FRANCE: On the ongoing insurrection of Notre-Dame-des-Landes
Going at the ZAD (as in « Zone Autonome a Défendre », or « Autonomous Zone To Defend ») amounts literally to be getting lost in the middle of nowhere, to arrive on a war front, to the cornerstone of a conflict between two worlds; between the dead world of a cattle/slave/consumer society they are forcing down our minds, and a world of liberty, of possibles for all those who come to built and defend it; a world of free wine and bread- and bed- to all those who oppose the regime where you get forcefully charged for all the material aspects of life. At the ZAD has been raging a long, continuous conflict suspended in uncertainty and disbelief as seen from both sides, an impossible stream of liberation at the very fringe (and yet the doorstep) of a miserable society of control, where quiet moments of comraderie and lazy living are shifting back and forth into days of wild fighting with authorities easily reminiscent of the French resistance against the Nazi occupation. It isn’t too far-fetched to describe it as a major tip of the iceberg in the ongoing social war between the consolidated totalitarian forces of corporate socialism (here, impersonated by the infamous “troika”) and the will and desires for liberation of the people that resent its many forms of oppression, just as it would be unwise to not see any relation between the Notre-Dame-des-Landes struggle and the ongoing bailout/austerity protests that are shaking several major european cities these days. It also has quickly become some sort of focus, and catalyst, for the autonomous squat and the eco-anarchist movements in Europe.
This very local conflict of yet national proportions has arisen out of an international airport project that’s been put in the closet since the mid-‘70s, after having been the object of public opposition back then, then revived by the new corporate administration in “France”, in about the same way as the TAV project between Lyon and Torino. Aside from being an expensive useless project for the sole benefit of a few shareholders, it is targeting a vast area where old-school farmers and other country folk are suddenly being threatened to have their houses and farmland razed and formatted into a big parking lot for airliners. In other words, another of those critical expansion schemes for a new era of totalitarian capitalism, made of lucrative prisons everywhere, CCTVs and genetic research keeping everyone under tight control (DNA sampling is mandatory for everyone dealing with the legal system in France, thanks to the corporate-Socialist Party). You know the drill, and now this whole shit’s getting real… So is the insurrection against it all!
Over the last 1-2 years of struggling, ties of solidarity and permanent collaboration within and outside the Zone have kept building up and gaining strenght, to a point that these days, reports of all kinds of solidarity attacks and actions against the corporate socialist regime and its social order are flooding in from countless parts of French Europe: city councils disrupted in tumult; several random sabotage of Vinci infrastructures (parkmeters, machinery, banners, etc) and actions of opening up Vinci highway tolls; the French Consulate in Geneva defaced with anti-airport slogans, and it all seems like a beginning, as countless local support committees have spread all across France, and they’re preparing something big for December 15th. In the Zone itself, several machines of destruction have been set aflame during State attacks on self-managed encampements, Vinci security vans flamed, as well as larger, more wide-public mobilizations, like city councils occupied and sequestrated mayors.
This is the climate in which I arrived at the ZAD, on November 17th in the morning, in a massive support march all around the zone that amounted to about 40 000 people from all walks of life. After seeing a few camps being raided and destroyed by the Police, it was more than needed to call for such a massive reoccupation action, that resulted in the building of two new camps in a forest area just as the protest unfolded, adding up to the several squats and camps spread chaotically over the Zone. Although being family-friendly and widely intergenerational, this relaunch demo had an obvious, overtly radical tone, with several black bloc and other anarchist-types flooding among the more softy liberals. One of the first things you could come across was hearing Radio Klaxonne (yes, they got a local pirate radio just for the struggle) out of portable radios, while seeing a bunch of youngsters making riot shields out of those ultra-resistant blue plastic barrels and bike tubes, past the crowd of political reformists. Several mainstream media reporters who stormed the demo got quickly handled properly, some having their cameras snatched away, others being shown the way out. There was a widespread denouncing of the political recyclors “of all colors” among the crowd, and as a matter of fact, the funniest moment was perhaps when national star of the environmentalist movement José Beauvais showed uo for his usual live TV interview, only to get his fetish pipe savagely stolen by some protester, which led to a ridiculous public call among the Left for the recovery of this relic.
