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What can we learn from the Yellow Jackets?

We Brits are not the only ones facing a political crisis. Whilst we endlessly debate our exit from Europe, the good folk of France have been taking to the streets to vent their feelings about their government. ‘Who are France’s ‘Yellow Jacket’ protesters and what do they want?’ headlined NBC News. The question was prompted by the lack of political leadership behind the protests. This is no legitimate government opposition; it’s a real movement of change.

Putting aside the politics, and the antics of the protesters, what interests us at The Storytellers is the identity this movement has adopted. We know that creating a strong and emotive identity can help to motivate and mobilise people behind change efforts. And this is a great example.

They’ve taken the neon vests French drivers are obliged to carry in their vehicles in the case of roadside emergencies and use them to create a visual symbol of solidarity: the ‘Yellow Jacket’ activists. By donning their ‘high vis jackets,’ this disparate group of people, whose only physical connection is through social media, now feel like a united force. The jacket says, ‘“I belong.”

The identity is both practical (most French people own one) and symbolic. This is something you are supposed to keep in your car. It’s decreed by government. Unleashing it from its usual role feels like an act of rebellion which is just what the protesters want to create. And the ‘Yellow Jackets’ have now become a short hand for the media to use, communicating to others and raising awareness of the cause.

In a recent talk, Michael Bierut, the designer of Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign, talked about physical symbols being the ‘new logos’. Reference the women in America who donned their ‘PussyHats’ when displaying their displeasure of President Trump’s behaviour. Of course, physical motifs are not new; just think of the power of the Poppy. Maybe the shift is how these identities are developed. After all, if you want to create activists, why not give them an active part in its creation?