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La ZAD is not a story that is told, it is a story that is lived

Friday 18 January 2013

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 La ZAD is not a story that is told, it is a story that is lived.

You are sleeping, this is a dream.

After an hour and a half on the road, we arrive at Notre-Dame-des-Landes. We park in a small parking lot, across from the town hall. A graffitied road sign loudly proclaims “ZAD”; we are not very far.

If, regarding urbanisation, the acronym ZAD means “Zone d’Amenagement Differé”(Zone of Deferred Development), for us it takes different meanings. The 2000 hectares upon which Vinci plans to build an airport and companion road network have been re-baptised “Zone à Défendre” (Zone to Defend) by the project’s opponents. This project will not be realised. The project’s opponents already are envisaging the future and the possibilities of putting their desires into practice. Coming from a defensive position, they now fight “for”, for a “Zone d’Autonomie Définitive” (Zone of Definitive Autonomy).

We enter the local base of ACIPA (Inter-communal Citizen’s Association of Populations Concerned by the Airport Project of NDDL). We are welcomed with a smile. On a table, dozens of tracts and stickers are available to take and distribute. Cards with updates about la ZAD are also printed, in A3 format. We take one. We are told the best road to take, and warned of the military presence on site and possible stop and searches at the main intersections. We are advised to go to the main info point of la ZAD, where someone will be able to direct us to the places where we can give a hand.

“A third sleeping space is being built a La Chat-Teigne, we’ll certainly see each other over there.”

We get back in the car and go in the direction of La Rolandière, which is near the info point. At the crossroads of Les Ardillières, some soldiers signal us to stop. Another car is already stopped in front of us. After showing them the car’s registration and the driver’s license, the soldiers ask us to open the boot in order to search it. We do it. They scan over the contents: tents, sleeping bags, boots. They let us continue along the road without a word. We go on, on the main road, along which are countless signs announcing our arrival on la ZAD.

“Non à l’aéroport!”

“Etre des cons pressés ou décompresser” (A play on words, approximately meaning “to be an asshole in a hurry or to relax”)

We pass in front of a big hanger, upon which is a large wooden sign with the name of the place: La Vache Rit (The Laughing Cow, another play on words).

“Park on the left”. Always on the left. Numerous vehicules are already parked here. On the right, we can just see an enormous circus tent in a field. Quite some tents are already put up, connected by a walkway made of wooden pallets, in order to avoid walking through the mud. We park the car, and immediately put on our boots and go towards the info point. Behind an old jerrycan that serves as a hearth, a small tin-roofed shelter houses the welcome point. Inside, people are active. Some search for new batteries for walkie-talkies, some discuss, some laugh. We ask where we can put up our tents, and where we can go to lend a hand.

“Wherever you want”. Here we are free.

The big circus tent is surrounded by something like a hundred tents, of all shapes and sizes and colours, as well as caravans and yurts, which together form this motley camp. The diversity of the shelters contrasts with the unity of the soil, muddy and of a uniform brown. Towards the back of the field, compost toilets and a place to sort rubbish. After having had a look around the field, we find one of the few places where it is still possible to put up a tent without being ankle-deep in mud. We put up our tents under a westerly wind, just picking up.

Card in hand, we decide to head over to La Chat-Teigne-if there is a third sleeping space under construction over there, there must be need of help. We continue on foot towards the South, in the direction of the crossroads of La Saulce. Two hundred meters before the crossroads, we decide to cut through the forest on the right, to avoid the military checkpoint they have set up there. The forest of Rohanne is peaceful, so much so that it is hard to imagine that this was the location of the violent confrontations some days previously. The way we go is probably not the shortest way to get to La Chat-Teigne, but the weather is nice and we have some daylight left, and we take advantage of the tranquility of the place. We arrive at a crossroads of several forest roads. High up in a tree, a lookout post has been constructed. From there, you must be able to see the surrounding area and watch the movements of the military. Two of the roads that branch of from this crossroads are barricaded. A sign that says “Info point of La Chat-Teigne” points down a third path, so we take it. It is completely surrounded by trees, and much muddier than the others. We reason that it must have been heavily used in recent days, and not only by pedestrians.

We congratulate ourselves on having followed the advice on the ZAD’s website (, in particular the part about bringing good gum boots and warm socks. At the end of the road, we see a tractor parked, then another, then a third behind. We confirm that there are about fifty of these engines surrounding the site, making up a formidable physical barrier that marks the entry to La Chat-Teigne. On our left, we hear a hammer at work-some people are in the process of working around a structure being built (we will later learn this is the future crèche). We can also hear from afar the sound of a chainsaw, probably another construction site at work. On the ground, wooden walkways facilitate walking and the approach to the interior of this village. Behind some large tables, numerous wooden houses have been built on stilts. A workshop, a big kitchen with a pantry, a tavern. The main building even has a little covered part where you can put clothes to dry, around a table upon which a sign indicates that the info point is here. This afternoon, nobody is there.

The ambiance of the place is strong. Despite the fact that these constructions have not been here very long, we feel already a heavy history to the place. We sense a lot of activity further on, so we head towards the second part of La Chat-Teigne: La Soucherie. On the way, we meet Camille. We are warned: “Is this your first time here? Be careful, La ZAD, once you’ve tasted it, you become addicted.”

There, we discover a building being constructed, two times as tall as all of those already built. A magnificent wooden structure has been erected. The masterwork carpentry is already done. Someone explains to us that this is the third sleeping space, bigger than the others- it will even have a mezzanine. Around the building, people are getting ready to put on the roof. It was from here that we heard the sound of the chainsaw.

We continue on our way with Camille, who needs help to get some material from Le Rosier. “Le Rosier was a farm just a week ago- they’ve razed it to the ground. We are trying to salvage what we can.”

