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One world, one struggle

Until recently I had known very little about la ZAD, aside from the fact that it is an occupied area of land in Brittany where a new airport is proposed at Notre Dames des Landes. Happily, this changed this weekend when myself and two of the other Heathrow hooligans decided to visit for a little holidarity (or hoolidarity, to be more precise). It was an inspirational experience which demonstrated the similarities between the UK and French political contexts on multiple levels. For one, the resistance to airport expansion: Grow Heathrow could learn a lot from the occupation tactics and mass mobilisation abilities of La ZAD. The level of support from all sectors of society in the local area is amazing, and a fantastic example of a unifying struggle – la ZAD encapsulates the fight against new runways, against capitalism, against land grabs, against environmental destruction, and attempts to build a new, more inclusive and compassionate future. Although there are many reasons why la ZAD is so interesting and iconic in the French context, some stand out particularly. La ZAD represents a resistance to the status quo, the repression of the state, and to capitalism. More than this, the ZADists are building a better alternative. It is a collective project, which means there is huge, far-reaching support. This support extends beyond France, too: la ZAD is outward looking as much as it is inwardly focused. On a wider scale, it has become even more apparent to me of late that we must strive to link up our battles to sustain a unified attack on capitalist exploitation across the world: the relationships and connections we build are crucial to success.

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Resistance

The feeling of excitement that I felt when we got to la ZAD was similar to the buzz underlying an activist camp like Reclaim the Power or Climate Camp – that same sense of lawlessness, restlessness, and boundless productive energy of people actively working to create positive change. On the one hand, the mood of resistance is palpable as the threat of eviction is omnipresent: the Gendarme set up checkpoints and raid occupied buildings regularly. This weekend, another Farm was re-occupied after it had been evicted some years ago. On the way back to Nantes station we passed seven or eight vans of Gendarmes on their way to la ZAD, probably to evict the squatters again. It is therefore very much a live battleground, and you can feel it: everything feels sort of semi-finished, rough around the edges, and impermanent. Despite this, there is an amazing creative energy. The way veteran ZADists talk about la ZAD is always in terms of “projects” – people are always trying to create things, build things, and change things for the better. It’s that energy that will allow us to create a new world in the shell of the old, and la ZAD feels like an experiment that might actually work. Even though of course it has its flaws, it is admirable that people are trying to create an alternative reality that works on principles of equality and collectivism rather than individualism and exploitation.

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Collectivism

If there was a theme that I had to say underpins the entire ZAD struggle, it would be collectivism. Everything is organised in collectives: each occupied farm or building is run by a collective, and la ZAD as a whole is run by weekly meetings of their members. The farms are run collectively as well: take this for an example. In 2012, Bellevue, one of the farms, was evicted. A group of local farmers got together and re-occupied the land, and now run the farm together, allowing it to stay a functioning farm that produces food for its occupiers and la ZAD more broadly. Food production and land struggles are woven into the fabric of la ZAD – after all, it is an agricultural area and much of the local support for the occupation comes from farmers. But la ZAD has much broader support, because its issues are not just local ones. Resistance to the proposed NDDL airport has been simmering for forty years, and the struggle has become iconic across France. It has inspired widespread collectivism, far beyond the Breton countryside. Across France (and Europe), ZAD committees organise and support the project. When we were there this weekend, a 100-strong meeting in a local village comprised mainly of committee members from across France; in fact only around 15 of those people were actually local. It demonstrates the enormous support la ZAD has across the country, and goes some way to explaining why they have such huge mobilisation power. On Saturday 27th February, a massive demonstration was called (which was ostensibly the reason for our visit – we got a chance to address the crowds from the back of a tractor; amazing), which attracted something like 50,000 people to shut down two major highways around the proposed airport site. In January (bearing in mind that Brittany in winter is wet, muddy, and rainy – even more so than England – and la ZAD is essentially a swamp) about 1000 people turned up in response to a call-out by la ZAD to help with a work weekend. 1000 people! It’s astounding. The ability they have to mobilise seems to me to come from a) the culture of resistance and trade union membership in France b) the length of time the struggle has been established over and c) the broad coalition of groups who support the movement. This last point was evident at the demo on Saturday – as well as the classic anarcho contingent you’d find at any UK demo there was a massive amount of ‘normal’ people, lots of farmers (driving tractors), many more older people than I am used to seeing at marches, and generally a very broad spectrum. Protest is part of French culture, and it is evident.

