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.

A ghost in the machine

I’ve saved this interview until last in order to annonimise it, and for the same reason there is no video or context to how I met this woman. Last but certainly not least I’d like to tell you the story of, we’ll call her, Anna, and her work as a ghost in the machine.

Some years ago Anna found herself working for an unethical corporation, due to her skill set and the lack of available work. She became increasingly appalled at the activities of this corporation but rather than quit, or accept her own complicity in their crimes against the environment, she resolved to find ways to undermine them. Over the course of a couple of years she was able to cost the corporation a significant amount of money and slow down one of their major projects.

She found the work at times more stressful than other forms of environmental work because of it’s covert solitary nature and she has since moved on to other work, yet remains pleased with the large impact she was able to have and sees it as a very effective tactic. The work required her to be her own moral compass and motivator without receiving encouragement from other environmentalists. I remain very grateful to her for sharing this story.

Engaging with climate change as a Buddhist

In Totnes I had my first introduction to DANCE – the Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement. Dharma is an Indian word and concept that has many meanings and nuances in different religions but in the context of Buddhism my understanding is that a simplified definition would be the teachings of Buddha and a ‘right way of living’.

One of the founders of DANCE, the inspiring Rob Burbea, kindly explained what had driven him to start the network. The interview will be in the documentary we are compiling of the journey. The idea behind DANCE is to create a space where people can connect and explore a wider range of possible responses to climate change within Buddhist teachings, and to discuss their feelings.

Upon arriving in Bristol I met my first DANCE member. Lindsay Alderton and I crossed paths through her work in Global Power Shift UK, where many climate change groups are coming together to form a larger movement. In conversation it turned out she was also a member of DANCE in Bristol, as was her friend Julia. They had done a range of activist actions that you might expect from other climate change groups, but the thing that struck me as noticeably different was the manner of contemplation. Conversations were much more present, listening and open, more contemplative and exploratory. Their behaviour suggested little attachment to tactics and more of a focus on a process of development and openness. Lindsay kindly did an interview for me and it was very obvious to me that she had emotionally processed a lot more of the trauma of climate change than the vast majority of people I have met, it was not an abstract intellectual concept, but an emotional reality that was driving the motivations of her life.

The purity of her intentions and statement of her truth was very moving and inspiring for me, leaving me feeling strengthened. When you meet someone with a pure intention to reduce suffering and protect our future it restores your trust and your faith, it is easier to connect and to bring out those things within yourself.

The teachings which arise out of Buddism have brought a great deal to the world and I look forward to them bringing a lot more to the responses to climate change.

 

Reclaiming our culture from fossil fuels

The Reclaim Shakespeare Company is part of a growing movement of artivism – using the art form in the activism. The group challenges the sponsorship of the arts by fossil fuel companies with protest performance pieces. The subversive plays based on the form of art that is being sponsored are performed just before the official productions are due to begin. I spoke with writer, climate change researcher and artivist Danny Chivers about the group.

The Reclaim Shakespeare Company and Danny are now themselves portrayed as part of a new play about taking a stand for your conscience. You can watch performances of STAND at the Oxford Playhouse until the 8th of June.

What them in action at the British Museum.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXHJxTFTsj4

A new group BP Out of Opera recently did a lovely dance under pressure in London.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7eZrTbTMtg

Shell Out Sounds successfully sang songs at Shell sponsored events resulting in Shell’s sponsorship not being renewed.

If you are feeling inspired there are a number of groups under the Art Not Oil Coalition that you can join, or they can help you form a new one of your own!

Out damned logo out!

 

 

Seeds For Change and consensus decision making

We spoke to Richard Howlett from Seeds For Change in Oxford about their work providing training and resources for grassroots activists.

Richard Howlett from Seeds for Change

Richard Howlett from Seeds for Change

We believe in bottom up change, that we should have power and responsibility for our own lives, and collective action is more powerful than individual action. That is a reflection of how we go about learning – as facilitators rather than teachers. We’re trying to help the learning come up through you. It’s pragmatic but it’s also political and ideological too. Doing something real, that’s where you are really going to learn.

Amongst the very useful things that Richard shared with us were information booklets about facilitation skills and consensus decision making – very handy for the walk!

Consensus decision making is a process where the group as a whole can come to agree to a proposal rather than just a majority vote. With proper facilitation the process can be more successful and democratic than traditional group decision making.