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Yellow Vests: ‘We lock ourselves inside,’ says Champs-Élysées concierge

Louise Nordstrom, FRANCE 24 | Police prepare for the 19th round of Yellow Vest protests by putting up the security barriers surrounding the Champs-Élysées neighbourhood in Paris

When the Yellow Vests movement began in November, Ana*, a concierge working by the Champs-Élysées boulevard, says she supported the protests that played out on her doorstep. But that support has now turned to fear.

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“Every Saturday we lock ourselves inside," the 42-year-old warden told FRANCE 24.

For 15 years, Ana and her family have lived in a beautiful, neo-classical building on one of the leafy avenues lining the glamorous Champs-Élysées boulevard in the heart of Paris. Although Ana might share the same high-end address as the other tenants, her lifestyle – and income - are worlds apart.

“Yes, most of the residents here have a lot of money, but they work hard for it and they don’t take anything for granted. And they’re generous,” Ana says, while showing FRANCE 24 around the 40-square-metre ground floor apartment that she shares with her husband and their two children. Ana and her husband sleep on a pull-out couch in the living room -- which also serves as the dining room -- while the children occupy one small room each.

Up until about four months ago, Ana says she felt safe in her home, and lucky to be able to bring up her children in such a secure neighbourhood. But then the Yellow Vest protests started. To make matters worse Ana has health problems, including depression.

“When they staged the first demonstration, I was like ‘yes, there are clearly things that aren’t working [in this country], so I support their right to protest’,” she recalls, noting that with her low salary of €1,083 per month, she could identify with the Yellow Vests demands for reform.

“Life’s not easy. We always have food on the table, but I don’t buy new clothes or shoes for example. We go to a restaurant about once a month, but it’s not always possible,” she says, adding that her husband already holds down two jobs, but in order to make ends meet, she is also looking for a second job.

‘Our front door was shaking’

However, when the Yellow Vest protestors returned to her neighbourhood the very next Saturday, Ana began to feel uneasy.

“That’s when things started to get really scary… There were rubber bullets being fired and, at one point, even our front door was shaking,” she recalls.

The Société Générale’s Champs-Élysées branch had its’ windows smashed during an especially violent protest. Photo: Louise Nordstrom, FRANCE 24
The Société Générale’s Champs-Élysées branch had its’ windows smashed during an especially violent protest. Photo: Louise Nordstrom, FRANCE 24

Ana told us that the protests have now impacted both her work and private life.

“When I go to get bread at 7am on Saturdays, I need to bring my identity card, otherwise I can’t return home,” she says, in reference to the police barriers that now surround her neighbourhood. “Two weeks ago I left the house at 7.30 in the morning, But I wasn't able to get home until 11.30 at night because I had my car outside [of the perimeter].”

“We’re under intense police surveillance, but at the same time that is quite reassuring. The police officers are really nice and I talk to them all the time.”

The security parameter surrounding the Champs-Élysées district stretches several kilometres. On protest days, no cars are allowed, and the metro and bus stops are closed.

“We have to walk between 1-2 kilometres to get to the nearest stop. Sometimes more,” she says.

New routines

Ana says she used to do her weekly grocery shopping on Saturdays, but says she now has to do so online – with deliveries on either Thursdays or Fridays -- to make sure the family has enough food to last the weekend. She has also had to change some aspects of her work, including arranging when to coordinate the recycling and garbage as the trucks can no longer circulate as they used to.

Aside from the inconvenience, Ana says it is the violence that is the most worrying.

“I’m worried about the safety of my children. My daughter is turning 18 and she has driving lessons on Saturday, but I don’t let my youngest outside anymore,” she says, referring to her 12-year-old son.

“After more than four months of this, it wears you down. It’s not helping with my depression. If I want to go out into one of the gardens to try to get some sunshine, I can’t, because everything is blocked off.”

The Tarnaud bank was set on fire during ‘Act 18’ of the Yellow Vest protests. Photo: Louise Nordstrom, FRANCE 24
The Tarnaud bank was set on fire during ‘Act 18’ of the Yellow Vest protests. Photo: Louise Nordstrom, FRANCE 24

‘Rich people work’

Although Ana did sympathise with the Yellow Vest movement initially, she now feels it has gone too far. Especially after President Emmanuel Macron presented a €10 billion package to help improve the lives of France’s disadvantaged.

“I don’t understand what they want anymore,” she says. “I mean, there was a political response, and at some point you just have to work for it. Money doesn’t just fall from the skies.”

Ana says she also fears for the safety of the wealthy patrons living in her building.

“The people out there are unforgiving, and I’m afraid that the violence will reach our building and that the people living here will be attacked […] But these are people who work hard. They work incredibly hard in fact. They don’t just sit around and wait for the money to come to them.”

The famed Le Fouquet restaurant undergoes restoration after it was destroyed in a fire during riots on the Champs-Élysées boulevard. Photo: Louise Nordstrom, FRANCE 24
The famed Le Fouquet restaurant undergoes restoration after it was destroyed in a fire during riots on the Champs-Élysées boulevard. Photo: Louise Nordstrom, FRANCE 24

Ana says that she can sense that there is increased animosity against those who are perceived to be wealthy.

To underscore this, Ana recounts how just a few days earlier she went shopping to buy a birthday present for a friend in one of the luxury boutiques on the Champs-Élysées, and which typically caters for “well-to-do” customers.

“I bought a watch, and after I bought it, the sales lady offered me a white bag to carry it in – to make the purchase incognito so that no one would see that I had shopped there. I was shocked; is that what we have come to?!”

Ana is supposed to celebrate her friend’s birthday in the Paris suburbs this Saturday, but as the Yellow Vests stage their 19th consecutive protests on the Champs-Élysées, she doesn’t yet know how, or if, she will be able to go.

“I probably won’t be able to make it,” she says sadly.

*Ana is not her real name

 

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