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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!

7107 Islands – Part II

Religion

I guess I must declare from the outset of this post that I am an atheist. Of course this doesn’t mean anything for anyone else – in fact I think religion is a great thing if it works for a person, it just doesn’t for me, thanks to my ruthlessly logical and scientific mind. Being able to find solace, or courage, or meaning in religion is wonderful, and I have seen that it can do amazing things for people. My problem therefore is not so much with spirituality, but with organised religion. I encountered a lot of both in the Philippines, some of which made me feel incredibly uncomfortable, and some of which I didn’t mind at all. It is a very Catholic country (something that is a relic of Spanish colonialism, with which I have a whole other set of issues entirely), which is sometimes overt, for instance in the case of the insular Iglesia ni Christo churches, but often it is not. Nevertheless, I was not bothered by the presence of religion in most places I went.

During my stay, we spent some time with a priest, Father Paul, who is amazing, and deservedly well respected in Payatas for the incredible things he has done. Because Filipinos are so religious, he has been able to achieve some very positive things because he is a priest, and people are generally more receptive to what he has to say, which at times can be fairly radical. In such an environment, an enlightened and respected individual like him can make a far greater difference than anyone else, particularly western ‘experts’ or researchers who haven’t got a clue what’s going on (myself included). However, because priests have so much authority, it matters what they have to say, and who they are – everyone has a worldview, and everyone has an agenda. My concern is more that the church impedes development in the Philippines, while those doing truly good work are in the minority.

At the moment, there is a bill going through Parliament called the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill. As could probably be predicted it refers to universal access to information about things like abortion, family planning and contraception. As could also be predicted, the Catholic Church is vehemently against it, and implementation of the law has been delayed as a result of opposition. On the side of one church we saw a sign that proclaimed the government should be opposing the RH bill because it would a) create terrorism, b) (I paraphrase) turn children into sexualised monsters and c) create poverty. The ridiculousness of this sign is most scary because people are taken in by it. In what world does being able to choose whether or not to have a child create more poverty? Surely, it does the exact opposite. The imposition of the Church’s fearful remonstrations and opinions is what I find disgusting – taking away from people who often lack access to basic sex education the right to think for themselves and take control of their own bodies, families and lives.

Of course, I found the expectation to sing hymns and say grace a strain too, but those are the kinds of things I can deal with out of respect for the people I am with. Besides, I find the expectation to sing karaoke a strain too, even at the best of times (i.e. two bottles of Red Horse down). It is only when I see the flagrant abuse and institutionalised, systemic undermining of progress by the Catholic church that I have a problem with it. It is under these circumstances that one can really see where Marx was coming from when he spoke about religion being the “opiate of the masses”. The Catholic Church is bad enough, but the cultish Iglesia ni Christo is far worse. The stories I heard about the links to big money and organised crime are enough to turn your stomach, even before you consider the positions it takes and the way it tries to place its ministers into promising government positions.

My experience with the particular Filipino brand of religion was thus pretty mixed. On the one hand it felt incredibly overbearing, and a hindrance on the personal development of people, and on the development of the nation as whole. Meanwhile, on the other, I felt that on an individual level it gave people hope and purpose – which can’t be derided. I feel that the problem is when religion is used imperialistically, much as it is elsewhere in the developing world. Spirituality supersedes borders, whereas organised religion is often needlessly used to realise ulterior ambitions – and therein lies the problem.

 

Electric Highwaymen

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Jumping the meter wall in Phase 3

 During my trips to Payatas I learned a lot about something which is at best a sideline in my research, but which goes far deeper than it superficially appears. Illegal electricity abstraction is fairly common in certain areas of Payatas, particularly closest to the dumpsite, and in Phase 3. ‘Jumpers’ who connect wires to the grid cables to extract electricity run the risk of electrocution, house fires and death – the month before we were there someone died from fixing a dodgy connection. The need to connect to an electricity supply in order to be a part of the modern world is just that – a need, albeit produced by globalisation (which is extremely visible in the Philippines). It is not exactly like the appliances people use are decadent – a single light bulb to illuminate what are often dark houses because they are all built so close together; an electric fan to move the sweltering air and keep the mosquitoes away; a TV to feed the desire to consume and reinforce the inequality that is already so huge; a fridge to reduce the drudgery of living literally hour-to-hour, day-by-day. All of this of course if they can afford it. The electric company that supplies Payatas, Meralco, already has most expensive rates in the country, and there are no alternatives in the area except home-generation, which precious few people can afford in the city, let alone in Payatas. Furthermore, they have specific conditions about what type of buildings they will connect to the grid; namely that a dwelling must have a discernible kitchen and C.R. (bathroom). However, the poorest people often live in poor-quality housing that does not satisfy these conditions, making them ineligible for a legal, metered electricity supply. To access the modern world in even the most minor of ways these people must therefore obtain their electricity via a profiteering intermediary, who charges extra for an illegal sub-metered connection to a legal mother-meter, held under a Meralco account. Of course these intermediaries may also be victims of the system of poverty themselves – not racketeering but merely scraping a subsistence wage – but their existence simultaneously perpetuates the system whereby the poorest are charged the most for electricity, and is a symptom of it. It is a clear expression of what Oscar Wilde and Robert Tressell called “altruism” and “philanthropy”, respectively, describing the wage-slavery of the British working classes at the turn of the last century. The poorest people are charged the most money for energy, their money lining the pockets of fossil fuel magnates and corporations in a country that still has an ongoing problem with corruption. This, while the richest ex-pats and elites in their gated sub-divisions and third homes avoid fully paying taxes and electricity rates via creative accounting, reporting and golden hand-shaking. The system that allows companies to enforce poverty by only providing energy to those who are considered to be living in ‘proper’ dwellings, while depriving those very people of such decent housing is itself corrupt, and moribund. The ‘jumpers’ and the middlemen may be doing something illegal in ‘stealing’ electricity in the eyes of the legislature that upholds the status quo, but they are truly victims of an immoral and deformed system; a system that is stealing from them.