The Vache-Rit social center and the Rolandière encampement (now called « Out of Control ») were the two welcoming spots for the newcomers, and first step towards diving deeper in the rogue networks of the zone, constantly cooking food and amassing all kinds of donations in the free shop, hosting a militant medical clinic, community kitchen and info spot. The best part is that there’s alot of room where to squat, no matter if it’s for setting up your tent or building the shack of your dreams. There’s also a LOT of room for letting your insurgent imagination go wild as well, especially on the matters of DIY weaponry and defense, as people here have been at it for a while. It is reallly one of those contexts where it’s worth putting everything in the line of fire, up against an entire society.
So as the dust settled as the real authentic resisters took seat in the Zone, it was actually the time when the real struggle began… once again. The first week was quiet, but as the hours were passing the hordes of leftists and reformists were leaving back to their duties with society sopn the cops could start to amass in large numbers at several spots in and around the Zone, the militants started to gradually build barricades on the two main roads linking the surrounding villages. A treehouse encampment was rebuilt in the Rohanne forest where dozens of workshops were given on relevant topics such as tree-climbing, herbal medicine, botanics and natural history of the area, while at a ten minutes trek a huge camp made of various kinds of eco-houses was under continuous construction, with its own self-managed facilities (medic house, wood mill, forge, bath stove to make hot water, etc). The two sites attracted hundreds of interested visitors each day, who shared a drink, plate or a chat by the fireplace with militants of mostly anarchist leanings (along with the usual hippies and leftists). Networks and friendships have kept building up in queer comraderie for a few days, mostly without trouble with cops, barricades were held by rotating shifts by people from all over the Zone, some having long cozy nights with buddies around a barricade fire, with random provisions of food and drinks from brave comrades, while others were getting up at around 5-6 AM to get the early morning news and dispatch themselves to wherever support was needed.
Then came this ill-fated Friday morning, where a vast majority of militants did the tragic mistake of going at that concert at a bush camp called the No Name. One way or another, the Police had seemingly been informed of such an expected party, or else became aware of the fact that the most important road barricades were left unguarded at the early hours of the morning, as a result of Radical Satan’s visceral tango and plenty of French wine and Flemish beer. The fucking pigs entirely grasped the opportunity to come in and do it like D-day in Normandy- only with the fascists on the attacker’s side- with more than 20 police vans suddenly showing up at the western extremity of the Zone (each one containing about 8 pigs) as their first wave, and more at the crossroads in the center, blocking the traffic and keeping ordinary local residents on their property (some were forced to stay home for 2 days), with choppers and undercover planes patrolling the skies. This was an implicit martial law.
Although that alarming reports were flooding in on the walkie-talkies and Radio Klaxonne about the police attack, not enough people were up as the cops were entering the Zone. The first target to fall was the Rosiers squat, a much-beloved occupied farmhouse, at 5 years of age being the oldest in the area. Although many hardcore barricades were built to keep it safe and tractors were blocking the small road leading to it, the defense was understaffed (most of the 6-7 posts weren’t even responding on the walkie-talkies) and after about 1 or 2 hours of badly-awaken people struggling their ways through the fields and forest to just get there, the squat was brutally evicted and destroyed by machinery. A painful blow that could have morally shaken the entire ZAD resisters if it weren’t for the fact that they quickly busied themselves at tenaciously defending the two new forest encampments, as after the massacre of the Rosiers, the paramilitaries changed their focus on these. Then we heard the funny news brief on Radio Klaxonne that evicted squatters of the Rosiers were now having their eviction party on the ruins after they had found a long-lost cubic of wine among the rubble (!). But still, the anger and sadness at remembering the Rosiers squat was hard to erase, as it was, in itself, the loss of a form of life, and an important militant infrastructure in the area.
So the Police orcs moved in with the hired machinery of destruction (along with one official Gendarmerie bulldozer) in the forest of Rohanne tp attempt evicting the silvan elves, to meet with a quickly-growing number of protesters who’ve been called and guided to the site through numerous channels, from pirate radio to cell phones, down to the writer of this text who did a fair deal of giving proper direction to the arriving crowds through the whole morning. Although the area of the treehouses was quickly circled by a chain of cops, more and more protesters arrived to make their job a pain in the ass, starting fires, sometimes pushing them to get a “casserole” for cooking. The machines also had a very hard time moving faced with forest barricades of major proportions, then diving spinning deep in a awful mixture of mud and clay. Trenches and pits were dug out for the occasion on the few accessible paths by the same brave militants who’ve set up the heavy wooden barricades in the previous 2-3 days. Then a team of random protesters joined with a huge boat rope to tie in some trees together as a further blockade, leaving cops bedazzled. As the light of day fell, the machines had to call it a day and left in front of a crowd of howling black wolves along applauding leftists. This battle was won, for now.
