The ZAD is Everywhere: The Autonomies of Protest in Notre-Dame-des-Landes

“On veut inventer un nouveau mode de vie … On s’oppose au projet d’aéroport et au monde qui va avec, au système qui le porte …  C’est un projet emblématique d’une logique d’aménagement du territoire autoritaire, qui contrôle les vies et détruit les terres, dans une logique de croissance et de profit.”  Le Monde (18/12/2012)

“On se bat pour une inlassable modification du future, un inlassable bouleversement.” LeMondeDiplomatique (Janvier 2013)

To protest the State-Capital, is to engage with it, to play upon a terrain of conflict the space and time of which it largely masters.  To create in and through protest is to open up other spaces and times, to plant the seeds of other forms of life.  A protest that contents itself with demands from the powerful is a protest of beggars.  One which creates alternative social forms is a revolution, however temporary.

The importance of the protests of this last winter in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, protests which continue, were their remarkable creative rebelliousness.  Contest a government decision to move forward on the construction of an airport, the Aéroport Grand Ouest, they did, but the movement did so by weaving between the many involved new ways of being together, through solidarity, free and equal participatory politics, sharing; what Deleuze and Guattari  called the incomprehensible.

If the events of this winter are recent, the story of the airport is not.  Presented publicly in the 1960s as part of various larger transportation infrastructure projects, from being a cargo airport, to a regional general airport, to being an effort to decentralise air traffic away from Paris, the project was challenged almost as early.  Among the first to do so were peasant farmers from the region (Adeca – Association de défense des exploitants concernés par l’aéroport – 1972).  Matters would accelerate with the government of Lionel Jospin, which just before 2000 would give fresh impetus to the endeavour.  Between 2003 and 2006, the project would be “debated” and in 2008 declared by the authorities as of “public interest”, the concession sold to the company Vinci in 2010, with the airport to be made operational by 2017.  What legal challenges remain open, they depend on land and environmental protection law, largely ineffective to this day.  But the issue would not be confined to the law.

The year 2000 saw the creation of Acipa – Association citoyenne intercommunale des populations concernées par le projet d’aéroport, a citizens movement largely bringing together people of the region who for a diversity of reasons objected to the building of the airport.  In 2009, Acipa organised the first occupation of land reserved for its construction (in total, 1,650 hectares) in what it called Camp action climat, an occupation that would continue, with greater or lesser degrees of intensity, until 2012.  In mid-October, the State, in an operation baptised “César”, would violently evict the occupiers over the period of a few weeks.  On the 17th of November, in solidarity, tens of thousands would return and re-occupy in operation “Astérix”.  But now the “ZAD – Zone d’aménagement différé” had become “ZAD – Zone à defender”, or “Zone d’autonomie definitive”, the occupiers zadists, many assuming the pseudonym of “Camille”.  And the struggle was no longer to simply stop an airport, but to create a world against/outside State-Capital.

A partial translation from a zadist text follows (10/07/2012):

The struggle that we engage is not a local struggle.

In reality, the airport project and what is at stake in it largely surpasses the territory of the ZAD and the surrounding local communes.  This project is a tool amongst others of the global logic of development of capitalist infrastructures that destroy lands and lives.  It is necessary to go beyond the fictional distinction between local and global.  Fictional in the sense that there virtually no longer exists any place on the planet which is not connected to the globalised movement of energy, merchandise, capital, information… An airport, a high tension line, a motorway, a high speed train line, a supermarket, is the concretisation through cement, steel and blue uniforms of the management and control logic of capitalist society. 

It is not for the ZAD threatened with building that we fight, but for all zones of urban periphery across the whole world that suffer the extension of metropolises, lands invaded by motorways and shopping centres, city centres cleared of their poor relegated to peripheries.  This phenomenon is global; to question this or that project without combating the entire system leads to an impasse.  Because all of these projects are not mere mistakes or blunders on the part of governments and multinationals.  They obey a logic of ensemble, they are thought through, measured to generate as much profit as possible: they serve the economic development of States and companies (Vinci and company).    

If these projects are not useless, they are nevertheless very much imposed.  The airport project, as all the others!  A handful of people in an office tower have decided that the life of a few farmers and inhabitants of the area are worth nothing, or at least less than an airport.  The inhabitants that have lived here for years now have a clear idea of the violence of the democratic tools that the state and local authorities have equipped themselves with to reach their ends: the masquerade of public inquiries where all is decided beforehand to judicial procedures under the mantle of concern for public utility, not to speak of all harassment and psychological pressures. … many could serve as witnesses to the repression that befalls those who struggle. …

Here in the ZAD, we are a certain number who have decided to occupy lands and houses threatened by the airport following an appeal by a group of inhabitants.  Today, more than thirty locations are occupied.  We have decided to remain to try to stop each stage of the project: preliminary works, public hearings, visits by judges and police.  But we remain also to establish relations with local inhabitants, to experiment with forms of life and solidarity in opposition to those that capitalism imposes upon us. … We share a know-how that engenders autonomy to reduce our dependence on salaried labour and the commodity system.          

We occupy illegally these places, but in a few months time, it will be the ensemble of the inhabitants of the region that will be considered by the State as without right or title … as undesirable squatters.  We believe that the legitimacy to live and to make live a place is not a matter of rent or private property.

Vinci dégage, résistance et sabotage !

(The original text in French may be found here)

Today, the ZAD is under siege and has been since the police intervention of the 24th of November.  Up to one thousand police and CRS are permanently deployed in an area larger than 1000 football fields or 6 principalities of Monaco to evict and prevent further squatting, and this at a cost now of over a million Euros.  And yet the occupation continues …

Notre-Dame-des-Landes teaches and continues to teach numerous lessons: that it is possible to create powerful social movements across any strict ideological or organisational lines; that solidarities are possible beyond age, profession, even nationality; that from such movements, new political identities/actors emerge that are susceptible to rapid radicalisation, in other words, that class identification is a process and not a nature; that such movements can thereby undergo a metamorphosis beyond original protests/demands into movements of creation and separation from existing regimes of power and domination (the ZAD saw numerous examples of mutual aid: the building of houses, food gathering and production, health services, skills and knowledge sharing, self-defense, etc.).  All of these lessons have been taught before, but the courage of each lesson merits testimony.

Perhaps most profoundly, and as a kind of summary of all that has been said, Notre-Dame-des-Landes reminds us that freedom is more than sovereign will, sovereign self-possession.  It is rather a practice, a process, a way; something essentially antidisciplinary, for it rejects that others should usurp one’s freedom, creative, for it creates novel realities, new possibilities, worlds, and collective, for no such free creativity is possible in solitude or with the slavery of others.  As Hanna Arendt once said, “If men wish to be free, it is precisely sovereignty they must renounce”.


The principal sources of information about the ZAD can be had at Zone à Défendre and Blog du collectif de lutte contre l’aéroport de Notre Dame des Landes.


There are excellent film chronicles of the struggle.  The following film by Jean-François Castell, Notre Dame des Luttes! is an example has also engaged very creatively with events, in a series of videos …

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1 Response to The ZAD is Everywhere: The Autonomies of Protest in Notre-Dame-des-Landes

  1. Pingback: ZAD: Prototype Komune di Abad 21, Tolak Kehadiran Bandara di Nantes - Sumbu Botol

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