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The Democrats ‘Resistance Summer’ Is Really Resistance To Change

By Kit O’Connell and Eleanor Goldfield - It's Going Down, June 23, 2017

We’ve got a hot summer ahead, and I don’t just mean record-breaking temperatures thanks to climate change.

Assuming the fuck-ups in the GOP clown car, currently careening out of control across our nation, can get their act together, we’re poised to see devastating legislation targeting some of the most vulnerable people in America. People are angry, and ready to active against the system, in a way we haven’t seen in years.

And huddling in corner number two — are the Democrats. And despite their feeble attempts at both resistance and distinct alternatives, their proposed “Resistance Summer” is designed to attract new activists and bring a flood of new liberal voters to the polls in upcoming elections.

Despite the catchy, chic, goes-with-a-beach-tote name, we’ve seen this sort of thing before from the Democrats. Indeed, while the party claims to support progressive causes, Democrats have a long history of sucking the life out of grassroots movements, taking their momentum for revolutionary change and directing the energy back into the American status quo at the ballot box.

Today we’re going to take a closer look at this “Resistance” based on the tried and true history of the party in blue.

Dissidents Ramp Up Direct Action Against Climate Destroyers. Who Will the Courts Defend?

By Ted Hamilton - Truthout, June 21, 2017

This month a group of climate activists were convicted in district courts in Mount Vernon, Washington, and Wawayanda, New York, for committing acts of civil disobedience against fossil fuel infrastructure. Each defendant (one in Washington and six in New York) had attempted to present a "climate necessity defense," arguing that their nominally illegal actions were justified by the threat of climate catastrophe -- in other words, that the real crime is continuing to pollute the atmosphere, not interfering with corporate property. The courts weren't having it: The activists were convicted on June 7 on charges of varying seriousness, although they anticipate appealing their rulings.

The activists aren't hanging their heads, though. Instead, they're doubling down on their civil resistance mode of political activism. In doing so, they're joining a growing movement of direct action climate dissidents across the country who have taken to the streets, the pipelines and the coal trains to do what the government won't: confront an industry that poses an existential threat to human civilization.

The Washington trial began with an October 2016 protest in which Ken Ward -- a long-time environmental leader who pursued conventional climate policy avenues for decades before turning to civil disobedience in recent years -- entered a Kinder Morgan pipeline facility in Anacortes, Washington, and turned a valve to cut off the flow of tar sands oil entering from Canada. His action was coordinated with other "Shut It Down" activists in Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota, who were responding to a call for action from the Standing Rock encampment, and together succeeded in temporarily halting the flow of all tar sands oil into the United States. At the time of his protest (which was preceded by a warning call to pipeline operators), Ward called upon President Obama to make this interruption of tar sands oil permanent, citing the fuel's particularly carbon-intensive nature and the need for much more aggressive federal action to curb emissions.

In the New York case, the six activists blocked a construction site for a Competitive Power Ventures natural gas-powered electricity plant. Plans for the plant have gone ahead despite ample evidence of inadequate environmental reviews and the plant's obvious detriment to the climate. In his decision finding the activists guilty, the judge acknowledged that "the pollution expected to be caused by this power plant once it is operational would be significant and contrary to New York State's policies on global warming."

From Solidarity Networks to Class Organisation in Times of Labour Hallucinations

By Angry Workers World - LibCom.Org, June 24, 2017

Dear sisters and brothers,

Some comrades from Frankfurt got in touch recently, wanting to set up a solidarity network. They approached us with some concrete questions. [1] We want to use the opportunity to reflect more generally on our limited experiences with our solidarity network initiative so far and about the political direction we want to take steps towards. We do this against the current background of post-election ‘Corbyn-mania’ and a surge in political activities focused on the Labour Party. The first part of this text briefly explains our opposition to the focus on electoral activities, whether that be through the Labour machinery or in the more post-modern form of ‘municipalism’ [2] – despite the fact that locally in our area, the election circus had less of an impact, given that most workers here are not allowed to vote anyway. And as an alternative to this electoral turn, the second part focuses on our political proposals towards a locally rooted class organisation. We then go on to talk in more detail about our concrete experiences with the solidarity network in west London.

