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Understanding the Yellow Vests Movement Through Basic Color Theory 

With the rise of the gilets jaunes, the yellow vests movement sweeping France (and spreading to Belgium, the Netherlands and elsewhere), it has become apparent that the color of anti-neoliberalism is yellow. Despite much confusion, this much is clear. The people rising up in France did not take to the streets to protest a particular fuel or carbon tax; they are protesting inequality, the inequality of tax cuts for the rich coupled with tax increases and austerity for everyone else — inequalities and inequities inseparable from neoliberalism.

Of course, neoliberalism can be attacked in a progressive as well as in a regressive way. It can be criticized in radical and reactionary and moderate ways. Donald Trump, for instance, rode to power by, among other things, attacking the decline in most people’s quality of life — a decline that is inseparable from the neoliberal organization of the world. In addition to considerable help from the anachronistic electoral college, Trump won the presidency by attacking NAFTA and other so-called free trade deals (arrangements central to neoliberal capitalism). He also promised to fix the crumbling infrastructure that accompanies the neoliberal austerity programs championed by financial elites. But he did all of this in a racist, nationalistic, ultra-reactionary way, scapegoating immigrants, Muslims, and others.  And it is a curious fact that when blended with reactionary Republican red, anti-neoliberalism yellow creates orange — the color of Trump.

Likewise, when blended with blue (the color that symbolizes the Democratic Party these days) the color of anti-neoliberalism produces green — the Green New Deal, for example, that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others are championing (which also happens to be the color of money, and of the military, which the deal remains subordinated to).

Moreover, when blended together Republican red and Democrat blue yield purple — the color not just of bipartisanship, but of the financial elites who support them (in the US and globally) — i.e., the color of royalty. And the opposite of purple (its negation), as any glance at a color wheel will tell you, is yellow. As such, the yellow of the yellow vests is more than just the color of anti-neoliberalism, it’s the color of anti-inequality. That is, it’s the color of radical democracy, of a radical egalitarianism that is hostile to the privatization of the public realm, and hostile to the concentrations of wealth that characterize the present toxic organization of the world.

This radical democracy is evident, among other places, in the yellow vests’ call for a people’s assembly — not to mention in their demands for taxes on wealth, a higher minimum wage, and a maximum salary. So, yellow is not just the color of anti-neoliberalism but (unlike orange and green) it is the color of a radically egalitarian, radically democratic anti-neoliberalism — a color that just so happens to be the color of the sun, and of a new day, as well.

Post Script

Although the gilets jaunes’ initial rejection of a regressive fuel tax has led to their being characterized as averse to fighting catastrophic climate change, because inequality, globalization and catastrophic climate change (as Bruno Latour demonstrates in Down to Earth) comprise a unity, by fighting inequality the yellow vest movement (especially in its larger, more diverse manifestations) is fighting catastrophic climate change — just as fighting catastrophic climate change in earnest requires fighting inequality.

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Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com and on twitter @elliot_sperber

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