Interview by Fantine : voix de zadistes.
In 1972, a project emerged for a Nantes-Rennes airport on the site of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, Vigneux de Bretagne, and other villages. Resistance groups and associations mobilised to prevent its construction. Little by little certain historical farmers and also new ones, militants, but also homeless and excluded persons of all types, came together on the site corresponding to the outline of the proposed airport [called the ZAD for “Zone À Défendre” (Zone to Defend) – ed. note] to live, work, and cultivate the land while preserving the landscape of hedgerows, fields, wetlands and woodland and its fauna and flora. For a few years, they experimented with a self-managed micro-society . Intrigued by the anything-but-flattering image of the “Zadistes” put forward by a few mainstream media, I decided to go and meet these “radical vandals” a few days before the start of the attempts to evict them. I found people with highly diverse profiles and with varied backgrounds and motivations. But they all had points in common – openness to others, a sharp-eyed way of seeing the world, an awareness of their responsibility, etc. From gutter punks to young engineers, and including young mothers and artists, their presence here was no accident. All of them had reflected deeply and had real confidence in what they were doing. A few agreed to talk frankly with me. JJ, a militant artist, lives in the ZAD with his partner. He is extremely active. Among other things, he welcomes visitors, teaches, communicates.
Fantine: What brought you to the ZAD? JJ : I’ve been involved in several militant struggles before, including the Camp for Climate Action  in 2009, in England. There were people there who were very involved in supporting the ZAD. At the start, I wasn’t living in the ZAD. Two years ago, my girlfriend and I came to live here because we felt we couldn’t support it from a distance – we had to live there all the time. What do you do day to day in the ZAD? There’s no expertise here, and no experts. We want to break free of the culture of the expert. Everybody does different things each day; there’s no separation into categories like intellectuals, bakers, woodcutter, and so on. Everybody does a little of everything. I do a lot of outreach, and that’s the project that brought us here. We chose to live near the visitor center, at La Rolandière, close to the Lighthouse and the library, to show people around Zone. We want the ZAD to be an open zone, unlike the what the State wants, which is for it to become a kind of ghetto. I’ve also organized a lot of training sessions since 2016 with my partner, to be ready to defend the ZAD. I built a fire-breathing triton for a demonstration. What were you doing before then? I was a teacher, an instructor at the Fine Arts school. I also worked in the performing arts, so I’m an artist. I became self-employed. I used to organize a lot of workshops for artists. I have one foot on the cultural institutions and I try to create links, build bridges… Are you involved in other causes in parallel? We also help other struggles, within a network. For example, we fed the postal workers, the letter carriers, when they were on strike. We provide material support to struggles. We hear that there are “radicals” here on the ZAD, and then there are the others. Are you among the “radicals”? I’ am not at all a radical. I like the origin of the word, but the way it’s used creates the idea of a value attributed to someone. Like the “poor,” who are distinguished from the “rich.” That individualises the struggle, whereas everybody is a revolutionary, which is a term I prefer. How do you envision the future of the ZAD, now that the airport project has been abandoned? Victory is always a very very difficult moment. We knew that another ZAD would emerge, and we’ve been preparing for it for a year and a half. But there are a lot of people in the ZAD who don’t see things that way. It’s different for them; there’s no strategy, nothing at stake. There’s a tendency for there to be big crises in the ZAD, but then a transformation happens. The idea is to fight against the Zone being divided up, and for organisation of the land in common, collectively. This is an zone extraordinary place. It’s another way of working and living together, and to deal with managing conflicts. The struggle didn’t end with the airport project. The slogan is “Against the airport and its world.”
Flo arrived at the ZAD with her children, a year and a half ago. For several months, she had been living there intermittently, travelling back and forth between her apartment in a big city and her camper in the ZAD, at the La Wardine collective. For her, it’s a place where different struggles converge.
Why did you come to live on the ZAD? What are your motivations? I draw a link between other struggles and the ZAD: Political anti-racism (even though there aren’t many people with racist tendencies in the ZAD), the struggle against violence against women, against police violence, etc. The goal is for no one to be excluded. In the ZAD, I can meet a maximum number of people, above all people who have an anti-capitalist orientation. La Wardine is a place where an huge number of people pass through, where connections are made with so many people; it’s great! I don’t believe that governments can make people happy. The ZAD, is a structure made up of people who think differently. It’s an attempt to do without hierarchy. To deconstruct authority. There’s no boss or leader to tell you what you have to do. When there’s a decision to be made, several people participate in the process. What were you doing before? I did a lot of odd jobs in a lot of different areas. I didn’t go to university. All I have is a BEP [second-level vocational diploma – ed. note]. School was complicated for me. I have a problem with authority. What are you living on currently? I don’t really have a trade or profession. For me, work is not an is not an essential value. But that doesn’t means I don’t do anything. Day to day, it’s a big commitment being in the ZAD, there are so many things to do. It’s no vacation being there. I live on the RSA [minimum subsistence allowance – ed. note] or odd jobs for cash, outside the ZAD. I have less money, but it’s enough because I consume alternatively. The idea is to be able to do without money. I participated in the SEL  for a long time – it’s a system of bartering goods and services. Do you have other militant activities, other commitments in parallel with the ZAD? I’ve also been in the network of home-schooling families for a long time, though I’m not a really active member. I give advice, I take part in discussions informally without having an official mandate from an association. I also provide aide to exiles. I have trouble living with injustice. In fact I’ve passed that along to my son. What’s the point in the ZAD staying now that the airport project has been abandoned? The ZAD shows that life can go on without an oligarchy. There are no police, no courts, no institutions, no leaders. There are no decisions made that affect me that are made by people who don’t know me from Adam. It’s a place where you can learn so many things by doing without the State. Marginal, excluded people can live here. The ZAD recovers a lot of people who were living in the street, former drug users, etc. What could be a threat to the ZAD? There are tensions among us and pressure from the government. Since the police has arrived, they have been confiscating all sorts of useful tools such as pocket knives or gas bottles. I hope they are not going to take the gas bottle in the camping-car. It is a really hard time. People who used to live here went away. Outside the ZAD some people are jealous because they have to work to pay their mortgage and they think we ought to own the land to have a right to live and farm here.
Armel used to be a young homeless person before arriving at La Grée, a place-name and a ZAD commune in 2011. He lives there with his cat in a caravan. He does some gardening, gets involved in debates, listens a lot and organizes activities …
Why did you come to the ZAD? I happened to attend a counter-summit camp in Le Havre when people told me about the ZAD at some length. So I came over to have a look. I liked it and stayed. I live in a caravan in La Grée and we use a motorhome as common space. How did you live before? I have no occupational training, I never had any proper occupation, I had a somewhat helter-skelter life course. I used to live in a squat. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I pottered at a lot of things but nothing really solid. I was meeting lots of people, I was going beyond my own limits… Yet eventually with hindsight I realize that I was following the way that brought me here. It was like a preparation to living in the ZAD. What is your function in the ZAD? I don’t have any particular function. There are lots of people who do me good, so I try and do the same, I hang around with other people a lot, I listen to them. I take part in the inhabitants’ council: it means a lot of managing our daily lives, it takes up a lot of space, we also talk about individual or collective projects, we solve conflicts. I’m also involved in several small groups such the one for accounts. What do you live on? I live on the RSA [minimum family income], odd jobs, produce from the ZAD. I grow food in the collective gardens or crazy little attempts of my own. I didn’t know anything about gardening when I got here; I learned with the others. What will you do if they clear the ZAD? For one thing I’ll be staying here until the very last moment, afterwards I’ll take my truck and my caravan and I’ll drive away with my cat, I don’t have a dog any more. Anyway I feel like being on my own for a while. Because I’m fully committed to the ZAD, I’ve been living with others for ten years, and I’m no longer sure where I am. What is the future of the ZAD? It’s a bit of a muddle in my head between what I’d like to happen and what is likely to happen. I went away for a fortnight to think about it all. I see two possible scenarios: either we manage to have mediations that can actually work, we keep a nice community that keeps moving on without legal ties, a political community with various kinds of spaces, some with a structure and some without. Or else it becomes a kind of privileged area, with unwanted people turned out, a place for pseudo alternative organic-food yuppies that could convey an outwardly attractive image but would be deprived of meaning. It would consist of people from outside as well as ZAD people, of opportunists etc.
Thierry came to the ZAD through long reflection, voyage and activism. His ideal: to create collective abundance in order to be able to welcome and receive all.
When did you arrive on the ZAD? In the spring of 2011. Before the 2012 expulsion, I built an igloo of wood, straw and earth. It was not destroyed but I was all alone there. I was invited to join my present collective. Since then I live in a caravan, I haven’t had the time to build another hut. In fact I have preferred to put my energy into establishing the continuity of the ZAD and the solidity of the collective which turns at around six to twelve persons. The most was twelve plus five children. At the moment we are between six and eight. What training or trades do you have? After an economic and social French baccalauréat I studied art hoping that art could render the people happier. I went into design but I didn’t want to push people into consumerism. Then, two years living in a community in the Arkansas forest. On my return to Paris I became a precarious performing artist, setting up cinema scenery. I was creating illusions, but it left me time to be an activist. What motivated you to come to the ZAD? My economic and social courses enable me to analyse my World. I realise that the system cannot be changed from the interior, alternatives must be built in order to live more freely. In 1994 there was the Zapatista  uprising which appeared to me to be the only intelligent political path. I was interested by collective life-styles. I got involved with protest movements such as No Border , the anti-nuclear campaign and against GMOs. I sought out creative and joyful means of protestation such as the Clown Army  and Climate Action Camps. When in England. I took part in the G8 and G20 counter-summits and discussion groups. We understood that preventive arrests were taking place, and there was repression, at the venue of the summit so decentralised action was needed. There was a three day camp at the ZAD at Notre-Dame-des-Landes. That was when I arrived. Financially; what do you live on? On my own resources and on a small benefit. I try to get by without money as much as possible. It is still necessary for some things though, like computers and telephones. If they weren’t so necessary for the struggle I wouldn’t need them, or at least, not so much. A collectively owned computer would be sufficient. Much of Human activity is bad for the environment. I prefer to sell the vegetables and meals produced here. It’s more positive, the money that is made goes towards supporting the ZAD Do you have other militant activities outside the ZAD? The ZAD is the expression of all my previous struggles. It is here that I would like to develop food autonomy and a local economy that is liberated from fossil energy and the national electricity grid through producing local energy. I’m against the hierarchical system where those who command the rest do so by the force of their arms – the army and police. Here, we have assemblies where everybody may discuss the issues that arise and confront their points of view rather than following top-down orders. I also militate for Worldwide disarmament to stop conflicts, wars and domination. I would like to develop life-styles free of racism, borders and social and gender inequalities. Places where all the people feel they are equal, free from the notion of property and the privileges that go with it. There is no need for borders and identity papers in order to live on this planet. If among us there are some who are in irregular or illegal situation we are not going to impose controls on them, on the contrary. On the other hand, criminals, particularly violent ones are not to be welcomed. We can decide for ourselves if we can keep them or not, if we try to put them out. That is different from Robin Hood type justice. How do you see the future of the ZAD? The system has realised that something is happening around here, something they don’t like, something that questions their economic system. They want to get us back into line. They are stronger than we are, even if we do have the network and the advantage of public opinion. The State has the economic and material force and a powerful propaganda machine. We have to face up to exterior enemies that will try to divide us. We also have difficulties to organise ourselves collectively. It is difficult to find the patience to tell ourselves that we are acting for the common good. It is not easy to think of others before thinking of oneself, each person has his or her reasons. We all have dictatorial tendencies that have to be dismantled, nipped in the bud at every moment. New participants with new enthusiasms are needed. It is a model to spread over all the planet. It is quite miraculous that we are still here and have managed to abolish the airport project. However, this means that those whose only interest was the abolition of the airport project have now gone home and left us who want to continue experimenting other life-styles. It has gone well so far, we can only wait and see.
Interviews by Fantine.
To support the ZAD: https://zad.nadir.org/spip.php?article5344 (In French)
1 – For more information: https://zad.nadir.org/spip.php?article86&lang=fr (In French)
2 – Protest camps set up near a site or projected industrial site that is damaging to the climate.
3 – Explanation about the SEL, or local bartering system: http://route-des-sel.org/fr/SELinfo (In French)
4 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zapatista_Army_of_National_Liberation
5 – www.noborder.org
6 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clandestine_Insurgent_Rebel_Clown_Army