The Labour of wishful thinking

  • * We understand that ‘hope’ is needed amongst a divided and beaten working class and that Labour’s rhetoric of social unity and equality is welcomed.
  • * We would criticise our comrades of the radical left if they merely proliferate this ‘message of hope’ and material promises (end of austerity), without questioning the structural constraints which will make it difficult for a Labour government to deliver on their promises. Syriza in Greece has shown how a hopeful high can quickly turn into an even deeper depression once ‘our government’ has to turn against us.
  • * For us it is less about warning the working class not to vote on principle or focusing on Corbyn’s problematic power struggle within the Labour apparatus, but about pointing out the general dynamic between a) a national social democratic government, b) the global system of trade, monetary exchange and political power and c) the struggle of workers to improve their lives. In other words, all of the historical lessons have shown us that the outcomes of channelling working class energies into parliamentarism within a nation state that fits into an overall system of capital flows, has always ended up curtailing a longer-term working class power.
  • * The Labour party proposals in general are not radical as such, e.g. their promise to increase the minimum wage to £10 per hour by 2020 (!) under current inflation rates would more likely lead to a dampening of wage struggles amongst the lower paid working class, rather than instigating them. The minimum wage regulation introduced by Labour under Blair in 1998 had this effect in the long run.
  • * An increase in taxation to mobilise the financial means to deliver on their promises will increase capital flight and devaluation of the pound – most capital assets which bolster the UK economy are less material than in the 1970s, therefore it would be difficult to counter the flight with requisition (‘nationalisation’), a step which Labour does not really consider on a larger scale anyway.
  • * While any social democratic program on a national level is more unlikely than ever, the Labour program focuses workers’ attention increasingly on the national terrain: struggle for the NHS, nationalisation of the railways etc.; (in this sense the leadership’s leaning towards Brexit is consequential and at odds with most liberal Corbynistas); while officially Labour maintains a liberal approach towards migrants, those Labour strategists who are less under public scrutiny as politicians, such as Paul Mason, are more honest: if to carry out a social democratic program on a national scale means to have tightened control over the movement of capital, by the nature of capital-labour relation, this also means to tighten the control over the movement of labour; it would also mean re-arming the national military apparatus in order to bolster the national currency that otherwise wouldn’t have the international standing the pound still has. [3]
  • * A social democratic government needs a workers/social movement on the ground in order to impose more control over corporate management, e.g. through taxation. At the same time it hampers the self-activity of workers necessary to do this – e.g. through relying on the main union apparatus as transmission belts between workers and government.
  • * In more concrete terms we can see that groups like Momentum or local Labour Party organisations have done and do very little to materially strengthen the organisation of day-to-day proletarian struggles on the ground, but rather channel people’s activities towards the electoral sphere, siphoning off energy and turning attention away from concrete proletarian problems. Many ‘independent’ left-wing initiatives – from Novara media to most of the Trot organisations – became election advertisement agencies.
  • * While for the new Labour activists – many of them from a more educated if not middle-class background – there will be advisory posts and political careers, we have to see their future role with critical suspicion.
  • * If a Labour government would actually try to increase taxation and redistribute assets, the most likely outcome is a devaluation of the pound and an increase in inflation due to a trade deficit, which cannot be counteracted easily (see composition of agriculture, energy sector, general manufactured goods etc.)
  • * The new Labour left – trained in political activism and speech and aided by their influence within union leadership – will be the best vehicle to tell workers to ‘give our Labour government some time’, to explain that ‘international corporations have allied against us’ and that despite inflation workers should keep calm and carry on; wage struggles will be declared to be ‘excessive’ or ‘divisive’ or ‘of narrow-minded economic consciousness’. More principled comrades who told workers to support Labour, but who would support workers fighting against a Labour government risk losing their credibility and influence.
  • * Instead of creating illusions that under conditions of a global crisis ‘money can be found’ for the welfare state we should point out the absurdity of the capitalist crisis: there is poverty despite excess capacities and goods (for which ‘no money can be found’ if they don’t promise profits for companies or the state). We have to be Marxists again, analysing structures rather than engaging in wishful thinking.
  • * We should focus our activities to a) build material counter-power against bosses and capitalist institutions that makes a difference in the daily lives of working class people and b) prepare themselves and ourselves for the task of actually taking over the means of (re-)production. [4] For this we need to be rooted and coordinated internationally. We can clearly see that in the face of these big questions our actual practice seems ridiculously modest, but we want to share our experiences honestly and invite others to organise themselves with us. [5]

