Tank goodness we are here.

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This text is an update from some inhabitants of the zad claiming that they will continue to fight to defend this unique territory, this “commons of resistance”. Written just before the 15th of May which was the deadline after which the French government promised to evict the Zadists who had refused to enter the process of regularisation. This second round of evictions began on the 17th of May and lasted two days, ten more sites were evicted and destroyed and a few days later a 21 year old lost his right hand when it was blown off by one of the gendarmes explosive grenades. The police remain on the zad ‘to clear the roads’ and protect the bulldozers clearing the ruins.

Tank goodness we are here.

In the course of this so-called “truce”, which has more of the texture of a military occupation, daily life has, bit by bit, here and there, reclaimed some of old habits. Cops or no cops, you still have to sow seeds, look after the animals, run the public spaces. One might feel a certain hesitation when putting the seeds in the soil, but it is quickly swept away by the knowledge that the armoured cars weren’t able to break our determination: we will stay here. We will see the fruits in our orchards and taste the autumn harvests. We might even see the trees grow tall to become timber for the frames of cabins for those of us here who are still children. We did not need the offers of regularisation to project ourselves far into the future here, even beyond the span of our own lives. This is a stepping stone that gives us strength in this moment on the eve of the attack, whilst we wait for the new destructive intervention about to hit the ZAD.

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What started on April 9th gave us a chance to measure our strengths. The movement that was supposed to plagued by internal quarrels since the [airport] project was abandoned, showed that it was still very much alive. On the other side the gendarmerie showed that it could quite easily demolish a third of the ZAD in under three days. Thus the arrival of thousands of people, the molotovs being thrown against the armoured cars, the actions of solidarity and people’s general determination, rekindled our spirits… but the crushing manoeuvres of the biggest police operation since May ’68 left a certain chill amongst us . Our strength was still very much alive, but it faced the real possibility of a precipitous annihilation of the Zone [the “zone à défendre”] that seemed very hard to stave off, at least not just via direct confrontation with the riot cops. There were certainly some brilliant actions, but the police operation was never really put in a difficult position.

As a matter of fact, in the history of this struggle, we have never contained the cops by our physical resistance alone. Our resistance has always been backed up by action through the law courts, or political agreements that hindered and limited the firepower of the military [the French Gendarmes are part of the military]. Our capacity for action, including on the ground, is and will remain of a political nature. If we were able to effectively defend the hamlet of La Chateigne in 2012, [built during the Reoccupation demonstration by 40,000 people and then attacked several days later by the police] that was thanks to the bringing together of fierce resistance and action through the courts that made it impossible for the cops to destroy the cabins. And so it is always through joint actions – political, media and martial – that we win our victories. However, during the week of evictions, there was no legal support to back our barricades. And we realised that the destruction of the “100 names” farm was a warning shot with a message to us: everything is potentially a target, and there could be a lot of destruction.

The government, for its part, faced the risk of widening the gap between its media narrative and the brutality that is necessary to achieve its destructive ambitions. The escalation in the combativeness from protesters forced the state to raise its game, increasing the likelihood of someone getting killed, in a situation where support for the movement was intensifying. In a sense, each of the adversaries realised what they had to lose in this situation. And we, now awakening from the sense of invincibility on the ground that years of warding off the threat had given us, had more to lose…

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That’s when the Prefect [local head of the interior ministry] came in with her “simplified forms”.[demanding that each plot of land is linked with an individual’s agricultural project] They suddenly gave concrete reality to the Prime Minister’s remarks on the day the airport was abandoned : only those who agree to enter into the regularisation process will be able to stay. We now know that the Prefect had the means to put this into effect, and that her “proposal” was backed by a perfectly clear ultimatum – either you return these forms before April 24th or otherwise operations will resume. Until the last minute, hesitation reigned. It seemed very unlikely that the State would back down in the face of the ZAD’s refusal to accept this seemingly minimalist demand. Many of our companions in struggle did not understand our unwillingness to sign, our reluctance to accept what seemed like a simple way to avoid the final assault. Some people also said that if we did not want to sign, they were not willing to go further with us. In the end, the general assembly decided to go down the path of form-signing as a way of breaking the deadlock and trying to protect the territory of the zad. This would involve forms being submitted to cover both the plots of occupied land, and the living spaces of the movement [houses/cabins etc.]. A lot of people took that path. However, some places refused this strategy.

