>>>>>>>>>> Update of "Despite heavy repression, ..."
Yesterday we had the opportunity to exchange information with members of Les Soulèvements de la Terre (The Uprising of the Earth) and the trade union Solidaires on the situation after the repression of Sainte-Soline and the protests against the pension reform which have transformed the French political landscape last weekend.
We have already explained enough in another article. Yesterday we were given more reasons to understand the massive participation (30,000) of activists in Sainte-Soline. According to what we were told, this area in central western France, near Poitiers, has seen its wetlands drained and dried up to make way for intensive agriculture. As a result, many ecosystems have been lost, but above all it has affected its ecology in general, as these were systems that contributed to an abundance of water, which is now less and which is even more affected by the climatic emergency. The crop that has been promoted is maize, mainly for export and for fattening livestock. Therefore, the similarity with other countries following the same model and with the same impacts is obvious (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, or the US itself).
This policy has been negative for small farmers who have not been able to compete, who have lost their land to large companies, to speculation, and who have abandoned their land and farms. This is also why the huge support of the farmers’ union is understandable.
Now, this water crisis is entering another phase because the same people who dried up the wetlands are the ones who use their means and technology to extract water from the aquifers for their production: they fill the reservoirs and use the water for irrigation. Again, as the activists point out, «they use natural resources, public resources, for their own benefit». And what this means in ecological terms, as it is water that exists in these wells but will surely feed springs and ecosystems. And its effect on the climate and the water crisis will also be considerable: as the Solidaires representative pointed out, by 2050, one in three French citizens will be without water.
As we are informed, the other idea underlying this case is that «the whole region has become a laboratory for the agricultural system to be exported to the rest of France».
And as we said, it stems from previous movements, from the giant marches against the airport of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, a little further north, near Nantes, and now against the irrigation ponds. In fact, Soulèvements de la Terre was formed in januaray 2021 in that very ZAD of Notre-Dame-des-Landes as a movement against land grabbing and land artificalisation. This was the 5th big march against these infrastructures and the model that imposes them. On 3 October, 8000 people gathered in three blocks to stop one of these mega-ponds.
The objective of Bassines Non Mercy (No to Mega-ponds, Thank You) and the Paysan Federation is to establish a dialogue with the government in order to influence and stop this model. But undoubtedly, also underlying all these mobilisations and the radicalism in the French state is the dennounce of the authoritarian turn of Macron’s government, with the decision of introducing modifications and policies by avoiding discussion in Parliament. This anti-democratic decision reveals the well-known Macronian policy in favour of the few and against the general interests of the people.
Now a new slogan has been taken up: «NO BASSARAN!», evoking the republican slogan of the Spanish Civil War and others (Nicaragua, etc.) and the unwanted bassine or irrigation ponds.
The repression of Sainte-Soline
As the organisers told us, the 25 March march in Sainte-Soline was marked by the government’s ban. Although it was held later, the camp was a long way from the target, one of the macro-ponds. The surprise was that despite being banned, the security forces allowed to happen once the 3 blocks into which it was divided headded off towards the pond. 3,500 police were waiting for them 6 kms far away from their camp, to crush them with water cannons, military equipment, and launching GM2L grenades (4,000!!!), that combine the impact of their capsules with tear gas and ultrasonic sounds (120 decibels) that stun the demonstrators (see below). The gendarmerie «defended the pond as if it were a palace». In the open countryside and so far from their logistical centre, it was impossible for the activists to protect themselves and provide assistance. Annd as we have already said, the security forces did not provide assistance either.
As a result, the saddest thing was the 200 people injured and above all the two people in coma. We were informed that one of them is out of the coma and we are very happy for her/him – we hope (s)he will recover well. The other one, however, is still in a coma and is expected to remain so for a few weeks. We hope for her/him a quick recovery and that (s)he will be with us soon.
From one of them, the one known so far as S (Serge), we have heard from her family and friends which we include here, especially diminishing the lies spread by the media, again questioning her participation and justifying the savage treatment by the police. A fund has been set up in support of the injured comrades and their families to help the logistical and material organisation (which by TODAY had already reached its goal of collecting €10,000 – no doubt another confirmation of the anger and solidarity that this outrage has caused in the majority of French society).
On 30 March, rallies were called against the police violence perpetrated at Sainte-Soline (and at the other demonstrations) and against Darmanin’s repressive policy in all the gendarmeries of the country. The result was massive, with protests in 170 cities, which shows what a scandal this has been within French society. These protests also demanded the resignation of Darmanin and the prefect of Deux-Sèvres, Emmanuelle Dubée, and that the police abandon the use of weapons of war against the population. The list of organisations joining the denunciation is also eloquent.