As Their Trials Begins, Climate Protecting "Valve Turners" Say "Shut It Down" Is "Necessity"

By Jeremy Brecher - Common Dreams, March 10, 2017

Is there anything people can do about climate change in the Trump era? The new American president has asserted that global warming is a fraud perpetrated by the Chinese to steal American jobs; threatened to ignore or even withdraw from the Paris climate agreement; and pledged unlimited burning of fossil fuels. Whatever the details, Trump’s agenda will escalate global warming far beyond its already catastrophic trajectory. As we learn that 2016 was the hottest year on record, it sounds like a formula for doom.

On October 11 2016, with the presidential campaign still raging, five climate protectors traveled to five secluded locations in North Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, and Washington state and turned the shut-off valves on the five pipelines that carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada into the United States. Their action – dubbed “Shut It Down” – blocked 15% of US crude oil imports for nearly a day. It will not in itself halt global warming. But it exemplifies a rising climate resistance that is challenging our thrust toward doom – and the temptation to succumb to climate despair.

Are Americans Ready to Strike?

By James Trimarco - Yes Magazine, February 14, 2017

It was April 2012, and I was standing outside a Brooklyn subway station, handing out fliers for the May 1 general strike. Organizers were calling on employees to refuse to go to work and for students to refuse to go to school. We were urging everybody to gather in the streets instead for a festival of resistance and to demand economic justice.

Our fliers said “No work, no school,” and we meant it. We knew that getting even 5 percent of the city’s workers and students to strike would show the 99 percent’s willingness to walk away from an economy that exploited them. “Just try running this city without our labor,” we wanted to say.

But when May Day came around, we found most businesses bustling. Shopping and banking went on without a hitch. Even though thousands of people in cities across the United States participated, our organizing just hadn’t been strong enough to make a dent in business as usual.

Today, there are new calls for strikes in response to the actions of the Trump administration. The novelist Francine Prose published the first of these at the Guardian website. “Let’s designate a day on which no one (that is, anyone who can do so without being fired) goes to work, a day when no one shops or spends money, a day on which we truly make our economic and political power felt,” she wrote. Shortly after that, the creator behind the TV show The Wire, David Simon, suggested the date of Feb. 17 on Twitter. “No one spends, no one produces,” Simon tweeted in response to a critic. “The metric they understand is profit.”

Organizers quickly put together a website and are organizing local events in almost every state via a Google doc. This strike has two specific demands, according to its website, both of which ask members of Congress to stand up for the U.S. Constitution.

But Feb. 17 is just the beginning.

Solidarity Report from Standing Rock

By Nancy Romer - New Politics, Winter 2017

The struggle at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) was one of the major political mobilizations of 2016, combining the demand for Native rights with the call for environmental justice. New Politics asked Nancy Romer to cover these events for us. She was at Standing Rock from November 10-15.

Her initial report and her article on the meaning of the victory achieved on December 5—and the struggle that still remains—have been posted on the New Politics website. Here we print two more of her dispatches from the scene, showing some of the day-to-day dynamics of standing with Standing Rock.

