40,000 form human chain around the ZAD

20.5.13

If any more proof is needed that direct action works, take a trip to Nantes in western France.

Fifteen or so miles outside the city, the regional authority backed by the French national government, has been trying to build “Nantes International” Airport. It claims it is required to replace the single runway airport in the city in order to attract investment into the area. The opponents commissioned their own study which refuted those claims. They also point out that Nantes is just a little over two hours by fast train from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. The new airport is dismissed as little more than an ego project of the former major of Nantes, Jean-Marc Ayrault, now the Prime Minister of France. It has been dubbed ‘Ayrauoport’.

Last weekend (11th May) I was one of the 40,000 or so people who formed a 25 kilometre-long human chain around the site of the airport. The huge numbers have been inspired by the direct action of last winter. During the winter months there were tear-gas battles in the woods as police fought to remove hundreds of young protesters who had set up make-shift homes in support of the local community.  The courage of the protesters from the self-styled ZAD as they resisted the police in the bitter cold and driving rain of last winter both cemented their support in the local community and inspired people from around France and beyond.

Now there are support groups, called “committees”, in 200 towns and cities.  Each group stages demonstrations in their own towns and lobbies politicians in their own areas in support of the Nantes campaigners. Hardly a week goes by without one of the committees cycling or walking through France to the site of the proposed airport. Last weekend on my way back from the protest I spied a billboard in Le Mans– over 100 miles from Nantes– opposing the airport.

The ZAD resistance followed on from the 28 day hunger strike staged last year during the presidential election campaign by four peasant farmers against the plan to evict them from their properties. 

The local community has fought a great campaign over the years – and recently won an important court case in the courts where the judge ruled that the airport’s promoters had failed to carry out proper flood plain and environmental assessments of the project, as required by the European Union.  The campaigners believe that the ruling from the court may provide a way for the Government to drop the airport and save face. But the reason the Government is under so much pressure is because of the way that direct action – the hunger strikes and the resistance from ZAD – electrified support from across France. No wonder there was such a carnival atmosphere last Saturday. We were holding hands around an airport that will probably now never be built.

John Stewart guest post's blog