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Surviving Zad’s uncertain future

Surviving Zad’s uncertain future

Zad’s Council for the Maintenance of Occupations takes an in-depth look at the French State’s latest divide-and-rule project in the wake of their famous victory over the  Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport.

We often said, to demonstrate our stubbornness, “There will be no airport in Notre-Dame-des-Landes” — to make it a prophecy. On January 17th, this statement was written in capital letters across an entire country. It is now a dumb phrase, but one that marks a historic event of unparalleled magnitude over the last 40 years: the first great political victory of a generation.

It was necessary to go back to the fight of the peasants of Larzac to find an equivalent, so stingy our present is with it. And it is a bad comparison, since here it is against a succession of hostile governments that we have won, without any candidate promising its abandonment in their program. And without excessive pacifism, too, which its chroniclers have not failed to point out, referring to its emblematic status as a “lawless” zone. Zad and its fierce defence in 2012.

It would be wrong to believe that only stones and barricades have won. Yet it is their use that made the abandonment decision both compelling and hard to swallow for President Macron. “Gave the Zad to the radicals,” editorialists blamed the president, overshadowing the fact that a whole movement has fought for half a century while using all forms of legal or illegal resistance. To avoid humiliation, the State has therefore mounted a shaky little play: first a mediation, then a lot of meetings with local elected officials, and finally the mime of an abortive eviction. Despite all these efforts, the victory flickers in the middle of garbage media and politicians.

In a time when everything leads us to believe that it is futile to fight, everyone can feel it. There has been constant pressure on the hedgerows for almost a decade, or in street demonstrations in the cities of France. On January 17th messages came to us from all over Europe, as the experience of the Zad is emblematic, because of its duration, its consistency, its ability to aggregate and its audacity. But what touched us even more was the accolades given to us by the elders under the hangar of the Vacherit, those who had won at the Pellerin, at the Carnet, at Plogoff, and who were raising their glasses at the return of this healthy fear of elites rendered unable to carry out their major projects in this country.

…by the side of the road

Yet it is not easy to win. Especially since in an almost unanimous desire for revenge journalists, elected officials and entrepreneurs agreed that if the state were to abandon this airport project, it was necessary at least that it would allow in its wake a means of getting rid of the “Zadistes”. It was then a question of pressing on what could finally isolate the illegal occupants from their neighbours, their peasant comrades, naturalists and syndicalists.

Thus, the Prefecture has told us to dismantle all that obstructed the D281 road, under penalty of an immediate police intervention whose limitations remain deliberately vague. Mobile guards were stationed in the vicinity, controlling vehicles in the towns adjoining the Zad. This injunction had aspects which were comical to say the least since it is the same Prefecture, in 2013, that had closed the road — only for it to be reopened immediately by the movement.

D281 is not just a transport axis for Zad, it’s a symbol, part of our history with its famous chicanes both poetic and chaotic, its drawings ground in tar, its brambles crawling over the bitumen, its improbable uses … and the disagreements it engendered cyclically between us. Because if it was open to traffic, it was not always easy to use, especially for farmers who sometimes struggled to get their farm machinery down. It also generated anguish and resentment on the part of many of our neighbours, because of the sometimes hostile behavior of some barricadiers, and many resigned themselves to no longer using it.

Once the abandonment was pronounced, it became impossible to continue to defend strongly the roadblocks while the villagers were calling for its total opening and a very important part of the movement considered this gesture necessary to be in position to maintain a struggle for the future of the Zad. The state has tried to play on this point of contention so as not to completely lose face. Many of us were told that if we did not reopen the road, the promised intervention was very likely. Which would have offered the government the story it dreamed of: radicals cut off from the rest of the movement that refused to engage in this matter. This could then have been a springboard for arrests or expulsion of certain habitats.

In the days following the abandonment, the clearing of the D281 became the nodal point around which the definitive break-up of the movement would take place, or which would see it grow and continue beyond January 17th. Should we take the risk of losing everything — the experience of the Zad, a united defense of the occupied places, a common future with the other components — for a symbol? We have in assembly decided no, without possibility of a consensus. Some have taken this resolution very badly, and it took long discussions, turning often to frank shouting, to finally dismantle the two cabins built on the road. One of them is in reconstruction in a field bordering the D281. But tensions around the road and repair work remain.

