By André Pettman
Our world is in a state of utter ruin. In July, the daily global mean surface air temperature record was broken four days in a row. Uncontrollable wildfires have ravaged islands in Greece and Hawaii. In the past year, the U.S. Supreme Court both overturned Roe v. Wade and dismantled Affirmative Action. The war in Ukraine rages on. Right wing, fascist regimes continue to gain ground around the world. Globalization’s rampant expansion persists. Socioeconomic inequality promulgates ceaselessly. More than ever it feels as if the world is rhythmed by violence, oppression, hostility, and crisis. More than ever it feels as if we no longer share a world in common. But…
“Oui nous habitons vos ruines, mais” repeats the French anarchist poet Jean-Marie Gleize throughout his book Le livre des cabanes. Yes we live in your ruins, but. Everything happens in that little word at the end of the phrase, that suspended “but” that opens an independent clause that is never closed. This “but” is a provocation, a gesture of refusal, a space in which possibilities and alternatives are invited to take root and to flourish. Yes we live in your ruins but other worlds are out there, other worlds that exist within this one. People everywhere are building them. A different world is being built in every protest, in every uprising, in every occupied square, in every riot, in every squat, in every strike. These worlds are being built on the ruins of the present, springing up between its cracks, spreading out in its undercommons, occupying its abandoned buildings, perching in its trees, blocking its pipelines, obstructing its railways. These worlds depend on cooperation: cooperation between the people who build them; cooperation with the land and the environment upon which these worlds are built; cooperation with the myriad forms of life with whom these worlds are shared. They also depend on a refusal to cooperate with the state, with governance, with institutions, with corporations, with any force of domination.
These worlds crop up in many places throughout time and space, they take many shapes, and have many names. The Paris Commune. The Oaxaca Commune. Stonewall. Occupy. Tarnac. Woodbine. Cooperation Jackson. Standing Rock. Stop Line 3. Los Municipios Autónomos Rebeldes Zapatistas. ¡Que se vayan todos! The Arab Spring. Movimiento 15-M. Nuit debout. Gilets jaunes. No TAV. Blockadia. Les Soulèvements de la Terre. In each of these worlds, people have joined together and cooperated to collectively develop tools and practices in order to live autonomously, to continuously imagine and construct alternative horizons. Tonight, we are discussing two such worlds the zone à défendre (ZAD) at Notre-Dame-des-Landes and the Stop Cop City/Defend the Atlanta Forest movement. As I point out in the short post I wrote ahead of tonight’s event, they share several features. Undergirding each movement is a foundation of grassroots cooperation, resistance, and popular mobilization. Each aims to block the development of a construction project. They both refuse any institutional or State mediation. After all, both movements have faced repressive state violence – in the case of Stop Cop City, this resulted in the murder of forest defender Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Terán, who was shot 57 times by the police. Both are animated by an ecological concern. In banding together and occupying a territory, the resisters and rebels of both movements are not only defending a local environment, they are also defending a relation to the world and the variegated beings and forms that compose it. Each are, to borrow Hugh Farrell’s words about the Atlanta forest, “not just refuge[s] from a reactionary moment but testing ground[s] for bottom-up ecological resilience and abolitionist politics”.
Indeed, the violence from the police and the State to which both worlds have been subjected is perhaps not only a product of their resistance to a specific project, but also because they offer us different kinds of models and methods with which to re-imagine our political horizons and to compose new lines of flight out of the grip of domination. They are both salient examples of what is possible when resistance operates on a basis of cooperation and openness. On the ZAD, for example, all its occupants took on the name Camille when inhabiting the territory, thus counteracting the police’s identificatory efforts and inhibiting any potential relation with the French state. While the adoption of the name Camille is a way to exclude the police, it also serves an inclusionary, as well as strategic, purpose. Having the same name contributed to making the ZAD an environment open to people from all walks of life, regardless of gender, race, age, class, etc. Speaking under a single, shared name engenders a horizontality that helps build connections between groups and participate in a perpetual collective process of forging community while preserving the heterogeneity of practices and perspectives circulating within it.
