Priscillia Ludosky, the co-author of the petition that condemned proposed fuel price hikes that led to the first Yellow Vests protest a year ago, talks exclusively to RFI.
The 34-year-old former bank employee turned protest leader has experienced the most turbulent year of her life. A self-proclaimed “peace soldier”, Priscillia Ludosky views the Yellow Vest movement as a force for good, and regrets the violence carried out by some protesters and the security forces.
Explain how an online petition gave rise to a national movement?
Last year I launched a petition condemning the hike in fuel prices and the lack of transparency on the part of the government about how our taxes are spent. It also condemned the lack of public transport. I reached out to numerous media. A local radio was the first to open its doors to me, then it was the local press and then Le Parisien newspaper wrote an article. That caused the petition to go viral.
Together with another inhabitant of Seine-et-Marne who was planning a go-slow of vehicles to protest against the fuel price hike, we joined forces and announced a demonstration for 17 November, which was the first.
What is the common denominator between the Yellow Vests?
What unites the Yellow Vests is that we condemn the widening gap between rich and poor, and the rise in living costs.
The fact is that the Yellow Vest movement is unified by four main factors. Democracy being one, and we have put in place a structure that enables people to participate more easily in decision-making. The environment being another issue that we agree needs urgent action, so we have come up with solutions we think are socially fair. A lack of public services and fairer taxation.
What is your take on the violence committed by some Yellow Vest protesters against the security forces, journalists, public property and historic monuments?
Unfortunately, on the fringes of most demonstrations there is violence. Whether it's the Yellow Vests or any other protest movement in France or other places in the world, since time immemorial there tend to be some violent elements. It is an issue that has to be taken into account. But it should also be noted that some of the violence by protesters is a direct response to the violence meted out by the security services.
What relations do the Yellow Vests have with political parties and unions?
I don't personally work with unions or political parties. The fact that we are on the streets is because we don't have confidence in unions to mediate, or in political parties.
Unions tend to work to advance the rights of workers in specific sectors within the structures of those companies to help inform workers of their rights. And while they also champion social issues and the environment, the Yellow Vests are ultimately a social movement. Of course, people who identify with the Yellow Vests may also be affiliated to a political party or to a union.
Are Yellow Vests pro- or anti-environmentalists?
It's true that in the beginning we spent a lot of time explaining that we are not anti-environmentalists. Even the petition we launched last year mentions environmental issues. It's absolutely wrong to say that we do not support the protection of the environment.
There are lots of people at the local level within the movement that are engaged in raising awareness of environmental issues. The environment and climate change are ever-present issues because they concern us all. So we are not anti-environmentalists, but rather we have lots of joint projects with environmental defenders.
Has the non-hierarchical nature of the Yellow Vest movement weakened its ability to communicate?
The fact that the Yellow Vests are a non-hierarchical movement has served both as a strength and a weakness. But with the passage of time it seems to have become more of a weakness than a strength. The way we have been able to get people out onto the streets shows that having no particular structure hasn't prevented us from organising extensive protests. As time goes on, the need for structuring our ideas and activities grows, and I see this as something to be worked on.
What is the difference between the 'Real Debate' and the 'Great Debate'?
The 'Great Debate' was started by President Emmanuel Macron back in January. It lasted three months and cost €12 million. We still don't know the outcome of it. The questions it tried to answer were all related to the current political agenda.
The 'Real Debate' is an initiative by the Yellow Vests that is a genuine and open platform where the people can post their proposals without bias. It cost around €4,000. Twenty thousand proposals were posted. One million people voted over 30 days. Then from there we came up with 59 proposals.
Have you ever been attacked physically or verbally due to your prominent role in the Yellow Vest movement?
I have not been physically attacked due to being part of the movement, or for any other reason. But yes, I am attacked via social media. It happens, and it's unfortunate, but that's how it is.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned over the past 12 months?
In the year since the movement started, despite not having received a credible response from politicians, it's allowed me to encourage people to come together and to connect. We have created projects together and advanced together in the name of solidarity. We have also sounded the alarm about the dysfunction of French society.
The Yellow Vest movement has evolved, and will continue evolving whereby future presidents will have no choice but to take into account that our lives matter. I feel that has been the biggest realisation.
What future do you see for the Yellow Vest movement?
It's not easy to see a positive outcome for a movement that is demanding things from people that run the country. I'm not at all convinced there is a political solution. We will have to see whether people use the upcoming municipal elections to fight harder to change what has been happening in their local areas.
I'm part of a group that has started the 'People's Lobby'. This 'People's Lobby' is aimed at ensuring local voices are heard, and that are demands are taken to the people at the top through the networks we have built. And, with that, we hope to be able to work together and fight for the most important national issues.