Blogger's note: This video is one of the best I've seen in a long while at putting together several strands of recent strong movement activity – all of it centered on land occupation and resistance. Thanks to the Submedia collective which produced it, “Occupations & Properties” here reproduces the English subtitle script of the 30 minute episode.
The stories in this episode start with the famous ZAD in France, the years-long airport resistance. There was a grand compromise on the airport construction, and an agreement to vacate with one faction of the encampment. Another wanted to preserve the utopia. This part speaks about internal conflicts in occupation, a topic that goes beyond propaganda.
Much of this episode focuses on Native American resistance to oil companies and pipeline construction. There is much along this line, from the newly vindicated, utterly unquaint Native American reasoning on stewardship, wisdom about healing within nature, and their methods of confronting and questioning agents of the state and corporations who enter their lands.
From Slovenia, urban squatters speak about “the twin minefields of eviction and legalization” – (exactly the dynamic described in Amy Starecheski's book “Ours to Lose”) on NYC squatters' legalization).
Here follows the subtitle script:
(Sorry, I haven't put in the names of the speakers yet...)
Greetings Troublemakers! ... welcome to Trouble. My name is not important. From the endless turf battles found within the animal kingdom, to the mechanized carnage of modern warfare, the drive to control territory is a potent and recurring source of conflict.
Yet within the artificial borders that fortify the so-called "developed world", this type of conflict, like all others, is carefully managed. Which is not to say it doesn't exist. People quarrel with their neighbours all the time, even in suburbia and in places like Chicago's South Side,young men routinely get shot fighting over street corners.
As groups and individuals, we face differing types and levels of conflict in our everyday lives... but at the end of the day, the ultimate manager and mediator of these conflicts is the state. Through their police, courts and prison systems, states enforce laws that reproduce power dynamics, restrict our choices, and regulate our behaviour.
The allocation of resources is determined by the logic of the so-called "free market", whereby ownership over land is given official sanction by the state-backed illusion of private property. The key to the state control over our lives lies in its ability to regulate all conflict within a given physical area. It follows, then, that those of us seeking to steal back the power to resolve conflicts on our own terms must first draw a firm line in the sand, and deny access to the state and its sophisticated apparatus of social control.
In order to meaningfully assert collective autonomy, we must be capable of defending territory. Over the next thirty minutes, we will explore three autonomous zones serving as living embodiments of defiance to state rule: the ZAD, or Zone to Defend, in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, France; Unist'ot'en Camp located on the Wet'suet'en territories of so-called BC; and the autonomous spaces movement in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Along the way, we will speak with a number of individuals who are flaunting state authority, asserting control over the spaces they inhabit... and making a whole lot of trouble.
The ZAD has many realities. But mostly it's kind of a community where people try to experiment other ways to live their social and political life. In the end of the 1960s, somebody came up with an airport project for this area, Notre-Dame-des-Landes. And during all those years, the bocage [a terrain of mixed woodland and pasture] itself is put under the status of ZAD which basically means Postponed Planning Zone, which was transformed one day [renamed] into Zone to be Defended.
So there was a big resistance with lots of different forms of action, including sabotage, black bloc demonstrations, quite offensive defense. Occupying land is quite similar to a political squat, but with a strong dimension regarding the environment and the territory we live in.
During all those years, we did not simply organize politically against the airport, but we also made connections locally. We took care of the land. Some of us settled for good. And we thought out the future of the ZAD together. So it's been ten years now that structures have been created on the ZAD to figure out how to live as autonomously as possible. It necessarily means that we have to be able to answer our basic needs. Like be fed, sleep under a roof, have access to medicine. It's a place that has become a place where you can live for free. You can build your house, your cabin...
The occupation movement was created at a time when some of the peasants had called for illegal occupation themselves. When squatters came in 2007 they were close to anarchist and/or antiauthoritarian ideas. Trying to work together and allowing for a diversity of tactics, and knowing that that is our strength.