On the Chataignes front, a violent fight was going on at the same time, and kept going until late evening. Cops took over the encampment, seized most of the equipment (that included a forge and some a stockpile of really cool DIY slingshots, but they’ll be remade) and then retreated after a long-tense fight with a constant exchange of projectiles, molotovs, rockets and smoke bombs. Since the Gendarmes of Brittany have declared their refusal to take part in the police offensive -obviously for not messing with the Bretons, who are known for their tendency for riots and other combattive habits- government police had to be inconveniently moved in from other regions of France, thus making shifts a lot harder.
The Battle of Roanne
The Saturday battle -or forest riot- was a war scene of lethal proportions. About 100 prosters were injured, and only a few cops. As the machines finally reached the elves camp after messing up for a long time in the mud and especially the trenches of muddy clay that were dug as supplement to the forest barricades, exchanges of tear gas, flash grenades and whatever the protesters could get their hands on (molotovs weren’t used in the forest, for obvious reasons, although the pine trees produced huge, hard and heavy pineapples that were lethal enough for throwing, in combination with fireworks and flare rockets). Several people got grenade fragments in their eyes, one got a hot metal (of hard plastic) fragment planted two inches in his leg, while others got hit at several other places on their bodies. Two guys got hit by one right at the torso, and was taken to a hospital in a bad condition like a few others. Another person had his eardrums ripped by a flashbang blast. Fights kept going for a long time, until Sunday morning, as the pigs gradually left. We then reoccupied, rebuilt even stronger barricades, and hoped that this time, there would be people guarding the outposts, and in the bushes.
But the State forces were still on the offensive, no matter whatm and their aim was to get rid of all the road barricades on the 3 main roads crossing the ZAD. The following Monday, the cops made a surprize attack by sending several trucks along the Fosse Noires road, all the way to the Far West road barricade, actually located at the far East of the zone, at the odd hour of 3:30 PM. Once again, everybody was taken by surprise during the laziest time of the day, and about 50-80 people were able to show up in time, having to make a long detour across the painstaking groves to reach the barricade. Other cops trucks came the other way, by the south, so to make a two-pronged attack on the resisters. What ensued was one of the worst cases of infiltration ever seen: 10 undercover cops, roughly dressed up as black blocs, came out of the blue (or the white tear gas smoke) to assault with batons and grab a handful of unexpecting protesters, while all the other protesters were moving away from the sudden cloud of tear gas and flash grenades. With such little preparedness and proper tools to resist (unlike previously at the ZAD, the barricades weren’t set on fire, thus making the police attack much easier). Police vans stayed for a long hours after the violent barricade attack, but late in the night a few remaining police vans were pelted with rocks by apack of howling wolves hidden in the groves, which apparently caused the vans to flee, full speed. Sometimes, all it takes is an attack at the right place.
There are now rumours of a third wave of massive occupation of the ZAD for the December 10-11th, that will coincide with the final court ruling on the legality of the buildings at the Chataignes camp (even though resistance was already being organized around this camp for more than a week now). Since most permanent buildings from the old days were destroyed over the past months/years, it is now more about setting up or building camps as living positions to defend. A new farming project is also on its way.
I could go on for pages over the many awesome moments and gestures that I witnessed and heard of during my time there, like the affinities created and recreated by randomly meeting up with people while making our way through the soaked and obfuscated groves and the forest (which led the stupid French media to call us a “grove guerilla”); a young girl preferring to make beautiful sketches of the Chataignes camp instead of taking pictures; the police choppers being being imposed a no-fly zone by some random pissed-off resisters by shooting flares at their direction; the ultra-cool local insurgent pirate radio working hard to keep everyone in the Zone informed about the serious stuff happening just as playing eveyone’s repertoire of tunes and turning maintream propaganda into the joke that it is, but many more can be found in the numerous war reports and calls posted on the ZAD website or it’s backup blog. There is always need for more translations and outreach.