By Bernard E. Harcourt
It requires a colossal amount of cooperation, with a shared objective and much solidarity, to mount a temporary autonomous zone. Over the past few decades, a growing number of occupations intended to block neoliberal, prison-industrial, and infrastructural projects have proliferated, all with a deep political ambition of transforming society. Think here of the water carriers who gathered at Standing Rock to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline, of the farmers and environmental activists and anarchists who occupied Notre-Dame-des-Landes to block the construction of an international airport, of the NoTAV movement opposing the construction of a high-speed train line between Turin and Lyons, of Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park that grew in opposition to neoliberal pilfering in the wake of the financial meltdown, of the occupations in Brazil in 1988 against the building of the dam in Altamira—all of these are political spaces of temporary autonomy that require a massive amount of cooperation. These are ongoing today, as we speak, with the forest defenders in Atlanta of #StopCopCity opposing the destruction of the Weelaunee Forest and construction of an 85-acre, $90 million police training facility. It is happening in Turkey as well, right now, where activists have been resisting a plan to clear-cut the Akbelen forest in South-Western Turkey to make room for government-sponsored expansion of coal mines in the region, facing down a brutal authoritarian government.
How does cooperation work in these settings? How do people come together, join forces, work together towards a common objective and achieve solidarity and collectivity?
That is the focus of our first session of Coöperism 13/13. And we turn immediately, because of the urgency of the situation, to Atlanta and to the movement to Defend the Atlanta Forest & #StopCopCity opposing the construction of a police training ground in the forest just outside of Atlanta. It is the urgency of that movement—and of its repression—that makes us prioritize it today. Just yesterday, Republican Attorney General Chris Carr unveiled new indictments against 61 people accused of being “militant anarchists,” using Georgia’s RICO statute. As Kamau Franklin underscored yesterday, the date that the supposed “racketeering enterprise” began was the day that George Floyd was murdered by the police.
The urgency in Atlanta interpellates us. So we begin there. We’ll be hearing from Kamau Franklin, a dedicated community organizer and attorney who’s deeply involved in organizing down in Atlanta, as well as Tiffany Williams Roberts, Director of the Public Policy Unit at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, who is spearheading legal defense for the forest defenders in Atlanta. And we will put the ongoing efforts in Georgia in conversation with the decades-long efforts at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, turning to André Pettman, a brilliant young scholar at Columbia who is studying these forms of cooperation through literary texts with a specific focus on the ZAD (“Zone à défendre”) at Notre-Dame-des-Landes.
One aspect that ties these social movements together is the brutal repression that is exerted on them. Occupy Wall Street was shut down by the NYPD; Zuccotti Park was emptied by brutal police action. Standing Rock was crushed through violent force, water cannons in the middle of winter that were freezing the water carriers, and through strategic police practices like the closing of the main highway that made it impossible to get to the Standing Rock site. (We’ve brought a lawsuit about that, you can learn more about it here). We’ve seen violent repression in Atlanta, including a police homicide (the killing of Manuel Esteban Paez Terán by the Georgia State Patrol on January 18, 2023), a crack-down on bail funds, and now the full force of the RICO indictments. Joy James and Kalonji Jama Changa trace the long history of state repression in the context of the Atlanta protest well in this piece here in Inquest. Tragically, we are all too familiar with the police repression.
In this seminar though, we’ll be focusing on the positive side, the constructive side, on all the positive aspects of cooperation that come together to build an occupational movement. The two are of course connected: the police repression contributes to the internal cohesion, it fosters solidarity; and undercover police operations target solidarity to create strife within movements. This is a typical counter-insurgency tactic, often used by the police to try to undermine social movements. It was used by TigerSwan, the private police at Standing Rock, and other law enforcement agencies there to create strife and conflict within the movements.
Repression and cooperation are connected in myriad ways. So it is impossible to think through cooperation outside of the oppressive police tactics, the infiltrations and subversions of counter-insurgency warfare. But as much as possible, in this seminar we’ll be trying to focus on how forms of cooperation and working together flourish. How forms of cooperation are nourished and what they achieve.
We are tying together the ongoing Defend the Atlanta Forest/#StopCopCity protests with the long-lasting Notre-Dame-des-Landes (NDdL) movement because the former is happening in real time whereas the latter has been ongoing for decades and has now been written about and studied. Hindsight and some historical perspective can offer insights, points of contrast, comparisons. We will try to interrogate the present in Atlanta through the lens of the documented archives of the NDdL experiences over the past forty years. In the process, we are hoping to help write a history of the present.
Kamau Franklin and Tiffany Roberts Williams will start by telling us what is going on today in Atlanta, as we gather here in New York City. André Pettman will guide us through the decades-long experiences in NDdL and the critical theory surrounding temporary autonomous zones (we studied them and Hakim Bey’s work at Praxis 13/13 here) to help understand the present.
We know a bit about how community is being built in the Atlanta forest. Amna Akbar, our colleague at the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought, has written beautifully about the history of the #StopCopCity movement in Dissent magazine. She discusses how cooperation is working there, describing the tarps and tents, the medic station, the “free store” with clothes for the forest defenders, and food and water. When Akbar got to the protest camp, she and several dozen others were shown around. “Our first stop was the ‘living room,’ a place for meetings, campfires, and shared meals,” she writes. A music festival brought hundreds of people to the forest. “That evening, I caught one wild performance at the festival before heading out for the evening,” Akbar continues. “Young people of all colors, sexualities, gender identities, and class backgrounds were picnicking and dancing. For a few minutes, there was a small mosh pit. The atmosphere was joyful and powerful; it was a magnetic experience of solidaristic possibility.” These new, emerging accounts from the Atlanta forest resonate with the experience at the ZAD.