We're fighting against this state and this project. Also we come here.... we fight against things, but we also try to create things together. And making things available and trying to share. That everybody has possibilities and access to a place to live... to water and food.
[Blogger's note: The discussant directly engages problems in the self-organization of the ZAD, and launches a critique of one clique there. This is unsurprising on the left, and less so in an anarchist video since the critique is directed at an authoritarian tendency. Still, it's a bit of a surprise to this blogger that this video includes this kind of reflection. Contemporary radical left discourse, especially in squatting, has moved far beyond propaganda.]
So there's a kind of hegemonic ideology. Diversity of tactics has been much more of a theory for the past few months. Certain ideas that become ways of judging people, of excluding people from discussions.
So yeah there's some kind of really well-organized, sort of communist ideas that have taken a lot of place in the past few years that will have a kind of discourse about "you have to go to our meetings, and if you don't agree you might have to leave, or shut up... or maybe later on we'll come beat you up with baseball bats."
Some people who used sabotage as a tactic have been pressured and even attacked for having dug holes in the concrete of one of the roads which crosses the ZAD. And someone especially was put in the trunk and taken out of there, molested and left almost naked in front of a psychiatric hospital. And it's been some years that contesting this hegemonic power of the dominant group has been much more difficult. They tend to concentrate wealth. To concentrate strategic discussions regarding the movement. Bonds with local farmers and people governing other institutions of the movement. And they of course, deny it when it comes to critique. We provoked a number of discussions on the place that their reading group, called the CMDO, has been held among us. But they never recognized, publicly, their group as a group of power. And thus, never wanted to share that power with other groups or individuals.
It was mainly this group of persons which pushed towards the negotiations during the evictions.
Well as you can see all around us it's pitch black. People were not expecting the expulsions to happen until 6am this morning, local time here in France. Tiny groups of people chose their means of actions.
When the police attack, making barricades, going to harass the police in any form, or any way... to throwing back their own grenades or other forms of explosives, or molotov cocktails. From sabotage attempts ... especially on the tanks.
We really wanted to see one burn.
Digging holes to prevent the tanks from going further. And of course, erecting barricades and defending them.
Wet'suwet'en Nation Defense
Deep in the central interior forests of so-called British Columbia lies the unceded territory of the Wet'suwet'en nation. Never surrendered to the settler-colonial Canadian state, the gateway to these remote territories is the headwaters of the Wedzinkwah River, which lies under the stewardship and protection of the Unist'ot'en clan, one of the five house groups that make up the Wet'suwet'en nation.
For the past decade, the Unist'ot'en have been physically blocking the construction of three major oil and fracked gas pipelines slated to pass through their territories en route to refineries and tankers on the Pacific coast.
Ground zero in this stand has been the Unis'to'ten Camp, constructed in 2010 as a permanent resistance community, located smack dab in the path of the originally proposed route of the Northern Gateway, Pacific Trails, and Coastal Gaslink pipelines.
The Unist'ot'en have also established a checkpoint system, with access to the territories conditional on completing a Free Prior and Informed Consent Protocol. This system grants the Unis'tot'en authority over who gains access to their territory, which has allowed them to keep representatives of the extractive industry and Canadian state at bay. This territory is unceded Unist'ot'en territory, which is part of the Wet'suwet'en territory. Knedebease is the hereditary chief that manages this territory, and I am a member of that house group, so we manage these territories. And in my view, it is not Canada. It's not BC. This has always been Wet'suwet'en territory because we've never ceded or surrendered it to anybody.
Doesn't belong to the crown. Doesn't belong to the federal government. Doesn't belong to the provincial government. It belongs to Unist'ot'en. To my people.
We started travelling through the territories back here a lot more frequently. And the reason why we started spending a lot of time back here is because there were some proposed pipelines that were being proposed by industry and by government, to begin doing some preliminary work back here to stop them. You guys can't be doing any work in here, because we've already told them no. That they can't access our territory. Once we found out that industry was trying to force their way in, we put our cabin directly in the path of the initial proposal for Enbridge, for the bitumen pipeline that was proposed to come through here.