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We did everything to try and subvert the framework imposed by the Prefecture : Associations [non profits] were slipped in among various individuals; farmers registered as “mentors”; several activities (agricultural or not) laid claim to the same plots of land simultaneously; and finally each project was linked to the other, and the whole thing was presented to the Prefecture in one huge common bundle. The map of land-uses drawn up in this way was more representative of our way of doing things, because it was also a question of making visible the interdependent nature of our lives. On the same piece of land, the orchard people plant fruit trees along the edge, while the cereal group plants out a rotation of buckwheat, and the following year it is the potatoes group that starts planting. Not to mention the summer gatherings that may be organised there, and the giant salamander sculpture that now sits between the freshly ploughed rows. It has been so hard to jam this web of activities into the restrictive frame of the bureaucrats (of the Department for Territories and the Sea, who are charged with studying the maps), that they ended up telling us: “But why doesn’t the government just sign a collective agreement with you, it would be much simpler!” In the same way, when they summoned one by one by one the people who had submitted their names, folk came together, all wearing T-shirts on which the words “ZAD : we play as a team” had been screen printed.

The immediate outcome of this attempt has led the State to announce that yes, indeed, the Zadists, whom yesterday it wanted to crush, would in the end be able to continue to live on this land. Under an apparently hard-line statement, what was happening looked like one of the largest regularisations of squatters in French history. The Right, through the voice of the President of the Region, didn’t get fooled, not mincing her words, she said: “Basically, beyond putting on a show of brute force, the raw truth of this operation is that the state is going to give land to the Zadists, and they will stay.” How exactly? That is what the coming battles will decide. For the time being these forms do not commit the parties in legal terms. It is not a contract, but a simple declaration of intent. The Prefect claimed that she wanted names, but actually she already had them in the many legal procedures by which we had been defending our homes [using squatters’ rights]. So it has been above all a symbolic exchange, to create the possibility of the “truce.” And indeed, they never return to evict on April 24th.

However, lets not deceive ourselves about the purpose of this exchange. The government is trying to divide and separate us. It lacks any imagination. Like any bureaucrat, its logic is incapable of going beyond binaries. It acts as if the ZAD was populated on one side by radicals who build barricades and throw Molotov cocktails, and on the other by nice project bearers who are just waiting to be regularised. It presumably believes that once the latter have filled in their files, it will be enough to evict the former so that peace can return to the countryside. It is applying to our situation what it has – almost – managed to make happen everywhere else in the country: a univocity of beings. You are either one thing or the other. This separation is one of the most absurd commonplaces of Western thought, which no doubt explains why it is so widely reproduced in the media, whether mainstream or not. But now, those who are trying to reopen the way to a future through negotiations have also risen forcefully against the government, like it did after April 9th. It’s not because you can build a barricade that you are incapable of holding a pen or milking a cow, and vice versa. So the state has also helped to give some of its fiercest opponents ways to consolidate their position…

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Administrative phobia

But while taking the gamble of “regularisation” might seem to preserve us from total annihilation, exactly the opposite might be the case tomorrow if we find ourselves once again jeopardized by excessive individualisation of people’s situations and the controls that result from that. And do not underestimate the power of bureaucratic procedures to shape and mould people’s lives. Their aim is also to make us believe that these are the only ways to relate to the world, and if we are not careful, they will quickly leave their mark on our hopes and desires. We do not know the extent to which the movement’s “administrative self-defence strategy” will make sense, and what room for manoeuvre we shall have when the time comes to to make a break or get rid of it. That will once again depend on the links and solidarity that we have managed to maintain in this new phase of the struggle. We have no guarantees, one way or the other. So it is a gamble, a hypothesis, that will depend much more on the real strength of the movement [against the airport and for the zad] than on the illusory benevolence of the French administration. In order for it to work, we are going to have to fight again and again, in the true sense of the word.

The movement did not take this gamble for the fun of it, as everyone knows. It was taken on the basis of an observation, which none of us particularly like to admit. The zad is no longer the “outlaw zone” [a no go area for government officials and the police] that it was able to maintain since 2013. And given the number of cops who are running around every day, there is very little chance that the old days are going to return, at least not as obviously as before. The balance of power has shifted, and we have to take account of that fact. In 2016, when the last legal barriers involving the historic inhabitants fell, it took four demonstrations of tens of thousands of people to deter the state from evacuating the zone. Such a force of mobilisation is not guaranteed for ever, and it is likely that we shall not be able to maintain it indefinitely now that the airport project is no longer on the agenda.