Police guard the DDE (Definitive Destructors of Equipment) clearing yard on Tuesday at Zad on February 6th, as part of ongoing monitoring and intimidation tactics by the force.

However, it is important for the immediate future that this dismantling has been an opportunity to renew a solemn promise made by all the components: if we were again in imminent danger of expulsion, all commit themselves to rebarricade the roads that lead to the Zad. As often as is necessary.

This is how the movement responds to the elites, for whom the D281 can in turn serve as a symbol for a “return to order”. It’s a dummy symbol because the area is still busy, but lure enough for the state to accept the opening of negotiations on the future of places. As far as we are concerned, we retain from this difficult episode a further demonstration of the willingness of those who are not occupiers to commit to continue with us after the abandonment.

This was not obvious at a time when the initial goal of some had been reached. It is even less so when human relations are clenched hard. But the continuity of the presence of these comrades marks, more than ever, the desire for a common future. This once improbable desire has taken shape over the years of danger and shared challenges, building sites and celebrations. So many sensitive experiences that have upset the policy-making and the boundaries of each component. So many refusals to resign themselves to a simple return to normal. However, we must not consider this desire to continue beyond the airport as an asset, but as a fragile balance that we must take care of, because it is this which will now fuel the fight.

Land right in front of us

Although we are not used to winning, we are not taken aback by the victory against the airport. We had had a fundamental intuition years ago: a victory is built. Thus, although it constituted a form of rupture, what it has set in motion was reflected by the movement at the end of operation Caesar. We do not have to urgently invent what we want next, the text of the “six points for the future of the Zad” was stated as early as 2015. It was a fundamental shift: from a fight against a project, we slowly moved to a fight to perpetuate and amplify what we had built on this territory through combat. And since January 17th, it is the common horizon that we share.

To achieve this, we can now rely on the legitimacy we have just acquired: it was admitted that we were right. Many consequences result. For example, the unconditional defence of amnesty for all the accused of the anti-airport movement. But also and above all a simple principle: those who have ensured this territory was not destroyed are best able to take charge.
The end of the Declaration of Public Utility on February 9th disrupts the status of the lands of the Zad.

Of the 1,650 hectares of the airport zone, 450 were  cultivated long ago by peasants and resistant peasants who intend to recover their rights. Already 270 have been torn from the management of the Chamber of Agriculture by the movement to carry out collective agricultural experiments.

530 hectares of land are still temporarily redistributed to farmers who have signed an amicable agreement with Vinci. As such, they had received financial compensation and obtained some parcels outside the area. Yet they continue to exploit and collect the EU CAP subsidy on these lands that they ceded to Vinci. The greediest could henceforth claim priority over future leases and take advantage of the lands rescued by the movement to expand their exploitation. In addition, the former owners in struggle who have refused any agreement with Vinci will be able to find their expropriated property and choose to give it back a classic or more collective use by bringing them into a common property entity. The battle for land is therefore at the heart of the struggle for months or years to come. 

The burning challenge now facing the movement is how to bring about collective management on the largest possible area and prevent a risk of bursting. Because if the surface of the Zad is too fragmented, the consequence could be the gradual end of the common force that bubbles here, to make room for a scattered sum of individuals or groups each pursuing their own objectives. One imagines that the most isolated could be expelled, and that others would be forced to return little by little in the economic frameworks that the Zad has so successfully exploded so far. A significant portion of the land could return to productivist forms of agriculture with little concern for the equilibrium that has been found here between human activities and the care of the grove. And it is of course the traditional agricultural institutions that would take them back in hand.

Map of the Zad’s layout

That’s why this spring we will have to continue to occupy new land and install projects that will reduce the lust of dippers and the arrogance of the rulers who threaten to expel living places from April 1st.