So the log cabin sits right en route of their GPS points of where Enbridge initially had planned to put their pipelines through here. At the same time, there was Coastal Gaslink and Pacific Trails Pipeline that wanted also to put pipelines through our territory. To me that's not self-sustaining. When it's really quick, it's boom and bust.
Who are you? Where are you from? How long do you plan to stay if we let you in? And do you work for industry or government that's destroying our lands? And how will your visit benefit Unist'ot'en?
And one of the key questions that they could not answer, truthfully and honestly, was the question where we ask “how will your visit benefit the people of this land?” Uhh.. I really don't think there is any benefit. And the reason why we turn them back is because they could not pass simple protocol questions.
The RCMP was created by the government to keep our people off our land. So, they are part of the government, so they too don't pass protocol. We don't trust police, because we're suspicious that your forces would in to scope out our layout so that if there is an injunction, you guys would be better prepared about how you're gonna deal with us.
The camp serves as a beacon for other people who are struggling with these ideas. That they might not be able to stop a project from coming through their territories. And you know, for anybody to stand up to something like that is quite a daunting task. But a lot of people who have studied us over the years, and learned from the resistance that we've taken... they've taken those lessons and have started their own actions. And there's an incredible amount of economic and logistical disruption that arise from that type of activity.
We are here today in solidarity with the Unist'ot'en camp. We wish to share the Unist'ot'en hereditary chief's clear statement that they do not consent to having pipelines built on their unceded traditional territory. This colonization has always been about the taking of Indigenous lands. We always said if we heal our people, then we'll heal our land.
The healing center idea came when we realized that "why aren't our own people coming out here to visit us?" And even though some do come, there's not a high number of our own people. And we realized that a lot of our people are still struggling because of colonization. From the Residential School era. From the public school system ... lotta racism. We realized that a lot of our people are struggling because of trauma. And we realized that we needed a healing facility that incorporated all the whole wellness thing that we were talking about.
And we wanna put our culture back into our people. So that they will be strong and they will stand up. When people come out to a space like this, what they experience is land that's actually beginning to go through the healing process. This land back here that we're walking through and passing through, is land that was devastated from logging already.
And it's in a process of healing. It actually has berry bushes, so we're surrounded by berry bushes here. There are grizzly bear tracks a half a kilometer from here. So when people come up to spend time here, they begin to learn about the importance of connecting themselves to the planet that is in need of healing.
Struggle and Cession in Cities
While defending territory from state incursions is hard enough in rural, or remote natural terrains, those seeking to establish autonomous spaces in urban environments face an additional set of challenges. Cities are sites of concentrated state power. Not only are they strongholds of surveillance and repression, but they are also areas where the logic of state control is thoroughly integrated into everyday social relations.
This opens the door to recuperation, a process whereby state power constantly shifts and adapts itself in order to preemptively cut off and assimilate potential threats to its authority and legitimacy. This is the balancing act faced by urban squatter movements in cities around the world, whose participants must constantly navigate the twin minefields of eviction and legalization. This means simultaneously avoiding the social isolation that would make full-scale repression possible, while also combating state and real estate developers' attempts to transform these spaces into nothing more than edgy tourist destinations. One of the really important functions of the urban occupation is that it becomes a source of inspiration.
Despite being surrounded by hostile forces – in the form of state, police, capital – that it is possible to have a space in which you can experiment with different forms of existing. With different forms of living. With different forms of relating to one another. We could speak about three distinct phases of squatting experiments in Ljubljana.
First one is early '90s. This is the time of the destruction of Yugoslavia. It's a time of massive changes in Slovenian society. This movement had a clear continuity with alternative cultural movements of the 80s that was heavily influenced by progressive currents such as feminism, LGBT movement, anti-militarist tendencies, ecological movements. This movement found its highest expression in the squatting of Metelkova military barracks in 1993.