In this report I will try to give you a sense of what it was like to be at Standing Rock. Tonight completes my third day here. The weather has been mostly cold but very sunny. The colors, the sky, but most of all the people are startlingly calm and beautiful. The Standing Rock encampment is defined as a prayer site, a place to contemplate and to appreciate nature, “the creator” (not my words), and each other. The indigenous people here, from just about every tribe in the United States and some from Canada, are so welcoming and warm to outsiders. They repeatedly say how much they appreciate the presence of non-indigenous folks and how they want to share with us. They are strict on the rules: no violence of any kind; no drugs, alcohol, or guns; respect for indigenous ways; making oneself useful.

The vast encampment contains four or five separate but connected camps, some on the Sioux reservation land, others outside. The largest one is immediately off reservation land, Oceti Sakowin Camp; it is the one in which most of the activities happen. The others are either defined by age—elders or youth—or vary by activity. There is a “Two-Spirit Camp” for gender non-conforming people, a traditional and accepted group in Native culture. We spend most of our time at Oceti, but today I took a long walk and visited two of the other camps just to get a flavor of them. “NO DAPL” stands for “No Dakota Access Pipeline,” and signs with the slogan are everywhere, as is the phrase “water is life.” There is a religious feel to the camps and great respect all around. In many ways this is a very old-style indigenous encampment, and in many ways it feels like a post-revolutionary or post-apocalyptic future. The pace is slow though everyone seems to move with great purpose. People jump in and do the tasks that seem to be needed: cooking, cleaning, helping each other to put up a yurt or a teepee, chopping wood, tending fires, washing dishes, and offering legal, medical, or psychological help. Cell and internet service is miserable and probably interfered with by the constant drones that fly above the camps.

On Friday morning, day two of my trip, I attended a brilliantly presented orientation to the camp. One of the presenters was Maria Marasigan, a young woman I know from our shared days in the Brooklyn Food Coalition. It was the best anti-racist training for allies that I have witnessed: It was succinct, not guilt-trippy, and very direct. The three main concepts are: indigenous centered, build a new legacy, and be of use. Presenters shared the Lakota values that prevail in the camp: prayer, respect, compassion, honesty, generosity, humility, and wisdom. For me the most impactful point was respect. They defined that as including slowing down, moving differently with clearer intention and less reactivity. They suggested asking fewer questions and just looking and learning before our hands pop up and we ask to take up space. They clarified a gendered division of behavior and practice, including asking “feminine identified” women to honor traditional norms by wearing skirts during the sacred rituals (including in the cooking tent) and for women “on their moons” to spend time in a tent to be taken care of and rest if they choose. Somehow it seemed okay, actually respectful, not about pollution and ostracism. While I was helping out in the cooking tent—my main area of contribution—an indigenous woman came by with about ten skirts and distributed them to the mostly women in the cooking tent, explaining that cooking is a sacred activity, and we gladly put them on. It served as an extra layer of warmth over my long underwear and jeans. It was not what I expected but it seemed fine to all of us. We just kept chopping away at the veggies.

Later that day I attended a direct-action training that was also quite thorough and clear. Lisa Fithian, an old friend from anti-war movement days, led the training and explained how to behave in an action and how to minimize police violence. Lisa, along with two other strong, smart women, one Black and one Native, laid out a plan to do a mass pray-in in town the next day. My friend and travel companion Smita and I both felt that we couldn’t risk arrest and decided not to join that direct action but to be in support in any way we could. At 8 the next morning about a hundred cars lined up in convoy formation at the exit of the Oceti Sakowin Camp, each with lots of passengers—including some buses and minivans—and went into Manwan, the nearest town. The indigenous folks formed an inner circle and the non-indigenous formed a circle around them. The indigenous folks prayed, sang, and danced. The tactic was exercising freedom to practice their religion while protesting the Dakota Access Pipe Line. No arrests were made despite massive police and drone presence. One local man tried to run over a water protector, but she jumped aside; the man had a gun but was subdued by the cops. Lots of videos were taken, and the man was taken to the local jail. 