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Internationalism

Although the French political context is different, there is a lot we can gain from internationalism. The similarities between the anti-aviation campaigns in the UK and France are striking. Both are resisting capitalist exploitation of people and of the environment. Both are campaigning against the extraction of profit from the land for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. Both are instrumental in preventing climate change as a result of airport expansion and land degradation. Both are resisting state repression. Both governments wish to suppress these movements because they threaten the profit-making ability of the elites that run these countries. The common ground is enormous, and the differences are circumstantial. Yes, the French have higher union membership and are more used to taking to the streets to protest, but also their political climate means that these forms of ‘legitimate’ protest are safer and more acceptable. The military police in France are so much more violent than in the UK – they can use tear gas and rubber bullets for one thing, and don’t seem to regard the safety of peaceful protesters as something worth worrying about. This means that direct action, which has a long and colourful history in the UK, doesn’t happen in anything like the same way. In short, it’s much more dangerous to lock yourself to something because they don’t seem to care if they break your neck or not while removing you. Nonetheless, there is a lot we could learn from each other: a sustained campaign of non-violent direct action such as is undertaken by groups like Plane Stupid could be an incredibly effective form of protest at la ZAD. Similarly, the tactics of occupation, the construction of structures, and mass mobilisation strategies could be readily applied in the UK.

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We went as members of Plane Stupid and of the Heathrow 13 to extend our solidarity with la ZAD and to form linkages between us. We found that there are many shared experiences and that we can learn from each other. Airport expansion is another symptom of a capitalist agenda that seeks to extract maximum profit from the environment and people to concentrate in the hands of the few in power, at the expense of the majority. We must do everything we can to resist exploitation on all fronts. Solidarity forever! La ZAD partout!

Geldof neo-colonialism

Band Aid is shit. Find the original article here.

It’s that time of year again, and in the festive spirit of giving, the aging Bob Geldof has rallied together another juvenile band of celebrities to raise their sagging profiles and profit from another crisis. Band Aid 30’s re-release of the patronising “Do they know it’s Christmas” reportedly raised more than £1mn in the first five minutes since its release to help tackle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Although this is an important campaign, and a problem that requires a concerted effort to solve, there are serious issues surrounding Band Aid. Primarily, the song is patronising and offensive (yes, I’m fairly certain many people in Africa are aware that it is Christmas, especially those that celebrate it as a religious holiday) and cultivates the archaic image of Africa as ‘backwards’, and of Africans as ‘savages’; unable to fend for themselves and requiring the intervention of ‘white saviours’ to rescue the situation. This neo-colonialist attitude entrenches negative assumptions about Africa, and encourages broad and largely incorrect generalisations about Africans.Ebola-no-Ebola1

Emeli Sande, one of the artists who sang on the record, has criticised the lyrics, acknowledging that they could be perceived as offensive and disrespectful, but highlighting that the intention of the single is to raise money where governments have responded woefully slowly. Rapper Fuse ODG pulled out of the single at the last minute, claiming he felt “awkward” about some of the lyrics, adding that that the track “is quite detrimental to the continent [Africa]” and is a “quick fix” solution to a wider problem. Others have gone further in their criticism. Solome Lemma, who co-founded Africans in the Diaspora as well as the Africa Responds initiative on Ebola, emphasised the lack of inclusiveness of the Band Aid modus operandi, which propagates a “white saviour” narrative. She said: “the song is patronising and negative and it is sad that they haven’t worked with and included African musicians, especially from the countries affected. You have very well-known, mainstream singers, talking about Africa with very little inclusion of Africans.”

