENCON: (Speaking French).

SIMON: Our interpreter has been Mathilde Piard. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.