And 1500 people had already signed this weekend against the proposed illegalisation of Les Soulèvements de la Terre (The Uprisings of the Earth).
In this regard, it should be said that, in the sense of this bigotry (one more of Macron’s government), what has been proposed is that Les Soulèvements de la Terre is not an organisation but a movement, without a legal personality, headquarters or property, so that an illegalisation would be a violation of the right to freedom of association.
Communiqué from the Parents of Serge (S.) on March 29, 2023
This is a translation of a statement from the parents of an activist who remains in a coma five days after the police violence at Sainte-Soline.
Following the injury caused by a GM2L grenade, during the demonstration of March 25, 2023 organized in Sainte-Soline against the irrigation basin projects, our son Serge is currently in a hospital fighting for his life.
We filed a complaint for attempted murder and voluntary obstruction of the arrival of the emergency services; and for violation of professional secrecy within the framework of a police investigation, and misappropriation of information contained in a file for that purpose.
Following the various articles published in the press, many of which are inaccurate or misleading, we would like to make it known that:
- Yes, Serge is on the “S” list (“State Security” watch list)—like thousands of activists in today’s France.
- Yes, Serge has had legal problems—like most people who fight against the established order.
- Yes, Serge has participated in many anti-capitalist demonstrations—like millions of young people around the world who think that a good revolution would not be too much, and like the millions of workers currently struggling against the pension reform in France.
We believe that these are not criminal acts that would sully our son, but on the contrary that these acts are to his credit.
March 29, 2023
Appendix: An Update about Serge
We present a second statement written by Serge’s comrades and close-ones, released on Wednesday, March 29.
While our comrade Serge continues fighting for the life that the state has attempted to take away from him, we are witnessing a new outpouring of violence against him. The media are attempting to depict him as a man who ought to be shot. Today, he is still in a coma, in critical condition. We send our solidarity to Mickaël and to all who felt the brute force of police violence brought down on them.
The bourgeois media continue endlessly parroting words carefully chosen by the state in order to construct, out of thin air, the enemy that it wants to fight. Their false front will crumble in the face of the many narratives that have corrected and and rewritten the course of events. The police used grenades with the specific purpose of inflicting physical and mental harm upon the protesters; they are responsible for preventing emergency responders from evacuating the injured, even if that meant leaving our comrades to die.
Intelligence services have been liberally handing out the information they had collected on Serge to newsrooms across the country. Their objective is to force us to define ourselves in the words used by the police. Here, we will not engage with the deliberately abridged versions of Serge’s identity that the police has been circulating. We don’t believe that any truth about him can be found within the arcana of state and media propaganda. As a revolutionary, Serge has been participating with all his might and for many years in many class struggles against our exploitation, always with a view to the broadening and strengthening of life and victory for the proletariat.
And indeed, we cannot let ourselves be crushed.
We call on all those who know him to tell others around them who he is. Remember: Serge, in struggle, refuses the state’s strategy to separate good and bad protesters. With him and for him, we uphold this line.
On Tuesday, March 28, people everywhere took it upon themselves to show their solidarity with the movement against the pension reform in France. We have also received many messages from international comrades. We warmly thank them, and encourage them to continue and support the movement. More actions are already planned, and we encourage people to join and multiply them without restraint, in France and in the rest of the world.
We want this communiqué to be shared as widely as possible.
PS: There are many rumors about Serge’s medical condition. Don’t share them. We will keep you updated.
To contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Comrades of S.
Alsetex SAE 820 instant tear gas grenade
- 160 Decibels
- ShrapnelThe GM2L SAE 820 grenade is an instant tear gas grenade produced by the French company Alsetex that has been equipping law enforcement since 2018. Unlike the GLI-F4, the GM2L does not contain TNT but pyrotechnic elements without blast effect and 15 g of CS powder. Since July 2021 it is only used with the Cougar 56mm launcher. The GM2L is classified as a category A2 weapon and therefore as «war material». Since the second quarter of 2018, the GM2L grenade has begun to replace the GLI-F4 and will permanently replace it on January 26, 2020.THE GM2L has a dual effect: tear gas and deafening but without the blast effect like the GLI-F4. With 165 decibels «breaking and shattering» at 5 meters it surpasses the noise of an airplane at takeoff and exceeds the threshold of sound pain. Above 120 dB, very brief noises immediately cause irreversible damage. During the explosion it releases 10 grams of powdered CS. Its body is made of cylindrical polyethylene elastomer plastic with a diameter of 56 mm and is differentiated from the previous ones by its brown cover, flattened on the end and set with a light blue or red adhesive.