Indeed, many African artists have heaped criticism on the song for its negative portrayal of Africa to the rest of the world. Carlos Chirinos, producer of an alternative charity single, “Africa Stop Ebola”, which has been written by African artists in response to the Ebola outbreak, juxtaposed the need for funding to prevent the spread of the disease with the negative outcomes of the Geldof model: “it’s worth doing it for the money and the money is needed, however it comes at a cost and the cost is the way in which Africa is being portrayed to the rest of the world.” Many of these criticisms have been around since the first release of the song in the 1980s – some of these have been humorously conveyed, such as the spoof charity song by ‘Radi-Aid’ to provide Norwegians dying of frostbite with radiators. Methods like this stress the ignorance of many people in developed countries about the inspiring and progressive things going on in Africa following years of negative propaganda, and, even, the most under-emphasised point – that Ebola has afflicted a small number of communities in a small number of countries, and that the majority of Africa is unaffected by the disease.
The notion that a bunch of celebrities devoting their precious time to help ‘poor, needy Africans’ plays up to the ridiculous caricature of starving Ethiopians that the original single spread. Further, it is offensive to the vast number of ordinary people who have donated money to charities like Medicins sans Frontieres, who are on the front line assisting with health care, and the medical professionals who have dropped everything to help looking after Ebola patients, often putting themselves at risk. Those in the UK who donate the largest proportion of their incomes to charity are in fact the poorest, yet Bob, Bono and chums can’t even summon the courage to pay their taxes. Rather than donating some of the $150mn and $600mn they are respectively worth, they would rather guilt trip people into forking out their hard-earned cash on some tuneless drivel that purports to solve all of Africa’s problems. It’s ironic (and not even in an Alanis Morrisette way), given that it’s people like them that are the root of such problems – pompous wealthy white men from developed countries extoling a destructive image of people from developing countries, while contributing to an oppressive, IMF-driven humanitarian aid system that undermines developing countries’ sovereignty, autonomy and dignity.

Revolutionary Opposition to IS

Printed in last edition of Concrete.

We’ve heard a lot about the role of Kurdish forces in the fight against Islamic State (IS) – yet the collaboration between Kurdish and Turkish forces is an unlikely one. For more than three decades, the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state in a violent bid for national separatism and statehood. Although originally Marxist-Leninist, and taking inspiration for its three-stage insurgency directly from Maoist rhetoric, the PKK has recently started down a new ideological route, which may have implications for the fight against IS.

Their demi-god leader, Ocalan, was inspired by the writings of Murray Bookchin, who himself was an ex-Anarchist exploring ideas of communalism. The PKK’s new direction is more peaceful and democratic – Ocalan suggests they only use weapons when attacked, critiquing their earlier praxis of separatism and violence. Now, they are all about “protecting our community … regardless of political ideology, religion and ethnicity”, and are considered a “democratic popular militia”. They have widespread support in towns and regions where they have power, such as in the town of Derek Hamko, where they have established People’s Councils based on principles of communal living and bottom-up participatory democracy.

Kurds are the most numerous stateless minority globally: Kurdish people originate from Iraq, Syria and Turkey, but currently have no national soil. Many Kurds support the PKK and its militant wings, the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) and YPJ (the all-female arm), and the new democratic model of ‘municipal confederalism’ or ‘libertarian municipalism’ chimes well with people in the proposed autonomous regions of Kurdistan.

The PKK is fighting for autonomy and national identity, as well as freedom from the oppressive regime IS wants to instate. 35% of the Kurdish forces in Syria are female, according to YPG spokesman Redur Khalil, and many are young; frequently in their teens and twenties.

