The riot was a mixture of a demonstration and a protest, and created a sensory overload. Paris today was filled with noise, scents, voices, and vivid sights.
Shopfronts are smashed without reason, and the whispy cloud of tear gas rolls down the boulevards. The thunderclap fireworks that are thrown in wheelie bins before they explode create a cacophonous sound.
The French police learned a valuable lesson. There were violent clashes on both sides.
They were roundly condemned at the end of march for their brutality when controlling a protest, in which they appeared to attack people without discrimination.
French police were criticised by the United Nations shortly before the first canister of tear gas was fired in France for their “excessive force” just a few days earlier. Some of the complaints came from Russia but also from European allies like Sweden and Norway.
The police responded with unapologetic vigor when they were confronted with rocks thrown at their faces and property being damaged.
Read More: More Than 60 Injured in Clashes During France Protests
It was not surprising that the use of tear gas, water cannons, or being whack with a baton is not subtle. They promised to be “harsh”, with anyone who causes violence.
The rest of the demonstrators, however, seemed to show greater restraint. After all, the police claimed they were protecting the integrity of this demonstration.
So, in the midst of all this chaos, there was also a message. It was a message that Emmanuel Macron wouldn’t have liked.
This piece of theater mocked the French president on banners, posters and songs.
The fury is centered on his pension reforms, as well as his decision to force through the reforms without parliamentary approval.
One young protester said to me, “He’s not a legitim president anymore.”
A woman in Roman Emperor costume mocked Macron’s apparent desire for power by saying that she was “furious”. She also said that it was time to “get rid of him”.
He will not go, ofcourse. France is obsessed with his pension reforms, no matter how hard he tries.
So it was. The violence that erupted during this protest was not so much the result from the “black bloc” or organised agitators, but rather the pension reform. It seemed to sum up what many people thought – that ordinary people are being ignored or worse, taken for granted.
Macron has had to defend himself against the accusation that he’s distant from his people, more interested in political grandstanding and sweeping changes than the everyday life of the nation. His critics say that he won the last elections because people hated Marine Le Pen more than they did him.
He was once the outsider who reinvented French political life. Many now see him as the incarnation of the establishment.
One person told me that he was the president of only one person. That person is himself.
This is not something Macron would welcome, even though he’s only a few hundred yards away at the Elysee Palace.