Dystopia and utopia in one.
Welcome to La Zad where even the place's name is contested "to the developers it is the Zone d’Aménagement Différé’, the differed development zone and for us it’s a Zone À Défendre: a zone to be defended" explains the La Zad website.
The activists living in their tree-houses in La Zad form the latest stage of a 40 year campaign to stop the farms and forests being cleared and replaced with a second airport for Nantes. The local farmers who refused to sell their land, have battled against the airport plans since the 1970s.
In 2009 a group of environmental activists set up camp here to help resist the construction. They occupied the empty farmhouses on the site as well as building wooden camps in the forest land. For three years La Zad was a peaceful home to a collection of environmentalists, farmers, trees, wetlands and wildlife.
A brilliantly written blog about La Zad (by Laronceblog) describes it as 'Europe's largest post-capitalist protest camp' and states: "For three years people from post-capitalist movements across Europe have made their way here to build alternative lives and lay a new geography over the cartography of capitalism"
As Laronceblog puts it: "This act of erasure was not only to make sure that the wreckage would not be used to rebuild the houses, but more importantly to wipe out all traces of history. Ruins hold memories and stories; and a principle of resistance is that stories stoke struggle." I recently spoke to one former resident who told me of the importance of remembering what had been lost She told me of a booklet of photographs showing all the lost structures that went round La Zad after the demolitions. "After the first wave of evictions we started to realise the importance of remembering what had been made. Now we always make sure we photograph our new structures"
On the 17th of November 2012 an estimated 40,000 people came to La Zad with tools and timber to help the activists reoccupy the land and build new homes.
The police attacked again on November 23rd and the eviction actions carried on for three days. On November 25th the French government announced that it would put the airport construction plans on hold while a new assessment was made into the potential environmental impact.
It was a day of roadblocks and woodland paths, samba and birdsong, digging and dancing. And rain. I have been told that the nature of the camps have changed a little since the evictions started. The possibility of violent confrontation has attracted some of the more hot-headed of Europe's activists along with those itching for a fight, but the hippie spirit lives on, finding a place between the piles of empty bottles, stored as helpful ammunition behind barricades.
As I wandered round the site some people (as always) were wary of my camera, but I was befriended by numerous people, greeted with friendliness in a wide range of European languages and directed across fields, over ditches and along lanes to find various interesting structures. Most of the people I met were gentle, softly spoken, extremely knowledgeable about nature and willing to put their bodies between the police chainsaws and the trees.
They don't want to start a fight, but every attempt to drive them away makes them more determined to resist.
I heard that the police raided again just after I left and that the injury count was pretty high.
I will try to return in the Summer for a clearer look at the camp and it's situation.
Meanwhile the battle continues and so does the peace.
So with that in mind I will leave you a poem called 'The Oak That Fell' written by a La Zad resident after one of the evictions:
The Oak That Fell
These words for murder, cull or fell
are to cloak your guilt, disguise the smell of your genocide.
Your rotten insides, eating away at the core of the earth
where from birth you are fucking it up.
When a tree falls in the wood why can't you hear it?
The mass destruction and corruption why don't you fear it?
Because the tree didn't fall
you felled it.
Because there was a price tag on that tree
that for me, transcended money
but for you, your eyes are shadowed
by the sky overcast
not by branches of oak
but by fumes and smoke
from your chainsaw that broke
on the rope
that was holding my friends house together.
Together we stood, and together we fall
and you'd better believe that includes us all,
including every oak that you spoke about using
as a pawn in your game where no-one wins, only loses.
And I wish you had the strength to see,
cast aside your greed, and conquer your stupidity.
But it's not about you,
Because every time you make us cry, you know we'll laugh again
and every structure you knock down, we can just build again.
I know a girl who's pretty handy with a saw
and your pawns they just fall,
and we've got the best climbers of them all
and we've got this cat, his name's John.
And you might have dogs on a lead
but the animals here are free
and they chose to stick around
because we've got
the best cuddle-puddle in the land.
And you've got money but we've got hope.
And you can cut our fucking rope
but you can't cut what's holding us together.
You only know how to destroy.
But if you take a break, then you just watch us create.
La Zad website: http://zad.nadir.org/?lang=en
This wonderfully written anarchist blog run by a rebel/activist performance group called "The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination' explains the experiences and passions of the people of La Zad: http://labofii.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/rural-rebels-and-useless-airports-la-zad-europes-largest-postcapitalist-land-occupation/
Some La Zad residents made this lovely film about their forest here:
The BBC wrote about it on November 27th, just after the second wave of evictions:
And the Guardian wrote about it n December: