A Zone to Defend [2017-2018]

“ZAD” in french stands for an activist occupation intended to physically blockade a development project. Called officially in France, the Zone d’aménagement différé (zone for future development), it was renamed by protesters as the Zone à défendre (zone to defend). The ZAD of Notre Dame des Landes in south-west France was the first place to be so named.

In 2008, after a call by local farmers and inhabitants who had since the '60s, strongly opposed an airport project on their lands, activists started gathering in NDDL to squat in the land with the aim to defend it “against the airport and its world”. By the beginnings of 2018, approximately 300 activists have organised their lives around this protest, horizontally and collectively, despite the markets and the state. Deeply interested in this way of life - both new and old -, I wanted to see for myself what this social experiment looked like. The first person who talked to me about the ZAD years ago was a friend who lives in the zone and organises creative disobedience. He has been my guide to this new world.

On January 17th, 2018 the french government officially announced the end of the airport project. But with this decision came another: the french prime minister also announced that the community had until spring to leave.

My journey started on February 10th, 2018 with the celebrations that followed the official announcement of the cancellation of the airport project. At this point, the environmental struggle is finally won, but the future of the community that has been formed around the protest is threatened. 

My documentation is still ongoing and based on my personal experience, therefore it doesn't claim to represent the ZAD as a whole.

I had a short time to get in touch with some members of the community and get a glimpse of their daily activities before a large-scale eviction operation started on April 9th, 2018, comprising 2500 gendarmes, armoured cars, drones and helicopters.

This far, I found myself inside a laboratory of constant exchange of knowledge and skills, a place of dedication and radical friendships. The ZAD is a living utopia with 2 bakeries, collective farms, a newspaper, a radio station, a library, workshops and artisan projects. What fascinates me the most in this community is that the inhabitants of the ZAD defend their choices with their whole existence.

After June 2018 evictions have halted and a long time of negotiations with the state started. At this moment about 150 people keep living in the ZAD of Notre-Dame-des-Landes.

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