That is why we also have the ambition to bring the lands of the Zad into an entity resulting from the movement of struggle. The decision to give it a legal form is the result of discussions between the components and the assembly. It was the choice that we could all take together, reconciling the objectives of each other, and therefore maintaining a balance of power in the future. This entity would aim to encompass the swarming of the Zad to maintain its wealth, a real cloak under which margins of invention and freedom could continue to develop. It would be only a form, the most coherent possible of course with our desires. The essential will always and always be in the way one lives both this form and this territory.

This choice to move towards a legal basis has been counterintuitive for many here, disturbing the political ideals of a large number of the occupants. It forced us to seriously ask ourselves what we wanted. To ask ourselves what would ensure the future sustainability of all activities and all places of life. We are certain that these complex questions are not resolved by defiant diatribes about the alleged betrayal of one or the other and by a radical fatalism about sanitised tomorrows.

We can not be satisfied with self-fulfilling prophecies that predict the free common experiences will end up crushed or reinstated. On the contrary, we believe, in this moment of change, we must work out what will best keep the promises that have been made step-by-step into the future. The current fight is far from won. It requires incredible trust between us, between the components, the people. Trust in our goals, in our practices, and in the respect that each one brings to them.

Such confidence is a rarity nowadays. We are well aware that any legalisation obviously includes risks of normalisation. But what we are considering is rather the opposite: creating precedents that continue to push the threshold of what institutions can accept. Hoping that these corners embedded in the rigidity of French law will serve many more than us in the future. It is because we believe in this hypothesis that we decided to go and defend our vision of the future of the Zad against the State within a joint delegation gathering all the components rather than leaving room for separate negotiations that would enable singular interests and therefore sometimes splits. This delegation will emanate from the movement’s assemblies, which will, at the same time, continue to take the necessary actions to extract what the negotiations would not ensure.

Assembled uses

The stove welded to a water heater can not warm the atmosphere of the great Wardine room. The hundred people take their places, perched on a sofa, on a bench. Behind their oval-shaped circle, the walls are completely covered with paintings refering to an atmosphere closer to the punk concert than the meeting. The small crowd is colorful, in age, style, lifestyle. A peasant woman speaks. Her farm is located about 30 kilometers from the Zad, however, when she speaks of these 1,650 hectares, one would think that she was born there and that she intends to finish her life there. That’s how she talks about it, it’s in this fashion that she holds it.

It is often said “the territory belongs to those who live there”, to mark a break with the technocratic inclinations of the state. Here, it’s more than that. It belongs to a movement, not by ownership, but by combat. And since the abandonment, the hall of the assembly is still full, filled with these people who will form the heart, not legal but real, of the entity that we want and who will fight for the ways of living that we have built here to last and deepen. These are based on a type of sharing that is unusual.

If there is indeed a place where the possession of capital is not source of pride and valorisation, it is this area. Many things are free there, you can use tractors, tools or books without ever putting your hand in your pocket. This does not mean that there is no circulation of money everywhere. It is its use that differs, and its symbolism: “we would like to pay” is not the easy repayment of a lack of involvement in the common, a customs clearance. If there is a little money, then, there is a fierce and daily fight against the economic logic that would make every move into a calculation of value. On the contrary, we try to substitute our bonds, our attachments, trust and a certain sense of commitment. Such scrupulous reciprocity is not required, because the exchanges are not thought at the individual scale, but as that of the territory. If the baker gives a loaf to someone in the social rap group of Zad, he does not calculate how many verses his flour is worth. The first accounting line for services rendered has not yet been written. Obviously, nothing guarantees us that all play the game; it is both a bet and a question of balance. The care given to the quality of relations and common perspectives conjures the economy much better than the banishment of the least euro …

This is how we conceive of production, but also space: meadows, forests, bread ovens, workshops … as a common. This does not mean that everything is indifferent to everyone. Those who have built, maintain or regularly use spaces, planning for many years, obviously do not have the same weight when it comes to deciding what will happen there. Use prevents chaos from taking the place of property. In parallel, the movement deploys its inventiveness so that the needs of the newcomers wishing to be involved are satisfied. The battle that is opening today is not only a fight for the land, for the land, but especially to make live this way of sharing, and give a completely different meaning to the idea of ​​work or activity.