The female fighters of the YPJ are particularly fearless and unafraid of death – these are women who are prepared to do anything to defeat IS and defend the “revolution of the woman” as well as their cultural and political values. The fight against IS is more than a struggle against a repressive imposing force ñ it represents a struggle for autonomy, for democracy, for equality, for heritage, and for honour.

The co-chair of the Rojava People’s Assembly, Sinem Muhammed, spoke at the International Political Women’s Council about “the threat of a large-scale massacre” in Rojava, an autonomous women’s region under attack by IS. She added “the YPJ is struggling against ISIS on behalf of all the women of the Middle East and the World”. The seriousness of what is on the line, and the dedication Kurdish fighters have for the cause was revealed in recent events. Some weeks ago, reports suggested that rather than fall into the hands of IS soldiers who would subject her to torture and rape, 19-year-old Ceylan Ozalp used her last bullet on herself. This demonstrates something important: this is not just a fight against Islamic fundamentalists; it is a fight for survival.

A radical response to world events

Also posted on Concrete.

Faced with the barrage of distressing news from around the world, reporting endlessly on shocking events and atrocities committed by those in power, it is tempting to curl up into a ball and cry, or attempt to smash everything – y’know, banks, parliament, corporations, police cars, police… However, neither of these are constructive outlets for one’s rage. Formulating a radical response to world events such as the shooting of unarmed Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, or the bombing and killing of innocent civilians in Gaza, or the illicit invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops is as difficult as it is critical.

The ballooning in popularity of the ice bucket challenge is one response to the wrong in the world – but it’s a misguided one. Giving to charity is in principle a great thing to do – in practice, however, it is important which one you give your money to. Some charities plough the majority of their funding into on-the-ground activities such as research or aid work, and some… don’t. Take the ALS foundation, which has been mistakenly wedded to the ice bucket challenge, for instance – their tax returns reveal that they spend a paltry 27% of their revenue on research, and pay their 11 executives over $100,000 apiece each year. Giving to grassroots foundations and organisations that do truly amazing work or fund highly effective campaigns should be prioritised; I’m thinking something along the lines of local foodbanks, Skateistan or Greenpeace. It’s great to donate to charity – but it’s unnecessary to dump ice on your head to do so. The main problem with the craze is that it seems like some bizarre publicity stunt – a self-congratulatory ego trip for celebrities and facebook sensations that achieves very little and trivialises the act of charity. If you give to charity: great, keep doing it… in private. We don’t need to congratulate you on every £3 a month you give to Oxfam.

A radical response to the problems of the world recognises that many are about abuses of power and the oppression of vulnerable and subjugated groups. All three of the examples given above concern the exercising of authority and power. Palestine has been historically screwed over by the state of Israel and international institutions since the early 20th century, with the aggression ramping up considerably post-‘67. Operation Cast Lead 2008-09 (AKA the Gaza War) killed 1,400 Palestinians by the UN’s count, and three Israelis. Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 killed hundreds of people too, and both sides were accused of committing war crimes. The most recent conflict is yet another expression of the unequal power dynamic between the two states: although Hamas is of course responsible for violence against Israel, its existence is in retaliation against the systematic structural violence that Israel submits Palestine to every day. The state of Israel systematically oppresses Palestinian civilians, by refusing to grant entry and exit visas to those in the Gaza strip – not to visit dying relatives, not to work, not to go to the market and buy food. Gaza’s borders are more restrictive than some of our prisons. Hell, we let a man called Skull Cracker waltz out of HMP Standford Hill on a whim. Israel denies Palestinians the right to a livelihood – they destroy key infrastructure such as water wells, and do not allow Palestinians to abstract drinking water. More than 80% of the water in the shared Israel/Palestine aquifer is extracted by Israel. 95% of Gaza’s water supply is too contaminated to drink due to over-abstraction. Palestinians have no access to water to irrigate crops, and so their economy is stunted, thereby preventing people from earning a living and improving their lives. Israeli troops frequently destroy olive groves full of trees centuries old, either in ‘punishment’ for supposed crimes against Israel, or as a deterrent. Houses are destroyed, schools are destroyed, wells are destroyed, people’s livelihoods are destroyed. It is a systematic abuse of power by one group over another, and the most recent events are another manifestation of that. Israel holds de facto power through force, and de jure power through legislation. The UN and powerful countries like the USA and UK support Israel, and even arm them, condoning the atrocities committed by the state. The Oslo Accords for instance unashamedly prejudice in favour of Israel, allocating more than half of water resources there, and building in institutional obstacles to Palestine obtaining their fair share – Israel has much better representation at the negotiating table.