On Saturday I finally got a press pass, having been requested by New Politics to cover the encampment. That gave me the right to take photos (otherwise not allowed), but with limitations: no photos of people without permission, or of houses or horses, again, without permission from the people with them. I set out to interview people at the various camps and to get a sense of what people were planning to do for the winter. I spoke with Joe, a part Lakota from Colorado who had been raised Catholic and attended Indian residential schools, taken from his parents by the state because it doubted the ability of the Native community to raise their own kids. He said it was brutal. When asked why he was here, he replied, “This is the first time since Little Big Horn that all the tribes are uniting against a common enemy—the black snake—the pipeline that will harm our water, our people. This unity is making us whole.”

Resisting the Criminalization of Dissent: A Conversation With Iowa Activist David Goodner

By Sarah Jaffe - Truthout, February 9, 2017

It can be easy to despair, to feel like trends toward inequality are impossible to stop, to give in to fear over increased racist, sexist and xenophobic violence. But around the country, people are doing the hard work of fighting back and coming together to plan for what comes next. In this ongoing "Interviews for Resistance" series, we introduce you to some of them. Today's interview is the eleventh in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Activists in Iowa are currently organizing to stop a draconian criminalization of dissent bill at the Iowa State Capitol. In this interview we speak with Iowa community organizer David Goodner -- a member of the Iowa City Catholic Worker Community and a member of an ad hoc organizing group that has loosely been called the "Kill the Bill Organizing Committee" -- about criminalization-of-protest bills, tactics and organizing in rural "middle America."

How to Bring Down a Dictator: Reading Gene Sharp in Trump’s America

By Rafael Khachaturian and Jeffrey C. Isaac - Dissent, February 4, 2017

If it wasn’t clear before, it has become all too clear after two weeks that the Trump administration poses a serious threat to liberal democracy.

What we have witnessed since January 20 has little precedent in U.S. politics. A raft of commentary since the election—from Masha Gessen’s “Autocracy: Rules for Survival” to historian Timothy Snyder’s “20 Lessons from the 20th Century on How to Survive in Trump’s America” to a recent op-ed by Miklos Haraszsti, the Hungarian former anti-communist dissident, likening Trump to Hungary’s current authoritarian-leaning leader, Viktor Orban—has fittingly sought to explain and confront Trumpism by turning to authoritarian regimes abroad.

Many political scientists share these writers’ concerns. As Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt recently wrote, a well-designed constitution alone cannot constrain authoritarian tendencies. Daniel Nexon has summarized the threats that existing domestic and international institutions now face. And political economist Daron Acemoglu has suggested that civil society must act as the last line of defense against the autocratic tendencies of the Trump administration.

Meanwhile the Trump administration continues to issue disturbing executive orders at a furious pace, setting in motion the promised Mexican wall and Muslim ban, reorganizing the National Security Council to replace the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs with white nationalist Stephen Bannon, and continuing to wage war on the independent media.

We will surely see a proliferation of resistance movements over the next four years. The nationwide women’s marches of January 21 were the first sign. The rapid upsurge of protest against last week’s immigrant ban is another. Protests, marches, and rallies have been key channels for resistance to hybrid-regime autocrats such as Turkey’s Erdoğan and Russia’s Putin, and the United States has its own long history of civil disobedience. Progressive voices from Frances Fox Piven to Robert Reich have already begun putting forward ideas of how resistance to the Trump administration can be organized.

Surprisingly, one name has been largely absent from these conversations: Gene Sharp. A longtime and prolific theorist of nonviolent direct action, Sharp first came to international prominence in 2000, when Serbian democratic activists inspired by his ideas helped to depose Slobodan Milosevic, as portrayed in the powerful documentary Bringing Down a Dictator. Sharp’s name resurfaced in 2011, when the activists of the Arab Spring found inspiration in his books and pamphlets, and CNN referred to him as “a dictator’s worst nightmare.”