March 26, Back from Poitou
This is a translation of an anonymous report-back describing the protest that took place in Sainte-Soline against the construction of the mega-basins and the privatization of water on March 25.
Shit, what the hell are we doing here? Yes, yes, we fight for water, we fight against the privatization of life, we fight against the state that protects the interests of the few instead of defending the lives of the many.
Medic, medic! Here, here! And while we yell and point to the wounded, we need to keep an eye on what’s falling from the sky. Other hands point to a projectile right above our heads. What is it? Tear gas, sting-ball grenade? Identify it, evaluate the trajectory, the risk, run a little, feel our eardrums burst from the nearby explosion. Ears ringing for a couple of minutes.
Shit, what the hell are we doing here again? Yes, yes, crossing the blue barrier to get to the basin. Ha, no, not a blue barrier but two, it’s not only blue but khaki green, and it has wire fencing, and barbed wire, and there’s the embankment to climb. What’s hidden behind all of this? A lake, water that belongs to everyone pumped and stored for the few. Medic, medic! Fuck, where are the medics, things are pretty urgent right now. Shit is falling left, right, in front of us, behind us. Hey, comrade, need some saline? Hey, did you notice, your head is bleeding? Careful, grenade!! Fall back, a little, keep calm, forward again.
Shit, what the hell are we doing here again? Yes, yes, we have numbers, we’re the mass. it’s all we have against the military-grade weapons that are raining down on us, that cut our legs off, that tear our limbs apart.
Medic, medic! How long have we been here for? Twenty minutes, perhaps. A group of medics hovers around a body. One of them is already short on supplies. The others don’t have much left, either. What are they going to do? What’s going to happen to me if I fall?
Careful there! Watch out for the grenade a couple of meters away, can’t remember to move, explosion, head banging. Fuck, I’m beat, I forgot to run out of the way. I’m fine, need to keep moving forward. Grab your partner, a quick check to see if they’re fine, too. All good. Let’s go.
There’s fire in front of us, black smoke coming from the flaming vehicles, white smoke from the tear gas, the flash of a flame, the spark of a grenade dying down, we can’t see shit.
How long were we there for? Two, three hours? Less than an hour, in fact. An eternity, or maybe it wasn’t long enough?
Why did we fall back all of a sudden? A guy on the brink of death up front, a line of four-wheelers that tried to surround us, the realization that we didn’t stand a chance, fatigue on the frontline?
Shit, what the hell we were doing there? It’s over.
Evacuating the wounded, reuniting with the crew. Perceiving the shock by the look in the others’ eyes, assessing injuries, attempting a few words. A comrade breaks down in tears, we huddle close. Absurd, uneven, dangerous.
What happens after something like that? Someone must know.
We go home, an endless procession black with anger and rancor, an unwilling army, exhausted. We’re alive, we’re lucky.
The Strike Continues
Back in the city, many people attended a nationwide mobilization against the “Loi Asile et Immigration” (also called the Loi Darmanin, after the Minister of the Interior—the head cop of France, if you will). This law, the next one on Macron’s oppressive agenda, will severely reduce the rights of migrants, facilitating the imprisonment and deportation of exiled and undocumented people on French land. While the number of people who attended that protest was nothing close to the number of people who are protesting against the pension reform, we are slowly building ties connecting anti-racist resistance and solidarity with wider resistance against the government.
From Saturday on, police violence became the chief topic of conversation and media coverage. Gérald Darmanin and Laurent Nuñez (the head cops of France and of Paris, respectively) did their best to spread lies about the events in Sainte-Soline and to try to legitimize the police retaliation in Paris. In the city, the BRAV-M police units—the “mobile” units that chase people around on motorcycles—took center stage in this discussion. There is already a remarkable number of videos of the BRAV-M assaulting isolated individuals, running over people, and verbally and sexually abusing people; this should not be surprising, as their ancestors, the “voltigeurs,” were famous for similar behavior, including the murder of Malek Oussekine in 1986, which inspired the movie La Haine.
Some unions—including the CGT and Solidaires—also spoke out against police brutality, expressing solidarity with those who suffered in Sainte-Soline. The slogan “Ni oubli, ni pardon” (“don’t forget, don’t forgive”) is slowly proliferating among striking workers. Even international media covering the movement and condemning Macron’s autocratic and repressive strategy has begun focusing on police violence rather than the pension reform.
