WAKE UP!! WAKE UP!! No more fash by the sea
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Since October, Europe's longest, largest 'Postcapitalist land occupation', la ZAD (Zone A Defendre) in western France, 15 miles from Nantes, has been under attack from the authorities who want to clear it and build an airport. The 12km site, occupied for five years, has for the large part functioned as a hippy-ass heaven run by rural rebels. Thousands of occupants and tens of thousands more supporters have been digging in and resisting eviction - facing off with cops, balifffs, helicpoters and tear gas on a daily basis. We interviewed one UK activist on a tour of duty at the scene two weeks ago - here's another update from 'le frontline'...
So how did it all kick off?
They came the morning after I last spoke to you. They came to the new cabins in the 'Big Forest' (BF) and they threw everyone our by throwing tear gas in through the windows - not a nice way to be woken up. There was loads of people staying in them and despite the attack they stayed there all day, I think their plan was to demolish the cabins - they bought big diggers and digging materials to the forest but there were so many people there surrounding the buildings, they weren't able to get to the cabins or the tree houses to knock them down. And as for the cabins, apparently there's some sort of planning laws that means that even though they brought the diggers, they now have to wait until they get some sort of permit to destroy them. They also evicted another squat called the Rossier. Everyone there was woken at six in the morning with police already inside.
From then on the police kept up heavy presence the whole time – hanging out during the day, and patrolling the barricades outside – making sure that people didn't do any building there, and confiscating tools whenever people brought them back. It's the first time I've seen them keep that up all round the clock day and night including Sundays. They maintained a presence along the cross roads everywhere, making it really hard to get around them leading to much confused sneaking around in fields and forests.
They weren't actually arresting people. Even during the days when they evicted all the treehouses in the main BF site, they still didn't really... I think for the whole time I was there about 8 people got arrested. But even then, those arrested were taken to the police station and released almost immediately. So it seems they weren't really trying to arrest people which is a bit strange,
What were the cop tactics?
It was pretty intense. They were going crazy with CS gas. The day they descended on the BF they were CS gassing so often it was like constantly being in a fog of it. And then they were throwing sound grenades at people as well, which is really dangerous. When they explode its not just the terrifying decibels of noise but when they explode bits of metal fly off them and if you're too close to them the shrapnel can damage you. Loads of people had cuts on their legs and arms and faces from the sound grenades exploding nearby.
The day before we left the barricades had been taken down the day before and the police presence was still there still ID controlling people, as they were at the cabins, where there had been a constant battle between cops and people agitating.
And what was the resistance like from the activists?
Having such a diverse group of people there led to a variety of different approaches. Some people were filling bottles with petrol and making molotovs, some older people were saying we have to be non-violent which prompted a lot of discussion. The answer was 'why should we be non-violent? They're hitting us with sound grenades and rubber bullets!'
Loads of people had gas masks so every time the police threw gas cannisters, they'd run in, pick them up, and throw them back at them. There was a lot of very organised militancy. On the day the cops came to the big forest with sound grenades, and CS gas, people came prepared with full body armour and gas masks. And then there were also a huge bunch of older people there who'd gone en masse and surrounded the diggers so the machines couldn't go through. The mood was positive after that, even when there were differences of opinion. It helped that people were coming through all the time, supporting and donating lots of stuff. An effective kitchen set up was established, able to send food out to the barricades to fuel those on the front line. Overall it was pretty well organised with people working well together.
And how is the support now?
There is loads of new people still arriving. Morale was lifted when a local farmer, who has lent out his barn to be used as a free shop and central area, came out in defiant support and vowed to continue even as the cops arrived in force and tried putting him under intense pressure. It remains an important hub with a kitchen there with local farmers bringing regular vegetable supplies in, a 'Bibliobus' provinding information and a free shop also open.
The free shop service was amazing. There was even a box for putting your socks - drop them off and people from the local villages would take them a way and wash them for you. The last day we went there there were these two sweet old women folding up all the clothes so carefully they were hotel neat.
One of the mornings we were on the barricades a trade unionist from Nantes came to show solidarity with bottles of wine and bags of dried fruit. The whole time I was there there were constantly people passing through bringing food and drink and first aid stuff.
It's been huge in the media in France, there were lots and lots of posters in support of the cause so its getting a lot of positive attention.
So it looks set to carry on for a some time yet?
I hope so. 'Cos I heard that the plan was to try and have everyone out with the site secured by the end of November - which obviously they haven't been able to do, not by a long shot. The amount of people resisting has just increased by a huge amount. When we passed through Paris after we left, there were posters everywhere. It seems like the more they try and get people out, the more it gets in the French media and the more people resist... In Nantes and Paris and other cities there are protests springing up in support. It seems like the more they try and suppress people the more defient they become. It seems more like something that is growing rsther than fading away any time soon...
* See ZAD's own site - which is French naturally enough - translated (amusingly literally) here
* See some awsome photos from an exhibition about the protest here
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