PARIS (AP) — For many yellow vest protesters, the stinging sadness that came with the devastating fire at Notre Dame Cathedral has quickly given way to boiling anger.
Some of the activists, whose violent protests against inequality have been shaking up France for months, said they cried in front of their TV sets as they watched the Gothic architectural masterpiece being consumed by flames Monday night.
Despite their struggles to make ends meet, some even made small donations for the restoration of the iconic building.
But they also felt unheard when French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the nation to speak about the fire, instead of laying out his response to the social crisis that has fueled their protests since last November.
And they felt even more outraged when, in just a few hours, billionaires pledged hundreds of millions of dollars (euros) to help restore the damaged cathedral while their demands remain unsatisfied in their longstanding fight with the French government.
“You’re there, looking at all these millions accumulating, after spending five months in the streets fighting social and fiscal injustice. It’s breaking my heart,” Ingrid Levavasseur, a founding leader of the movement, told The Associated Press ahead of another round of planned protests across France this weekend.>
Anti-rich messages have flourished on social media in recent days as yellow vest protesters coordinated their action for the weekend.
“A little message for all the patrons (Pinault, Arnault and the others), hospitals are on strike because they lack means, so if you can make a gesture...” a Facebook user wrote.
Meanwhile, dozens of others exhorted wealthy donors to be more generous with France’s underclass.
“Victor Hugo thanks all the generous donors ready to save Notre Dame and proposes that they do the same thing with Les Miserables,” they wrote on their social media pages, quoting French writer Ollivier Pourriol and his droll reference to Hugo’s famous novels about the cathedral and the lives of the poor.
Tristan, a yellow vest supporter who declined to give his full name for fear of being identified by police after he was banned from traveling to Paris during weekends to attend demonstrations, prefers to stay away from the polemics.
He made an 80-euro (nearly $90) donation to Notre Dame — quite a lot of money for the 29-year-old, who works in construction and does frequent night shifts to put butter on his bread.
“I’m a Catholic, I’m a regular churchgoer, and I felt personally touched,” he said. “Tears came to my eyes on Monday night.”
“Of course, one can ask why billionaires did not give money before to less important organizations. But who knows if they didn’t?” he said.
“On the other hand, what really shocked me is Macron saying Notre Dame would be rebuilt within five years. It’s obvious he never held a trowel in his life.”
Read and watch all AP coverage of the Notre Dame fire at https://apnews.com/NotreDameCathedral