In the Weelaunee Forest, seemingly disparate groups and populations co-exist and cooperate without being compelled to assimilate to a particular way of doing things. This allows for cooperation (as opposed to competition) between political visions. Thus, while some participants fight Cop City with the book of law, or by teaching the racist history of the Atlanta City Prison Farm, others complement this effort with physical confrontations with the police. Others engage differently, helping to establish different structures, such as a kitchen called the “Weelaunee Café” where meals for forest defenders are cooked and served, or cultivating plots of land for trees, vegetables, and herbs. The diversity of the Stop Cop City movement allows for the deployment of many different ways to block the project and makes their actions unpredictable and difficult to counter.
And so, when forest defenders are charged with “domestic terrorism” for sitting in the trees, or clashing with the police; or when the homes of those organizing solidarity funds for the movement are raided by gun-toting SWAT teams, what is expressed is not the concern that some building project will be blocked. No, these are the immediately visible symptoms of a broader concern: the forging of a continuity between political thought and action. Instead of resistance and resilience existing only in the realm of thought and theory, on the ZAD and in Atlanta they also come to exist on the terrain of action, becoming a gesture to be continuously enacted and re-enacted, one that refuses to be managed or restricted by the limits laid out by the law and the state. These worlds are microcosms of a more general threat to domination. To quote the Invisible Committee: “Anti-terrorism claims to attack the possible future of a ‘criminal association.’ But what is really being attacked is the future of the situation. The possibility that behind every grocer a few bad intentions are hiding, and behind every thought, the acts that it calls for. The possibility expressed by an idea of politics […] which cannot be relegated to the storeroom of freedom of expression”. What strikes fear in the heart of domination is the existence of those who refuse to be paralyzed by the social, economic, environmental, and geopolitical crises of the present, those who can no longer sit idly by awaiting the fulfillment of the promises spewed by the established order, those who rise up and attempt to fight the sordid state of the world they perceive. It is a fear of the possible, of those who believe in another way of living, another world, and their willingness to engage in a war with domination to actualize its possibility.
What concerns the state and its forces of order is not the “success” or the “failure” of this or that; rather, it is the ripples of resonance that emanate from the ZAD and the Weelaunee Forest. The act of building another world is the “bringing-forth” of something into existence, which in turn brings forth the possibility of a world’s vibration reverberating elsewhere, eliciting other acts and gestures, communicating and cooperating with other worlds, connecting them, making them more powerful, more threatening to the normative state of affairs. Hakim Bey refers to this as a movement’s “spirit,” an immaterial intensity that surpasses a world’s lifespan, that moves beyond its historical frame. Or as Kristin Ross so eloquently puts it, “the thought of a movement is generated only with and after it: unleashed by the creative energies and excess of the movement itself. Actions produce dreams and ideas, and not the reverse.” And what the actions of the ZAD at the Notre-Dame-des-Landes and the defenders of the Weelaunee Forest tell us, what their spirits conjure, can be summed up by a succinct statement in the closing pages of Cooperation: “We can do this together now”.
The temporality of the “now” that Bernard emphasizes here is significant. It indicates the same kind of urgency that animates Hakim Bey’s description of the TAZ, in which he writes vociferously against waiting for revolution or founding a movement based on rational reasoning dictated by the churning wheels of progress. After all, the forces of order would prefer if we deferred to them to manage crises or resolve conflict, divesting action from politics and sapping both of their intensity. This is why Bey turns away from the very concept of revolution, and with it the State, opting instead to think in the grammar of uprising and insurrection. The uprising is unbound from temporality and allergic to circumscription. It is a “shimmying up the pole and out of the smokehole,” emerging to shoot the clocks and to suspend history. The uprising does not know what it might be, what it may become; it is not an end in itself, but a pure means, a way of perpetually creating an immediate, different present than the one we already have, here where there is nothing but waiting, expecting, and hoping in vain.