7107 islands

After my month doing research (and having fun) in the Philippines, I thought it was only fitting to write down some of my experiences. Mostly I have put things into sections, but some of it is a splurge. Here’s the first instalment (more when I have time to type):

 

yellow head

 

Research

I went to the Philippines primarily to do research for my final year of university. Admittedly it was also a very good excuse for a wicked holiday, but as I got funding for it, it was decidedly more research-orientated. I spent a solid 2 weeks meeting shiny bureaucrats and engineers and took wind measurements twice every day, all for jokes, obviously. I was well angry because I dragged a HUGE water flow meter all the way from Norwich (on my bike) to London, to the Philippines, and then got it to the river, where it was way too dangerous to use because it was rainy season. I couldn’t have been more miffed, honestly, but I can’t say I didn’t expect it. In all, my research went swimmingly – mostly because I had a lot of help in the way of things like Tagalog translation, introductions, moral support, and anemometer readings – thanks Josh. Going in person to meet all of the people that mattered is obviously the way to get things done – as I suspected. Well, it shows you mean business, and sadly in the developing world a well-dressed white girl with a mean look on her face can go a longer way than nameless emails can.

Bureaucracy

If there’s one thing the Philippines does well, it’s bureaucracy; as I found out to my detriment. I got more annoyed than I probably should have done by the amount of red tape surrounding everything, which would be enough to hang an elephant with room to spare. I should have known from the outset when my emails to various government bureaucrats got repeatedly bounced between different offices in a bizarre kind of secretarial ping-pong match. Some Department of Energy officials have something nuts like seven secretaries – that’s the assistant to the assistant to the assistant to the assistant to the assistant to the PA of the secretary to the officer in charge of their specific section, and there are a helluva lot of those… Well, it’s one way of filling an office I guess. To visit the DOE, I had attempted to get in contact for weeks, but to no avail. The department seems to have enveloped itself in an impenetrable thicket of red tape to ensnare all but the most well connected or determined. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I was the former – it took a phone call from a rich Christian bigwig in the PNA who I happened to encounter through Josh’s connections with the charity to a school friend of his to get me a meeting. I was expecting a five-minute splurge, so it seemed odd after all that to see how eager and willing to help these guys were. The man I intended to meet seized a passing colleague, who had more answers than I had questions – he was still going long after my list had been exhausted. They then proceeded to take us on a tour of the whole renewables department, introducing me to (and I don’t mean this lightly) literally everyone he knew in each office. He picked up his friend from a basement office and the two of them – both funny little old men – gibbered away unintelligibly in English (not either of their first language), holding hands and taking us to every office to meet various workers. We only didn’t meet Big Boss Mario, who curtly replied to my emails by palming me off to his underlings, because “he doesn’t have the time for the likes of us”. Josh and I exchanged incredulous looks and suppressed the giggles rising in our throats while we were paraded around through the shiny hallways, cramped offices, and cafeteria.

The revolution, back in black – Opinion – Al Jazeera English

The revolution, back in black

The black bloc must provide Egyptians with a positive vision if they want their struggle to succeed

The revolution, back in black – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

Transport maths

I have just spent around 4 hours calculating the exact emissions of the cargo ship I took to South America last summer, and how much more efficient it is than flying. It actually came pretty close to my original estimate, so I’m fairly chuffed..

If you don’t like maths, look away now, but this is pretty rigorous:

All figures are based on the MSC Monterey, a ship with:

  • 59300 DWT deadweight
  • 4860 TEU capacity
  • operating 4 B & W diesel engines, with combined output of 39,352 kW
  • 54,549t tonnage

Appendix 1

 

CO2 Emissions Calculations for MSC Monterey on voyage Antwerpen-Callao

150.6 t d-1 daily fuel consumption[i]

496.1˙ nm d -1 rate of travel (based on 8930 nautical miles at average speed of 14 knots)

150.6 t d-1 / 496.1˙ nm d -1 = 0.30356 t fuel/nm

= 0.3 t/nm

0.3 t/nm * 8930 nm = 2710.86071 t

=2710.9 t total fuel for trip

0.3 t/nm / 4151 t (based on 70% capacity of 59300 DWT) = 7.33079 x 10-5

= 7.3 x 10-5 nm fuel/ t cargo

7.3 x 10-5 nm/t * 8930 =0.65464 t fuel/t cargo

= 0.7 tf /tc

 

0.7 tf /tc * 3.1 (CO2 conversion factor[ii]) = 2.11318 t/tc

= 2.1 t/tc

2.1 t/tc * 8930nm = 18870.67157 t/tc

18870.7 t/tc

18870.7 t/tc * 0.000058t (my weight) = 1094.49895 kg CO2 equivalent

= 1094.5 kg CO2e

= 1.1 t CO2e


[i] DEFRA 2011 Guidelines to Defra / DECC’s GHG Conversion Factors for Company Reporting (July 2011) Produced by AEA for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

[ii] CE Delft, Germanischer Lloyd, MARINTEK & Det Norske Veritas Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Shipping and Implementation of the Marine Sulphur Directive (2006) Delft

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