The second wave of squatting can be traced to the late 90s. In around 98 and 99, several different initiatives and individuals were squatting different spaces in the city of Ljubljana and were all evicted from those squats. And in the middle of this wave of repression over the movement, the community of Metelkova decided to give one empty space in the Autonomous Cultural Center to the anarchist infoshop.
The third wave of squatting in Ljubljana is symbolized by the squatting of ROG Factory, which is maybe the biggest squat in Ljubljana. It was squatted in 2006 by a new precarious generation of younger people that later came to be identified as the generation without future. It has always been understood by us that the front between the two different squats is the same front.
Because if one of us is attacked, or evicted for instance, that will mean a huge attack on the ability of the other to actually be part of any kind of political process in the city. The relationship of the state has been slightly different in its expression. So for instance, when it comes to ROG they have had constant attempts of the city to either evict them or attack them in different ways.
And just two years ago there was the most serious attempt to tear down several buildings in that area. That attempt was stopped by a broader political mobilization.The nature of an urban occupation is that it is faced with different kinds of factors that perhaps escape rural occupations. Our squats are part of the neoliberal capitalist society that is progressing further and further towards social devastation. Every time we are faced with the processes that are destroying our cities, we always have to question our position and our changing position within those processes.
Metelkova and ROG both generate quite wide public support. So this forced the public authorities to be cautious. And even though there are several softer attempts to push Metelkova into the state of legalization, we haven't in the last decade really been faced with an attempt of eviction. That of course brings a different set of questions for all of us who are part of Metelkova squat. And that is, in such moments, where the city is actually trying to sell you as one of its premium tourist destinations... how do you maintain yourself as a space that can still produce radical social movements and interventions in the city?
That of course comes with every question of recuperation. How do we still manage to keep our practices DIY? How do we still manage to stay ungovernable, which is basically the only way not to become a squatting museum, or a sort of caricature of what a squat should be? Many people and many activities that are cleaned from the city center because of the demands of the tourist industry... we all end up in squats with different trajectories and different positions that we occupy in the current social-economic order.
This naturally leads to tensions. Some more serious than others. And the consequence also can be seen in what recently happened to club Jalla Jalla – it was destroyed in a fire. As a community this was immediately recognized as an effect of the general state in which the whole city is being pushed. And our focus is not only to rebuild Jalla Jalla the club, but also to rebuild and reclaim our collective capacity to resist the processes of devastation that are everywhere destroying the conditions of living for so many people in this town. Establishing and effectively securing an autonomous space isn't something that happens overnight. States cannot afford to let challenges to their legitimacy go unanswered, lest they serve as examples for others to follow.
For this reason, any political attempt to reject state authority over a territory is likely to provoke a serious reaction. It is therefore crucially important that those involved anticipate the state's response, and are in a strong enough position to weather the inevitable storm. Autonomous territories allow for the building of dual power. They are alternative focal points of legitimacy that can effectively challenge the state's monopoly on authority. Indigenous Nations draw this legitimacy from spiritual and cultural practices rooted in generations of deep connection to the lands claimed by their colonizers. For those of us more alienated from the lands and spaces we occupy, the process of asserting autonomy must begin with navigating the tensions and contradictions that exist in dominant society, cultivating strong bonds of solidarity, and fuelling antagonism towards the state. We'd rather not pass lessons to anyone. If people get inspired from what they've done here, it will always be a pleasure to share experiences and knowledge of those years spent here.
I think it has been proven several times that building the infrastructure for the movement and of the movement really becomes crucial in moments of high and demanding political mobilization in the society. To have the kind of spaces that enable you to maintain the historical memory of movements, that enable us to find different kinds of accomplices in our struggles for a different kind of world. With the help of allies all around the world ... we've garnered lots of support through Indigenous, non-Indigenous, professionals,... everyday citizens.