We follow Camille, and join the road again, retracing our steps back to the barricaded crossroads, where we take the road going to the West, one of those that is barricaded: Le Chemin de Suez. The first barricade, the draw-bridge, is very well constructed. A lookout post makes it possible to surveil the road while being sheltered from the wind and the rain. We cross the bridge, which goes over a deep ditch. On the other side, a clear message is graffitied, for them:

“Shit’s gonna get hot! Stop!”

Stakes with purple points, like coloured pencils, lend a medieval/burlesque aspect to this decidedly original barricade. We continue on the road, crossing another barricade, a round-baller, more classic. Then, still on the same road, we cross a third barricade. The importance of this defensive network speaks for itself, and we don’t forget that we are in a “zone to defend”. If it’s calm right now, that has evidently not always been the case.

After having branched off to the left, through the field, we arrive near some ruins. The farm has been completely destroyed. The barn took fire as well and nothing is left standing, save one wall rising above the rubble. Above, a nice piece of graffitti: Pascal Brutal is breaking an airplane over his head,

« NON, c’est NON ! Vinci dégage ! », « Ayrault, une balle ! Vinci, une rafale ! » (“No is NO! Vinci fuck off!” “Ayrault, a bullet! Vinci, a shot!” Ayrault is the prime minister of France, former mayor of Nantes, and the airport at NDDL is his pet project of forty years.)

A van is there with a trailer, so we load it with all the tiles and the best beams that we can salvage. In about twenty minutes, the van is full. We leave the rest in a pile to the side of the road, for the next trip.

The wind doesn’t let up. It starts to get dark and we get back to La Chat-Teigne. On the road, we confirm some reflections, in the puddles of water, in the fields-tear gas canisters are not biodegradable...We go into the kitchen, after having crossed the pantry full of seasonal vegetables. We start to prepare a meal. First, hand-washing. Some water collection units collect the run-off rainwater from the roofs of different houses. Non-potable water is in plenty. Potable water is brought by foot, through the mud. Its usage is therefore strictly reserved for drinking and cooking. The menu, this evening, is salad with black and red radishes, and then vegetable risotto. A workshop of washing, peeling, and cutting vegetables is begun. We don’t dare attack the bit of beef that somebody donated today, that will wait for tomorrow. The feast of vegetables guarantees that we will not be hungry this evening, thanks be to all the food donations we have received.

If you want to support the struggle, you can give. You can give money, water, vegetables, construction materials, tools. You can give a hand, work a day, a month, come back every week. You can prepare the future, future actions, meetings, writing tracts, call-outs. You can participate in the working groups. You can work in the support groups, everywhere in France (and abroad...?). You can.

The important part is that you can.

During the meal, we talk about tomorrow.

La Sécherie, another place to defend, is at risk of eviction from tomorrow morning, whereas a workshop is taking place to reconstruct the half of the farm that was destroyed by Vinci. They will need help. But this evening this ambiance is joyful in the little “No TAV-èrne”. (Another play on words...referring the NO TAV struggle in Italy against a new high-speed rail line between Turin and Lyon, the sister struggle of la ZAD). The place is tiny, we’re closed in, some benches, two tables, a little wood-burning stove and on the right the bar. We fit about thirty inside. We discuss, we drink, we sing, we drink, we play music. The classics of Georges Brassens and Jacques Brel are revisited, sea shanties are sung by heart, rhythms are improvised with the help of people clapping. Everything is good.

We go in the direction of the sleeping space, find a mattress and a duvet and sleep in the warmth. During the night, we get up to relieve the look-out on one of the barricades, and observe the movements of the military. At dawn, no worries, just the routine vans are there. La Sècherie will not be evicted today.

We wake up. With coffee, we share the rest of the pastries, donated the day before.

Before getting involved in the workshop, we return to La Rolandière to take down our tents. The prospect of sleeping in a tent on muddy ground isn’t much compared to the comfort of the sleeping spaces. Afterwards, we go directly to La Sécherie where they need people to help with the workshop. On the road, we encounter some kids running in the mud and shouting. A family out for a walk. Today was the course relating to family self-management on la ZAD. We arrive at the crossroads of La Saulce, still occupied by the military. Exchange of glances between us and them. No identity control today. La Sécherie is not far now. All the materials are already on site. There’s a lot of people. We wait until we understand what needs to be done before getting involved. The plan for reconstruction was decided upon collectively a few days ago: a big sleeping space, a water room with a wood-burning stove to heat up the water for everybody, and a little kitchen.

Now, it’s up to us to start working. The soil has already been put in, we still have to put up the foundations with tires and the walls with wooden pallets. There’s also some people occupying themselves with rebuilding a little stone wall on the north side of the structure. The middle walls with the existing parts of the arm are consolidated with a mixture of chalk and sand.

The workshop progresses calmly, without a boss; it’s up to everybody according to their needs and abilities. Once begun, we advance quickly and above all in a good mood. Self-management in action: no order, no boss. Free work begins to show itself and, in view of seeing the results, it will be difficult for us to stop.

What’s next? Wild boar stew? The general assembly with all of the opponents to the project (locals, farmers, zadistes, politicians...) at La Vache-Rit? The crazy people on bikes come from the Ardèche? The future of the struggle? The military that is mobilising? Their false tracts that attempt to sow dissent among us? Barricades? Fireworks? Meetings with the locals? Working groups? Support for the arrested, outside the prison in Nantes? The stew offered by the locals? Camille(s)? The Far Ouest? The squirrels? Projections and discussions at La Chat-Teigne? Meetings? The Lake? Support groups from all over France? The convergence of struggles? La ZAD, everywhere? Us?

..what follows is not a story to be told either, it is story to be lived. Wake up and live it.