At several work sites, as a consequence of requisitions and fatigue, workers had taken a break from the strike over the weekend. Many resumed striking again on Monday and Tuesday, but there is undoubtedly a certain weariness amongst strikers and supporters doubled with sadness and fear in the face of large-scale military repression. Darmanin and Macron are hoping to sway public opinion by brandishing the specter of violence in front of people’s eyes in the same way that the government did to suppress the Gilets Jaunes movement in December 2018. Whether this strategy will be successful remains to be seen. It will depend, in part, on how successful we are at presenting other narratives.
The general strike of Tuesday, March 28 was relatively successful, depending on who you ask. The number of people in the streets is diminishing, but it was still among the highest recorded over the past two months—about two million. Cities in the west of France (“le Grand-Ouest”), famous for their insurrectionary tendencies, coordinated successful road blockades. A significant number of refineries, fuel storage units, and other logistical centers were blocked or on strike; more than 400 gas stations in France were out of fuel on Wednesday, March 29. Schools and universities remained on strike as well—as did the Eiffel Tower, among other well-known French institutions.
As for the demonstrations themselves, the results were mixed. Fierce gatherings took place in Rennes and Nantes, where the black bloc is always offensive, and in cities like Lyon, St-Etienne, and Toulouse. In Paris, the atmosphere was tense. While some confrontations with police broke out late in the day, they felt more symbolic than strategic. Significantly, the spontaneous night marches have died down. If spontaneous marches and other forms direct action return to the streets despite the government’s show of force over the weekend, that could give the movement a second wind; if they do not, that could determine its fate.
While the government’s perverse rhetoric should not shape our actions, it is important to puncture the narratives that they are trying to propagate. Essentially, Macron is using the same strategy he used to suppress the Yellow Vests. He is blaming the protesters for the injuries that police inflict on them, in order to infantilize and discredit those who defend themselves against the police and to justify the escalation of police repression.
This circular rhetoric is already at play in Darmanin’s lies about the events in Sainte-Soline, as explored in the analysis “The Trap of Sainte-Soline.” Darmanin has initiated a legal process targeting the collective “Les Soulèvements de la Terre” for “dissolution,” equating ecological sabotage with terrorism by claiming that many of the protesters at Sainte-Soline are long-time “A-listed dangerous individuals” (“fichés S” in the French counter-information databases).
The state is attempting to turn the popular outcry about police violence on its head. The goal is not so much to legitimize the use of military force on unarmed protesters—Macron won’t admit to that—but to present it as the unavoidable side-effect of his righteous efforts to protect the French Republic from dangerous and irresponsible individuals who must be stopped for their own sake.
But there is another way to read this whole situation.
If Macron is determined to force his agenda through without a vote regardless of how unpopular it is, and to suppress all protest by means of militarized police violence, then the only way to prevent the arrival of outright autocracy is to establish a rapport de force with the police. In that case, those who take the initiative to experiment with ways to defend themselves from police are neither infantile nor irresponsible. On the contrary, they are the only thing standing between us and tyranny.
In this spirit, many people have called for gatherings across France on Thursday, March 30 to oppose police brutality and stand up for the people who have been wounded, some of whom are still fighting for their lives in the hospital.
Facing down the police is not a matter of bringing symmetrical force to bear against them, but of outflanking them. It requires outsmarting them as they attempt to isolate and corner us, whether physically or discursively. It means escalating all together, uncontrollably, as a network too extensive to surround—moving, merging, branching off, changing course, and innovating more rapidly than they can keep up with, and doing so on every kind of terrain, from the streets themselves to the narrative about what is taking place in them.
For now, the issue of police brutality threatens to supplant all other subjects of public discussion, including the pension reform, work itself, and the power of the state. This may also conceal a trap for the movement. Focusing on the police alone will not necessarily produce a strategy that enables us to overcome them.
The intersyndicale (the coordination of the eight biggest national unions in France) has called for the next nationwide strike to occur on Thursday, April 6. In many people’s eyes, that is too late, as the events that will determine whether the movement lives or dies will have occurred by then. This long gap will give unions time to negotiate with the state: already, some union leaders have been speaking with the government. While a few hardliners inside the CGT and other unions are resisting their leaders’ pressure to concede, the history of union politics is a veritable litany of cautionary tales.
Of course, when the unions announced the general strike for March 23 after the spontaneous protests of Thursday, March 16, many people also believed that the movement would die over the following week. As always, what takes place in the streets will determine everything. Despite fatigue, pain, and grief, French people have yet to give up the fight. Long live the revolution!
- The Movement against the Pension Reform
France in Flames – Macron Attempts to Crush the Movement against the Pension Reform with Lethal Violence
- «Despite heavy repression, …»