A lot of people do support what we're doing and have vocalized it to us. We have come here to be with you, to make sure you understand you're doing the right thing. There's always people who come here also who have connections, or who have been to other places where people are struggling and bring us information. And so that creates solidarity between different struggles. You need to ensure that the Indigenous people who have always lived on those lands, since millennia, are involved in that struggle. They have long stories. Ancient, ancient stories that talk about how and why they have responsibilities. The mere fact that a squat exists as a potential of development of autonomous ideas, of politically radical ideas, is of course already a threat to the state, a threat to capital's interests.
And therefore we will never be safe, no matter how many selfies tourists make here. If it is possible that in a city that is so increasingly gentrified, so penetrated with different capitalist forces if it is able to have a space where experimentation with our freedom is possible, then it kind of gives us hope that other kinds of political projects are also possible. And what we would really love to see is more of these kinds of inspirations around the world, around different cities, around different communities.
As for our inspiration, we take as much inspiration as possible from as many struggles as possible. The Zapatistas movement, even though we're far far from what they achieved. The Landless Peasant Movement, especially in South America, or Reclaim the Field network all over Europe. Or occupied neighbourhoods, like in Exarchia in Greece. Or people protecting seeds like in India. Rojava is, of course, an insight especially regarding feminist self-defence.
Some of us are also really close to the Italian struggle against the train line crossing the Val di Susa.
[Blogger's note: SqEK research group Gianni Piazza, convener of the most recent conference in Catania, Sicily, wrote a book about this peasant & activist resistance to a high-speed rail line construction; we drank “No TAV” wine at a social center in Rome in '14.]
Val di Susa police line. Image from italycalling.wordpress.com blog.
The most important thing is that we have to ask ourselves "what are our needs?" And then find ways through which we can express them. We're absolutely going to win this fight. Y'know, this is a fight that belongs to not only us, but all of our unborn. This is a fight that belongs to all of our ancestors who died fighting for these spaces, and protecting them.
So this is a fight that doesn't belong to us. We're not selfish people. This fight belongs to all of our Wet'suwet'en people past, present and future. Some of us went to fight the world of the airport. And the airport was a pretext to fight the system behind it. I'd say for me, the ZAD, it helps me burn the social and structural boundaries in my head ... and then almost everything became possible.
We live in a historical moment in which the global neoliberal order, wracked by overlapping social, economic and ecological crises, is rapidly unraveling before our very eyes. Yet far from being a cause for celebration, the dark new reality rising to take its place promises to be even worse. New and resurgent forms of state power are being constructed on foundations of hyper-nationalist reaction, armed with sophisticated new tools of surveillance and repression.
A proliferation of civil wars, surging levels of inequality and climate change-fuelled catastrophes are provoking historical levels of forced human migration. But while things look undoubtedly bleak, the rapid transformations currently underway have the potential to uncover new cracks in the facade of state power. Revolutionaries must be ready to take advantage of any and all opportunities that these shifting new dynamics may produce, establishing a decentralized network of autonomous zones that can sustain projects of mutual aid, respond to emergent threats, and coordinate solidarity across borders.
So at this point, we'd like to remind you that Trouble is intended to be watched in groups, and to be used as a resource to promote discussion and collective organizing. Are you interested in offering sustained material support for existing autonomous spaces, or figuring out what steps would be involved in launching your own? Consider getting together with some comrades, organizing a screening of this film, and discussing where to get started. Interested in running regular screenings of Trouble at your campus, infoshop, community center, or even just at home with friends?
Many thanks to the Submedia collective for sharing the subtitled script with “Occupations & Properties.”
Submedia collective: "Fighting Where We Stand", 30 minutes, November 2018
"My name is not important."
Marco Deseriis, "Improper Names: Collective Pseudonyms from the Luddites to Anonymous"
Donatella Della Porta, Gianni Piazza, "Voices of the Valley, Voices of the Straits: How Protest Creates Communities" (2008)
While this academic book is expensive, Gianni has also written articles on the Val di Susa resistance