What happened in Ferguson is another example of those in authority – the police – abusing that power. The USA is famously unequal, particularly along race lines in certain areas. Black students are three times as likely to be expelled from school as their white counterparts, and young black men are more likely to go to prison than to college. The US justice system is institutionally racist, and the shooting of Michael Brown in early August is yet another tragic reminder of the role the police play in perpetuating a racist status quo. The police are essentially the guard dogs of the elites, and the strong arm of the state – they are sworn to protect life and property, and in so doing criminalise and discriminate against those in poverty who do not have property. Institutionalised racism means that many black communities are poor, which results in higher levels of unemployment, violence and crime as people are forced into situations by necessity and lack of opportunities. Thus, when significant protest erupts against an unlawful killing, the state labels it ‘rioting’ and sends in the riot police. Ring any bells? This exact same thing happened in London in 2011 following the killing in Tottenham of Mark Duggan, an unarmed black man, in a community that has traditionally been relatively deprived, like Ferguson. Police violence is the ultimate abuse of power over socially and economically vulnerable or oppressed groups, and it is tolerated by the state because the state is run by elites, for elites. The shooting of innocent civilians, regardless of whether it is by a foreign government or your own, is a systematic waging of class warfare against the poorest members of society.

The situation in Ukraine is more complicated, but still involves the assertion of Russian authority over Ukrainian territorial sovereignty. No matter how much Vladimir Putin tries to convince us that the thousands of Russian troops that have reportedly joined separatist rebels have done so whilst off duty, it is clear that what world leaders, including Obama, are calling an “incursion” is almost certainly an underhand invasion. Russia’s combative stance speaks volumes; a territorial standoff and geopolitical wrangling whereby Russia re-asserts its waning power, reminding the West that the might and influence of the USSR has not diminished entirely.

All of the above represent an assertion of dominance by the powerful over the weak. ‘Weakness’ is here engendered by institutions, geopolitics or both. The prejudice of American law against young black men, and non-white communities in general, represents institutional oppression and structural violence committed against communities that are typecast, stereotyped and brutalised by an unrepresentative and largely white police force, whose job is to protect the state and elites. Post-curtain geopolitical dynamics, corruption and the erosion of Ukrainian institutions by ‘revolution’ have created a vulnerable state susceptible to meddling by power-hungry Tsars. The situation in Israel/Palestine is a combination of the two: institutionalised structural violence continues to oppress citizens, while international geopolitical institutions stand idly by and condone the situation. Israel is granted the green light by nations like the USA and UK who do not condemn their acts of barbarism, which evidently violate international law. Beyond that, they actively arm Israel, providing firearms, aircraft components and drones that are used to wage war against Gaza. Not only is this behaviour contemptible, it makes the leaders of such countries complicit in genocide.

Of course other sides are causing trouble too; Hamas fire deadly rockets, there is violence in black communities, and there is conflict on both sides in Ukraine. However, there is clear inequality between sides: Hamas have greatly inferior weaponry, and Israel has the backing of many international powers. The police in Ferguson have the weight of the state behind them. The disparity is apparent and it is clear that abuses of power are creating these problems. Not only do we need to redistribute resources, but also address the power imbalance at local, national and international levels.