John Stewart guest post's blog

40,000 form human chain around the ZAD


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 is a terrorist


It was like a scene out of a New York cop movie.  Only it was happening for real.  And to me.  I had just arrived at New York’s JFK Airport to talk to American activists about the success of the campaign to stop the third runway at Heathrow.  They had invited myself and Plane Stupid activist Dan Glass to tour the country – by train - for a month talking about the campaign -  But I never left JFK. 

When my flight touched down, it was boarded by six New York cops who escorted me off the plane.  I had apparently made threats against President Obama.  I was questioned by the Immigration Service, the FBI and the American Secret Service.  After 7½ hours I was sent back to the UK.  I had never before taken a transatlantic flight.  Now I had taken two within 24 hours!

But it was the nature of the questioning, particularly by the FBI, which was so revealing.  Next-to-nothing about threats to Obama.  What they wanted to know about was Plane Stupid, direct action and Dan (who had super-glued himself to Gordon Brown in protest against the 3rd runway).  They saw Dan as a man who – shock! horror! – “actively advocated” civil disobedience.  They even used the word “terrorist”.  When Dan had tried to apply for a visa, they said they were afraid he might super-glue himself to Sarah Palin!  When questioning me they said they feared my talks might result in armed protesters occupying JFK Airport!  Now that would be material for a movie.  Pure fiction!

What is so disturbing is that Plane Stupid – a network whose actions are rooted in the tradition of non-violent civil disobedience – can be branded terrorist.  As it happens, I personally have no convictions but somebody didn’t want me, in association with Dan, talking with American audiences.  I learnt once I returned to London that a phone-call had been made once by flight had taken off alleging that I had made threats against Obama.  We’ll never know who made it but it provided the perfect opportunity for me to be questioned at length at JFK.

A new book by Will Potter suggests that in America, green has become the new red.  The US authorities are now seeing a green under every bed planting seeds of revolution and sowing sedition.  If that’s the case, a tour telling the story of a successful and radical environmental campaign, which overcame the power of the aviation industry, would have worried the American authorities.  If the process were to be repeated across Europe and the US, it would harm the corporate interests of the aviation industry.  Potter argues in Green is the New Red that it is precisely to protect the profits of corporate interests that environmentalists are being targeted.  He has written, “much like the Red Scare and the communist witch hunts of the 40s and 50s, the Green Scare is using one word—this time, it’s “terrorist”—to push a political agenda, instill fear, and chill dissent”.

I must learn to stop associating with green “terrorists” and super-glue addicts.