Until now, Sharp’s ideas have largely been applied in authoritarian contexts abroad, whether in the Middle East, post-Communist Europe, or elsewhere. But under Trump, Sharp’s ideas have become all too relevant to the contemporary United States. What insights could American activists today glean from his work about the possibility of resisting the Trump administration?

Sharp has codified an approach to nonviolent civil resistance that draws on the lessons of Gandhi, King, Havel, and others. Sharp’s theory of power emphasizes that authoritarianism is premised upon the obedience of the population and the collaboration of individuals with those in power. His basic point is that concerted nonviolent resistance can strip the moral and political authority of an authoritarian regime.

Compliance is key to the legitimacy of any regime, and Sharp offers a handbook for how to effectively withhold it. His compendium of 198 Methods for Nonviolent Action presents a wide range of techniques—from letters and speak-outs to boycotts, strikes, sit-ins, blockades, and slowdowns—that citizens can employ to refuse an illegitimate authority. When coupled with more traditional forms of protest, these tactical disruptions of the normal functioning of the system can place immense pressure on dictators. Sharp treats authoritarian regimes as fragmented coalitions held together by a tenuous obedience to authority. Once the perception of invincibility is removed, such regimes can rapidly disintegrate.

If Machiavelli’s writings envision an “economy of violence” (per Sheldon Wolin), then Sharp can be considered Machiavelli’s heir, in form if not in content. Sharp’s work is organized around an economy of nonviolence, understood as a political praxis that, when wielded by committed and organized groups, can radically change the distribution of power in a society.

While drawing from the moral tradition of pacifism, Sharp’s appeal to nonviolent resistance is a pragmatic one: he largely sidesteps normative discussions in favor of a sober, one could say realist, analysis of the dynamics of political power. Concerted nonviolence, he finds, is simply more effective in challenging authoritarian regimes than armed uprising.

Since the 1990s, Sharp’s ideas have spread rapidly. His From Dictatorship to Democracy, first published in English and Burmese in 1993, was soon translated and circulated in over forty countries. It influenced figures like Srdja Popovic of the Serbian group Otpor, which helped depose Milosevic, and activists of the “color revolutions” of the early-mid 2000s, Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution of 2005, Iran’s Green Movement in 2009, and the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions of 2011.

Sharp’s notoriety has made him enemies across the political spectrum. Though Sharp’s Albert Einstein Institute is a wholly independent operation, his books have become important resources in the repertoire of U.S. “democracy promotion.” Autocrats have accused him of propagating revolutionary (or “counterrevolutionary”) ideas. Left critics claim that his work assists U.S. clandestine efforts to promote soft regime change abroad, though Sharp denies the latter point, with figures including Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn coming to his defense.

Sharp’s work furnishes a practical toolkit for organizing resistance to Trump’s authoritarianism. Nonviolent resistance has a long history in the United States, and Sharp is above all a pithy synthesizer of widely circulated movement wisdom. Many recent initiatives across the country, from Black Lives Matter to the water protectors’ camp at Standing Rock, have already put to use the tactics Sharp advocates. Leaders of the NAACP were recently arrested for sitting in at the office of Senator Jeff Sessions in protest against his nomination as Attorney General. Immigrant-rights groups linked to the sanctuary movement are preparing to practice civil disobedience in response to a threatened crackdown from the Trump administration.

Whether and how these various protest initiatives can coalesce is an open question. Sharp’s work is useful for thinking not just about the tactics of resistance but about a strategy centered on the regime itself. While Sharp’s advice is relevant to all forms of citizen action, it is most relevant to thinking about challenging dictatorships rather than “flawed democracies.” But if Gessen and others are right, and if the furious trend of the past weeks is any guide, then we are closer to authoritarianism than most previously suspected.