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Among the fronts pushed into the limelight by the abandonment of the airport project is one that has become harsher: the battle for the land. The Prefecture has informed us that we could, if we wished, sign temporary leases on the “movement’s” 741 acres that were acquired through major struggles aimed at preventing the Chamber of Agriculture from redistributing them. However, it refuses to discuss the question of the “accumulators”[land-grabers] – the farmers who sold their land to Vinci [the multinational that was in charge of building the airport] and were thus able to expand their farms. A situation then arises that may seem paradoxical: all the submitted projects were considered eligible, except for those projects that although they most closely met the criteria set by the state, were on these “conflictual lands” [land that the movement occupied and is now being claimed back by these farmers]. But this is not an accident: at Noë Verte and Saint-Jean-du-Tertre, the installation of agricultural projects in 2013 was part of a land occupation strategy against Vinci and against the land-grab farming interests. We shall have to fight to ensure that these lands are not handed over to land-grabbers who wish to expand their farms.

This rejection is probably one of the reasons why the Prefecture has refused the possibility of a “Larzac solution” [a historical struggle from the 1970s and 1980s, that fought against the expansion of a military base on agricultural land, won and led to the government accepting a long term collective lease of the land], or the collective Convention of Temporary Occupancy proposed by the movement. Some analysts have maintained that government officials are scared of the collective solutions. This is not quite true. Collective structures exist, they are legal, and sometimes they are even glorified. The problem at Notre-Dame-des-Landes is that the collective that is growing here is not a simple agglomeration of persons. It is a commons, and one that has defeated successive governments over a period of 50 years. It is a commons of resistance. And for the Prefecture, opening the way to the commons is to open the way to resistance.

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What we are fighting for

But the Prefect is making a mistake in confusing form and substance. She imagines that an individualised legal structure will inevitably make us individualistic, by force or by fatigue. She knows that in the projects that we have presented to her, project narratives were adapted to her demands , but she thinks that they will become reality through the power of paperwork. Yet what we are living here understands that we can fool administrations if the desire and the means of communication continue to exist. Saving the conditions to increase the common that is already there: that is is what is really at stake, beyond the question of the way in which the land is to be managed. Because the reappearance of the cops and the bureaucratic process of registration has not reduced, the material and spiritual basis of the Zone, to silence. Those that are part of the network that provides food and support to struggles went to Nantes again this spring; the striking postal workers from Rennes could not be prevented from coming to visit us. The authorities must have looked on helplessly at the timber being sawn near the “Barn of the Future”, to build the structure of the new Gourbi [a collective meeting place built, destroyed and rebuilt several times over the last few years]. Perhaps they were watching from their helicopter, as that same structure was moving across the fields in the twilight, and then in the night, carried by a hundred people singing epic classical music out loud. Yes, in the morning, their tank destroyed it with two blows before retreating. But they were unable to erase the magic and the insolence of the day before. We have weapons they do not have.

This commons is our strength. It is what we are fighting for here, and what we shall have to fight for again, very soon. This is what we must be faithful to, whatever our personal administrative situation. But this is nothing without a territory. It is geographical as much as it is historical, profoundly rooted in this little bit of bocage. There is no commons in itself, without the means for its realisation, without the places of organisation which give it its magnitude. This commons is not going to be transported somewhere else, any more than the animal species that they wanted to “relocate” [for the off sets of the airports ecological compensation scheme]. It belongs to this territory, it is a child of this movement, it is its legacy as much as its present form, in deeds and actions. That is why we are fighting against the destruction of the zad, because what lives here could not be lived elsewhere. Because there is no other place in France that is truly shared by a whole movement of struggle, by thousands of people having gone through all the battles, hopes, and disillusionments, and having survived together. As long as this glow will illuminate the embankments and ditches of this bocage, we shall fight for it.

That fight will become extremely concrete after May 15th, the expected date of a new operation of expulsions, which once again are being presented as “targetted”. Faced with the return of the bulldozers, the Prefect’s advisors are hoping that the movement will plunge into divisions that are as stupid as as they are politically uninteresting – between those who filled in the form and those who didn’t. We firmly reject these splits and dichotomies. They will find us behind the barricades, ready to defend the zad and all of its living spaces.

Signed by people living in the following places:

The Moulin de Rohanne, the Rolandière, the 100 names, the Hulotte, Saint-Jean-du-Tertre, the FossesNoires, the Baraka and Nantes, jointly represented in the CMDO (Council for the Maintenance of Occupations [a humourous reference to the eponymous group in Paris in May 1968])

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