The protests at Notre-Dame-des Landes began in the early 1970s, and are well detailed in one of our readings for this week: the Mauvaise Troupe Collective’s book, The ZAD and NoTAV (Verson, 2018).
The infrastructural project for an international airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes would have displaced 4,000 acres of countryside land, of farmland, and turn them into a tarmac. It would have disrupted the local farmers, who came together to start resisting back in 1972. It has lasted till today. Many different groups participated in the early stages—individual farmers, farmers associations, citizens, environmentalists—leading in 2004 to the creation of the “Coordination of the Opponents of the Airport,” a group which consisted of over 50 associations. Squatters then joined and settled down in the forest areas around 2008. These forms of coordination and squatting created the momentum for a growing occupation in 2009, when thousands of people assembled for weeks of teach-ins on climate and environmentalism and on resistance movements. Those teach-ins and programs brought in more organizers, who began moving in and occupying abandoned farms and buildings. Squatters, anti-growth activists, anarchists, and environmentalists poured in constructed cabins—André Pettman writes beautifully about the importance and meaning of the cabin in his essay here—and engaged in myriad forms of cooperation, such as the creation of a garden market, the assembling of committees, and collective cultivation of the lands. Two hundred new committees were born during the police raids and repression tactics in 2012. People started to work together to cultivate the land together, to collectivize food production and land use. This became a matter of democratic decision-making. Together people took up “the task of discussing and collectively organizing the agricultural problematics of the zone.” This created an organic, cooperative community:
At Notre-Dame-des-Landes, about sixty dwelling places, cabins, farms and hamlets were spread out across the bocage, housing art studios, bakeries, radios, infirmaries, garages, sports halls, concert hall, carpentry workshops, computer spaces, bars, and conservatories. Hundreds of hectares taken back from [the authorities] were now collectively cultivated, generating provisions for inhabitants and friends nearby, as well as migrant squats and popular canteens in Nantes and Rennes. Without diminishing the lines of tension, life in common there was not ceased to be elaborated, and improbable friendships spring up in assemblies, festivals and work zones, in the everyday and then shared risks.
The ongoing police repression nourished the cooperation. At Notre-Dame-des-Landes, as the Mauvaise Troupe Collective writes, “The images and stories of the destruction of houses and vegetable gardens, of armed police and faces swollen by gas or flash balls, and of tireless barricaders, touched hearts, giving rise to a thousand spontaneous gestures designed to reinforce the movement and stop the destruction of the zone. The inhabitants of neighbouring towns helps throughout the battle. They brought tractors, construction material, litres of milk, kilos of grains, and even oysters to eat on the barricades.”
The Mauvaise Troupe Collective describes collective life, what it is like to live collectively, sharing intimacy, dividing domestic tasks, nourishing friendships, placing things in common. They talk about the different collective cabins, how they operated, and all of the different activities that are part of collective life: the gardening, the construction, the parties, the discussion, and the work it takes to live together, take showers, share the internet. They talk about collective infrastructures, “a weekly ‘non-market’, pay-what-you-want bread four times a week, collective internet connections, meeting places, studios of all sorts, care spaces, free clothes depot… Sharing collective tools is an important factor of living together.” They describe the way that people maintain themselves and their collectivity through an amalgam of Social Security, some employment, scrounging around, dumpster diving, seasonal labor, and producing things themselves.
General assemblies became very important as a means to collective decision-making. “Once or twice a month, dozens of people, or hundreds during the periods of acceleration, met in a circle after milking time, in the barn shed.” These general assemblies became “an open space where information is transmitted, strategic visions are shared, or certain broad common actions are elaborated.” General Assemblies were, of course, a tried and true device, used for decades, if not centuries. Many of us experienced them at Zuccotti Park during Occupy Wall Street.
What they were creating at NDdL in fact was a type of commune. Through struggle and strife, they were successful in Notre-Dame-des-Landes at stopping the construction of the airport. Overcoming the odds, they learned how to live together, to cooperate, to create a space without governmental structures, without the police, a space of self-determination—one that continues today.
Let’s now reflect on that history to understand our present.
Welcome to Coöperism 1/13!
 Mauvaise Troupe Collective, The ZAD and NoTAV (Verson, 2018), p. 21.
 Mauvaise Troupe Collective, The ZAD and NoTAV, p. 24.
 Mauvaise Troupe Collective, The ZAD and NoTAV, p. 37.
 Mauvaise Troupe Collective, The ZAD and NoTAV, p. 39.
 Mauvaise Troupe Collective, The ZAD and NoTAV, p. 74.
 Mauvaise Troupe Collective, The ZAD and NoTAV, p. 146, 160.
 Mauvaise Troupe Collective, The ZAD and NoTAV, p. 160.
 Mauvaise Troupe Collective, The ZAD and NoTAV, p. 109.
 Mauvaise Troupe Collective, The ZAD and NoTAV, p. 109.
 See Mauvaise Troupe Collective, The ZAD and NoTAV, p. 161.