In spite of the immediacy and urgency that animate them, the ZAD and Stop Cop City sit somewhat uneasily against the other elements crucial to Hakim Bey’s understanding of the uprising. For his version is predicated on invisibility, disappearance, on the double movement of strike and retreat. Above all, the uprising is temporary and its provisional nature is what imbues it with its power. Certainly, some of the tactics and practices internal to both movements tarry with this evasiveness and nomadism. In my essay, I wrote about how on the ZAD, cabins were used as mobile bases and shelters that were resistant to permanent demolition. Accounts of the efforts to Defend the Atlanta Forest describe forest defenders luring the police into “fruitless entanglements in the forest,” running away and vanishing into the trees. And, of course, duration is key to both struggles, as they each rely on sustained, widespread engagement and activism to maintain the resistance. This said, one of the enduring questions regarding the ZAD revolves around its longer lifespan. Its occupants have expressed their desire to go beyond thinking of it as a TAZ, to build what they refer to as a PAZ, or Permanent Autonomous Zone; in their words: “We can’t just let go of all the ties we built here, with the locals, surrounding farmers, pensioners, workers in the city, wanderers of all sorts, Nantes students and the youth, the owls, the black squirming salamanders, the knarly oak trees, the mud. We must hold onto all these deep friendships and networks of struggle that we have shared with such intensity over the last decade”. This process of permanence has been a fraught one. While plans to build an airport on the territory were definitively halted in 2018, occupants have continued to struggle against eviction efforts by the French state. Some have applied for legal recognition of the structures they have built in order to remain on the territory, while others have refused any process that would include the State in the collective management of the land. And so, the struggle continues, this time as a fight for permanent autonomy. Perhaps we can pose the case of the ZAD as an open question to the Defend the Atlanta Forest movement. What’s occurring in Atlanta is still ongoing, but participants may be faced with the same considerations sooner rather than later. Should we understand autonomy as wholly incompatible with recognized permanence, as Hakim Bey seems to suggest? Does engaging with the State, even in a totally antagonistic, oppositional manner, inevitably reinforce its power and legitimize its very existence?
I’m not sure I have answers to these questions; perhaps we can ponder them together. If we put these considerations to the side, it is interesting to consider the ZAD and Stop Cop City as uprisings, solely as means, especially since the tendency would be to think of them solely in relation to their objectives – as the “Stop Cop City” moniker would suggest. These goals are important, certainly, but they may also obscure our ability to perceive those other practices that are crucial to grasp what it means to experience the uprising, to understand what it would mean to be embedded in its textures. Of course, this experience involves conflict and resistance, both violent and non-violent. But it also involves collective meals, intellectual and cultural exchanges, debates about graffiti tags and slogans, and communal art making. It involves people on the ZAD singing, dancing, and playing instruments in front of burning police cars; or Atlanta forest defenders organizing a multi-day music festival under the canopy of trees. More than just about blocking a project, these movements are about people living, building, fighting, and sharing together; smiling together, crying together, screaming together, and struggling together. They are about people teaching each other how to construct a tree-sit, or a cabin, or a barricade; or how to best cultivate the land or grow a tree. As I wrote in my essay, they are both just as much laboratories of insurgent imagination as they are concrete realizations of resistance, community, and cooperation. They are agonistic, yet joyful experiences in common that materialize against all odds, cutting across the ruins of the present. They are experiences in which people cooperate in an effort, in the words of Peter Pál Pelbart “to sustain the disparity of worlds, forms of life, points of view, rhythms, gestures, intonations, sensations, and encourage its proliferation rather than seize it in a universal modulation, such that each singularity preserves, not its identity, but its power of affectation and envelopment in the immense game of the world”. In the ZAD at Notre-Dame-des-Landes and in the Atlanta Forest, political praxis and everyday life intertwine and become inseparable, opening access to new uses of the self and of life itself.
 Jean-Marie Gleize, Le livre des cabanes (Paris: Seuil, 2015).
 The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2009), 17.
 Hakim Bey, T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism (The Anarchist Library, 1985), 111.
 Kristin Ross, Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune (New York: Verso, 2015), 6-7.
 Bernard Harcourt, Cooperation (New York: Columbia University Press, 2023), 199.
 Bey, T.A.Z, 94.
 Farrell, “The Strategy of Composition”
 “The Revenge Against the Commons,” Zad Forever, April 24, 2018. https://zadforever.blog/2018/04/24/the-revenge-against-the-commons/.
 Peter Pál Pelbart, Cartography of Exhaustion: Nihilism Inside Out (São Paulo, n-1 Publications, 2013), 22.