Welcome to La ZAD

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.

ZAD map

 

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.

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Let the games begin!

The climate games have begun!

We are not fighting for nature. We are nature defending itself.

 

I asked one of the fabulous game makers about what we can expect.

“The climate games are a new breed of disobedience framework. Instead of a mass action with centralised planning, it’s up to teams creativity and initiative to create their actions. Actions are taking place both in Paris and across the world exposing manifestations of THE MESH.”

What is the MESH? “The mesh is the system which drives climate change, it’s capitalism, it’s authoritarianism, it’s a global system which puts profit before people.”

How did the games start? “In Amsterdam against coal plants multiple actions of different tactics were used at the same time and place as a game with teams. It demonstrated the diversity yet unity of the climate movement.”

What were your fondest memories of those games? “Absolutely the award ceremony, because that’s the moment when everyone comes together. We admire each other victories as well as failures. That’s the real movement building moment.”

Is it a security risk all coming together afterwards? “You don’t have to show yourself when presenting or receiving the awards, you can send a witness. It’s also not just for the players, there’s everyone watching and taking part in the awards process.”

Keep an eye on their facebook page for fantastic actions and if you feel inspired, you can still register a team of your own right up until December 12th when the games climax.

The sixteen award categories include the pissed myself cup and the insurrectionary innovation badge.

Insurrectionary Innovation

Pissed Myself

The creative juices are flowing around the world and players are gradually converging on Paris. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

The journey from protest to riot

It feels like the script for yesterday’s violence in Paris was in many ways written over a week ago. Buzz Tour’s Eve, Sama and Miranda witnessed a lot of the events in Place de la Republique yesterday and we have since spoken with others in different parts of the square to hear their stories.

12310424_10154358208153222_7187090291990779079_nThe Place de la Republique was the planned march start location and contains a shrine of flowers, candles and messages of sorrow for the victims of the attacks. In place of the official march, Avaaz arranged for people to be able to place their shoes in the square to represent them, however the shoes then had to all be cleared away by twelve and when I arrived they were bagging up seemingly hundreds of shoes. A ‘human chain’ was formed along the march route which the police permitted as long as they remained spread out and on the pavement.

We defied the protest ban and walked the march route (more on that story later) and saw a range of attitudes from those in the human chain. Some stretches were sombre and back against the wall, others happy and at the edge of the road. All sorts of banners and decorations were showing support for climate action. After the human chain dispersed, the square gradually refilled with people.

Many of those who later filled the square might not have attended a legal march, but attended now to reclaim the right to protest. Following the Paris murders, anger seems to keep growing, feeding itself in a spiral. Speaking with French protesters there is a great deal of history of French police abusing protesters and many have become battle hardened. When a large number of angry and frustrated people gather and are confronted by a large number of police, violence is going to happen. It seems the more police, the more likely that violence will occur. Anger at capitalism as the root cause of inequality and environmental degradation has to be expressed. When unfairness builds, people are going to want to challenge and confront it and will look for opportunities to do so. To reclaim their power and respect in the face of unfairness, people seek action.

People have been taken from their homes without warrant, forbidden from travel, the COP21 protest legal team are under house arrest, even we are followed and Miranda’s accommodation was raided by armed police, just to get everyone’s ID.

Yesterday a few people began to throw the shoes representing the march at the police. The police tear gassed the crowd, and blocked the exits to the square. Miranda was one of the last people able to leave before the metro too was closed. Some people continued to throw things, anything that was to hand, including candles from the shrine. Police began to kettle protesters into a smaller area, sometimes slowly, sometimes with charges. In the process of kettling the crowd, the police trampled and broke many of the candles of the shrine. The police violently charged the few hundred strong crowd, including areas where nothing had been thrown from. One woman in her fifties told me, “We weren’t being violent, they kept charging us. They beat people with batons and then they would take someone and arrest them, it seemed random.” Over three hundred people were arrested, most of which are still in prison now.

Repressing protest and violent policing will not reduce violence. Throwing shrine candles at police will not help address capitalism. This script is currently scheduled for a number of replays. If we don’t want repeat performances, we have to do things differently…

Bike convoy

There are bike convoys to the Paris climate summit both from within France but also from other countries, yet as a group of people with a political message they are in breach of the law against protest. I met up with the Belgium Climate Express group as they continued on after they were forbidden from entering Paris. Their banner reads “We continue”.

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The 300 strong group from Belgium IMG_0631found themselves without accommodation or food after the police pressurized their accommodation into not letting them stay. The group ranged in age from 18 to 56 and many people had not been involved in a long distance ride or public political expression before. 130 people decided to return to Belgium whilst 170 continued on, doing an epic two days worth of cycling in one day, splitting into small groups to make it into Paris. Sama and I joined their contact in France as he took food out to the group and we met them en route along the canal.

Bike convoys are a great way for people to express their passion on an issue, travel low carbon, challenge themselves and get together with other allies. The bike convoy from the UK Time to Cycle will be leaving next week and we can expect similar challenges for them to enter the country and make it to Paris.

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Brandalism

As the climate talks began yesterday over 600 posters had been put up around Paris to challenge the corporate advertising messages and allow environmental messages around the COP21 to be heard. Everything from beautiful images of nature and cartoons to fake company adverts admitting deceit.

The posters received national press coverage in France, Germany and the UK and raised issues of corporate sponsorship of the climate talks, social justice and the global economy. 130 artists from all over the world submitted hundreds of designs in English and French to the organisation Brandalism for illegal distribution by about 50 volunteers. I’ve been really impressed with the effect of this project to create discussion and change, and the power of seeing these messages in a normally commercial space. If this tactic interests you there is a wealth of information on the Brandalism website. Here are just a few of my personal poster favourites to put a smile on your face.

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Climate ethics and justice for Exxon

This week were further revelations of the shocking extent to which Exxon executives knew about the severity of climate change as early as the 1970’s but orchestrated a campaign of climate denial to deliberately delay action on climate change in favour of their own profits.

n this great video for Philosophy lecturer Mark Jago’s blog, Two Wolves, I explain what I believe are some of the key points for understanding the ethics of climate change.

Such gross unethical behaviour as that of Exxon pulls immediately at our sense of justice, yet no law exists currently to bring those responsible fully to justice. Exxon may well be prosecuted for racketeering but our justice system has yet to catch up with this despicable climate crime. The campaign to make ecocide a criminal offence is one way we can move forward. It will be by our efforts that the law is made to catch up with the ethics of climate change.

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Kindling social change

In Hulme Community Garden Centre in Manchester I wander in the sun amongst vegetables, families and education projects to meet Helen. Helen was one of the founders of MERCi (see A hive of possibilities) and founders of Kindling. I asked her what had lead her to become so active and to create these groups.

Kindling in Manchester runs practical projects to increase food sustainability and campaign for social change. Their projects include FarmStart which is an incubator farm to help new growers get started and scale up, Forgotten Fields a project about the history of Manchester’s food growing, as well as organising many events and resources to support local growers.