A collective is a group of people motivated by the same issue or working together for a purpose. It’s a little different from a commune in that with a commune you don’t necessarily have a common issue. Why might people choose to live together in a collective? Around the land of La ZAD in France there are many different collectives. I spoke to members of the collective at La Rolandiere about what it was like to live there together.
After a six day ride from Grow Heathrow in London, the Time to Cycle crew arrived at La ZAD to share and hear stories about the resistance of airport expansion.
I caught up with some of the cyclists to find out why they had decided to undertake the journey and how it had gone.
Part of the aim of the ride was to build solidarity between the community in Grow Heathrow and that in La ZAD and one of their activities was to deliver letters from residents at Grow Heathrow to ZAD residents. Many residents are shy of cameras and video, having had terrible experiences with media and also the risk of being singled out by police so few were keen to be filmed. The bemused expressions on many of their faces as we in broken French explained that we were delivering a letter I hope will turn to smiles once they are translated.
There are a great deal of differences between the UK and French anti-aviation occupation cultures with, for example, the French being much broader based and not as climate change orientated. On one of the evenings some of the cyclists gave a presentation about the UK aviation resistance and throughout the week of their stay the cyclists were learning about the zone. If you want to find out what’s going on on the ground, a great way to do it is to just get on your bike and go find out!
The ZAD (Zone A Defendre or Zone to Defend) in France is variously described as an occupation, a no-go area of radical militants, a resistance community, and the proposed second airport for Nantes. During my first visit to La ZAD I explored some of the reasons that people have made this beautiful place their home.
Cycling or driving into La ZAD you may be unaware that you have entered it but after a time you may come to a signpost which no longer has a place name, but instead has ‘ZAD’ spray painted pointing in each direction. Or you may come across a road with artistic barricades, a burnt out car with plants growing through it, or damaged tarmac. Whilst now, all is peaceful farmland, gardens and communities of hand-built houses, it’s clear that something big happened here a few years ago. If you want to orientate yourself and begin to explore this special place, the best place to start is La Rolandiere.
The approximately 1600 Ha of the zone is a place of creativity and independence, of living on the margins and finding a way to make it work. People build knowing that in the future the police and airport will try to tear it down, to build an airport next to another one which is only at 30% capacity. Some of the farms use machinery whilst others use only hand tools. Some choose the way they live for ideological reasons and others out of necessity. Police don’t visit the zone, but there seems little or no crime – people leave their doors unlocked and one woman told me that social disputes are discussed quickly (and at length). You won’t find a supermarket, but you can still buy your food. You can buy local vegetables, bread made with flour from La ZAD, or patisseries made with butter from the zone. If you need clothes you can go to one of the ‘free shops’ or ‘swap shops’ where unwanted clothes and objects have been carefully hung and stacked, waiting to be found by a new owner. On a Friday you can read La ZAD news about what’s been happening and upcoming events, and attend the no-market. The no-market is where people donate things and other people pay what they feel for them. The money is then used as a community fund. One of the functions of the weekly resident’s meeting is to decide on the spending of the community fund.
Each weekly resident’s meeting is attended by around 50 residents and can take anything from one hour to four, including times of silence. “I hated them at first,” Koen from Rolandiere told me, “I was really frustrated, but now I really like them. You have to get used to it, it’s a very different meeting style, it can feel very slow and like nothing has been decided. But it is important. The silences give space for people who would not normally speak to say something. And decisions can be revoked later in extreme cases if people were not present.”
To finish the week off, after building, farming or making, you can find residents swimming in the large beautiful lake (it is warm and wonderful, I checked) and playing on the salvaged pedal-lo. Yep, don’t ask, I have NO idea how they got that one.
I’ll be posting more blogs about La ZAD over the next few months as I revisit, but in the meantime you can find out more from their website.