The police arrived at 03.00 am on the morning of Monday 9th April. The exact number is, of course, unclear but it is said that 2,500 officers in riot equipment, with crash helmets and visors, Perspex shields and plastic body armour were deployed. Two and a half thousand highly trained men appeared out of the dark night with batons, dogs, tear gas, rubber bullets, armoured tanks and bulldozers to turn La Zad into rubble. It seemed that the destruction of the wonderful community of La Zad was underway.
The news that Gerard Collomb, the French Minister of Interior, had determined to evict the people of La Zad had spread among friends around Platform over the previous two days. We watched the twitter feed of Defend La Zad, we texted with loved ones living on that land, and we helped gather a demonstration outside the French Consulate in London. There have been similar solidarity actions in Nantes, Rennes, Paris, Bruxelles, Munich, New York City, in Gasteiz in the Basque Country, in Chiapas in Mexico, in Lebanon, in Spain, in Palestine and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris went on strike.
There was next to no coverage in the UK press except for a piece in The Guardian, which declared ‘French police have used teargas in an attempt to clear anti-capitalist squatters from the site of an abandoned airport project’. The journalist described the inhabitants of La Zad as ‘an eclectic group of anti-capitalists, eco-warriors … squatters, and a handful of farmers’
These words bare little or no relationship to the people and communes of La Zad that we know and hold in our hearts. For we know that these people are farmers, carpenters, cheese makers, musicians, artists … For we know that the communities which have evolved on the land of a planned, and now abandoned international airport, are a remarkable source of inspiration, a lighthouse that illuminates what can be done. We have described La Zad in blogs on the Platform website and retold the story of its miraculous existence hundreds of times to friends, lovers and families.
Over the past two days the French state has been attempting to destroy these homes on La Zad with bulldozers. The police have fired thousands of rounds of tear gas, many grenades and countless rubber bullets. Yesterday over 30 people were treated for injuries by the La Zad medical team and two people were wounded so badly that they were taken to hospital. Most of the injuries were caused by grenades hitting faces and chests and rubber bullets fired at chest level.
Of course many of the images in the French press highlight the violence of the resistance. Film of men and women with catapults and faces masked against the tear gas, photos of barricades and lines of tractors. But what does it mean to be evicted from your home and the land that you have been farming?
If men clad in plastic armour, with batons, dogs, tear gas and armoured bulldozers came to our houses, would we not fight to prevent their demolition? The press describes the residents of La Zad as ‘squatters’, but we know that these people have come to settle the land, they have made these woods and fields, the farms and workshops their home. Would we not fight to defend our home, a place that we possessed, and which had come to possess us?
The people of La Zad are being evicted from land and houses because of two things.
Firstly, because they do not have legal title to land that for half a century was earmarked by the French state and a private corporation to be turned into runways and car parks.
And secondly, because they are deemed to be ‘undesirable’, because they are described by the press as anarchists and anti-capitalist, individuals who should not be allowed to experiment with living in a manner outside the norms of consumer society.
There is a long history of eviction, but there is also a long history of resistance and reoccupation. As we write this blog the battle is raging and the Defenders of La Zad are pushing back . The bulldozers and riot shields have made smaller in-roads into the vast area than they surely planned. Perhaps only a fiftieth of the zone has been captured by the police so far.
We pray that the defenders will win as they did against the police’s Operation Cesar in 2014. That the thousands of police attempting an eviction over several days will fail and have to withdraw. We need to assist the defenders in these coming days and help them seize victory again – not just for La Zad itself but also for what La Zad stands for: the freedom to live outside the norms of a consumer society.
An international call out for support has just been made.
Or maybe the defenders will ‘fail’ this time? Maybe they will be forced off the land, farm by farm, field by field as homes and communal spaces built by hand out of love and earth are turned into rubble.
However the defenders possession of the land will remain. By living on the land they have come to possess the bocage and the forests, and these places will remain possessed by those that have lived there. The memory will hang like a spectre over whoever tries to take ownership of that land. And this memory will create a continued desire to return.
La Zad exists. It is not some hoped for future, some dream. Nor is not a reality fading into the past. It is an actuality – and like all actualities it has its deep flaws and imperfections – but it is an actuality.
We hold it. Whether we live on that land or we live in this metropolis of London, we are part of the community of La Zad. In these days especially we hold it, stand with it, and continue to declare its existence.
This morning, out of the mist that swaddled the Thames Estuary, the first Swallows appeared! Spring and Summer are rushing ahead.
Surely the Swallows are returning to nest in the barn at the commune of La Rolandiere on La Zad. Perhaps they will have to fly through the clouds of tear gas?
The true inhabitants of this land, those who possess it, will not be easily deterred.
By James Marriott and Jo Ram
With thanks and inspiration from John Jordan, Isa Fremeaux and Dom Francis