The distinctive features of the U.S. constitutional system will hopefully furnish us with opportunities unavailable to citizens of Russia, Hungary, or Turkey—though we can no longer take this for granted. Regardless, seizing what opportunities remain will require an upsurge of democratic citizen action. And if such a civic uprising is going to succeed, it will require savvy attention to the themes highlighted by Gene Sharp.

General Strike: How the Working Class Takes Control

By Jack Rusk - Left Voice, February 9, 2017

Since the Women’s March brought millions into the streets the Saturday after inauguration, there has been a rising clamor on social media for a ‘general strike’ against the Trump administration.

Since the Women’s March brought millions into the streets the Saturday after inauguration, there has been a rising clamor on social media for a ‘general strike’ against the Trump administration. The call to stop work was picked up by the U.K. Guardian, Washington Post and now by Cosmopolitan magazine. And the discussion took off so quickly, it gave us multiple proposals for when the strike should happen: February 17 (to counter President’s day), March 8 (International Women’s Day), May 1 (the international workers’ holiday and anniversary of the huge immigrant-led protests of 2006). And the proposals emphasize different kinds of demands, from general resistance to Trump, to defending the rights of women, Black Lives Matter, and immigrants through mutual action to enforce those rights.

But numerous leftists also came forward to announce concerns about the feasibility of a general strike, especially if labor unions are not involved in organizing it. Among the first was Alex Gourevitch, writing in Jacobin, who gives an informative history of militant strikes in the U.S. that faced repression by the state and (sometimes) won. The implication of this and similar pieces is that a general strike call is irresponsible for this spring because organized labor is simply not in a position to carry out the work stoppage and protect striking workers:

If you’re going to ask people not just to risk losing their jobs but potentially face the armed apparatus of the state, there had better be preparation, leadership, and some evident readiness for mass labor actions… It would be reasonable for workers to dismiss the call for a general strike. It looks like they are being asked to be actors in someone else’s drama, by people who just cottoned on to the fact that things are shitty out there.

The ZAD: an autonomous zone in the heart of France

By Martin Legall - ROARMag, January 26, 2017

It all started decades ago with the local resistance against the construction of a second airport near the city of Nantes in western France. Eight years ago, this resistance culminated in the establishment of a self-organized autonomous zone, commonly known as the ZAD (Zone à Défendre, or “Zone to Defend”). Since then, the ZAD has been under constant threat of eviction and has withstood multiple attacks by militarized police forces set on clearing the area. With the support of individuals and collectives across France and from abroad, the occupation continues to this day.

Half a century of planning and resistance

Plans to build a second airport in Nantes were first developed in the mid-1960s. The authorities wanted to decentralize economic activity away from Paris to other cities in France. In the 1970s, the regional council designated the town of Notre-Dames-des-Landes, north of Nantes, as the site for the construction of the airport. At the time, farmers and local producers started to organize to resist the construction and raise awareness.

The construction of a rail network for high-speed trains in the late 1980s pushed the plans to build an airport north of Nantes to the bottom of the agenda until 1994, when the government revitalized the project in order to reduce air traffic at the two Parisian airports of Roissy and Orly.

In the 2000s, the government of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin reaffirmed aspirations to decentralize economic activity and to turn Nantes into an international hub. After being pushed by political elites at both state and regional levels, the project was recognized as “promoting the public interest” in 2008. Two years later, the multinational corporation Vinci was selected to build and run the airport.

As early as 2000, a network of groups and organizations was created to organize an awareness campaign and to undertake actions in the area. In 2009, local activists and residents invited the French climate action camp, resulting in hundreds of activists visiting the zone. They occupied buildings that had been left empty by the authorities and built their own yurts and shacks.

Little by little, self-organization and collective decision-making structures were put in practice. Soon, support collectives were set up in various cities across the country and beyond: it was the beginning of one of the longest struggles in the recent history of French social movements.

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