Tomorrow is not far

A few months ago, while passing along the path of Suez, one could hear songs resound in Basque, in Breton, in Italian, in Occitan, in Polish, and sometimes even in French. They came from the AmbaZada shipyard, a double hangar destined to become the embassy of struggles and peoples around the world at the Zad. This idea was born within the Basque support committee, which organised as “brigades”. Many came to participate in the construction of the building. Groups can spend a few days or weeks, talk about their struggles, get organised with us, while having a drink at the bar. We can deepen the coordination between the territorial struggles which was formed last year, and thus be stronger, more numerous and organised wherever a project threatens a country.

In recent weeks, we have heard a lot about the Zad’s pacification, and its future as an “alternative agricultural zone”. It would not be the order of the day to fight on, since the airport will not be there. Others say that from now on Notre-Dame-des-Landes could become a base of material support for other struggles, since this front has disappeared.

We prefer not to oppose front and back, because the two are intimately linked here. It is the combination of the offensive traditions of the local peasants and the foundation of the Zad that allowed a consistent production and to take on the picket lines in Nantes. It is still this hybridisation that will carry its energy to the woods of Bure, the free district of Lentillères, the hills of Roybon or the causse of Saint-Victor. Similarly, the material strength of the Zad (carpentry, milling, forging, canning, radio pirate, barnums, sonos, tractopelle and seeds … ) grows and is constituted thanks to the support of farmers and employees in struggle. It’s indémêlable, and that’s good. To preserve and densify these links protects us from becoming a peaceful agricultural future or a radical zone at the margins. It is still and always circulation and exchange that will allow the Zad not to close. The more it lives curious, welcoming and adventurous, the more its real territory extends well beyond the perimeter.

Under the slates of the shed of the future, at night, we prepare the zbeulinette, a folding caravan wagon. She is now the vehicle of our presence in the struggles of Nantes. Loaded with food, drink, music and books, she detonates somewhat in the middle of the Haussmann boulevards. This is not a support caravan because we are intrinsically caught in most of the battles it supplies. Recently, it was at the university that opened her wings. In the car park, at dawn, groups moved the material necessary for the construction of barricades: an amphitheater of the faculty and the castle of the rectorate was occupied by students and undocumented migrants. We deployed our hitch, tables and sound system. Already, the ten billigs she hid began to smoke in the icy air. The patties of the Zad have a reputation that dates from the movement against the labor law. The young people approached so quickly, commenting on the hands of the crepe makers. Do they know what it took to repair agricultural equipment, building sites, harvests, millers for this flour to turn into slabs? It does not matter after all, the bottom line is that hunger subsides, that heat enters the body.

There is nowhere else in the country a space like that of the Zad, gathering as many material capacities turned towards the fight. A beating heart and circulation of ideas and imaginations, the most crazy projections. The temporal and material basis that is so lacking in our struggles and could be rooted in the next few months would make it possible to give a whole new dimension to the thousand activities that exist at the Zad, and to concretise these projections. Create a hamlet worker with our fellow trade unionists (respecting the architectural style of the Zad!), making existing habitats both more and more convenient and zany, grafting fruit trees in all hedgerows of the hedgerow, forming a herd-school to learn breeding, opening a social center, a care center, a home the elders, enlarging the library, building a hammam, making regional or even national supply network struggles, having a print shop … The list is long of all the desires that inspire us in these few hundred hectares. It is also open to you: the lands we will occupy in the spring are waiting for facilities, whether they are agricultural or not. It is difficult for us today to measure all the upheavals that abandonment will engender. One season has just ended without having switched to the next. This new time, we must tear it away, build it, invent it. And it is with our dreams that we will shape these metamorphoses.

See you on March 31st for the event against threats of expulsion and in the spring to project yourself on new lands!

From inhabitants of the following places:

the Moulin de Rohanne,
the Rolandière,
the 100 names,
the Hulotte,
Saint-Jean du Tertre,
the Black Fosses,
the Baraka and Nantes

gathered in the CMDO (Council for the Maintenance of Occupations)

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