The citizens revolt against water grabbing in France. The case of water retention basins
Agora of the Earth Inhabitants (*)
The “water battle”, which took place in Sainte-Soline from 25 to 27 March, was a turning point in the history of the ecological and social movement in France, particularly in terms of the disproportionate use of State violence. Furthermore, the revolt of the citizens once again highlighted that the battle for water is not only the battle for the defence of life (in this case, against the destructions provoked by of the agro-business complex) and the monopolisation of the public common for the benefit of a minority but, equally important, is the fight for effective social democracy.
The event has been widely reported in the media around the world (notably in Europe, Japan and the USA).The media were especially concerned by the intensity of the repression by the gendarmerie and police . What was the State afraid of?
This imposing but pacifist movement brought together between 25,000 and 30,000 demonstrators to stop the construction of mega-pools, giant craters of about ten hectares, filled by drawing on the water tables. These mega-pools, have become a symbol of maladjustment to climate change and of a stranglehold on life.
The protest was intended to be a popular demonstration of civil disobedience concerning a national plan adopted by the government and the implementation of which was pursued despite the well- founded critiques and appeals these last three years for more ecologically, socially and participative concerted alternative solutions.
On its side, the state deployed 3200 gendarmes and police officers (more than 1 officer per 10 demonstrators). These used more than 5000 tear gas grenades fired in the space of 2 hour (, .e. about 1 every 2 seconds),. Unbelievable. the contrast between the citizens and the repression forces of “their” State I s cruel.
Did the State want to strike hard to set an example, to defend its social model and the interests of agribusiness?
There is every reason to believe that the battle waged by neo-liberalism sought to impeach any challenge to the production system that it seeks to impose. Behind the water issue, the battle against the mega-pools shows that according to the dominant social groups in western “developed” economies all powerful groups (in our case, the agro-industrial complex) can freely produce, consume, and organise themselves I within a context where the role of the State is to create a a favourable policy environment to their actions..
The demonstrators in Sainte-Soline did not hide their refusal to accept the introduction by the State of new liberticidal measures designed to protect the interests of a group of agro-ndustrial producers, nor their opposition to the concrete industries which are, in their words, “weapons of mass destruction of life”.
When asked about the “water battle” being waged in Sainte-Soline, Julien Le Guet, spokesperson for the Collectif Bassines Non Merci ,co-organiser of the mobilisation, explained that he was not looking for anything other than “peace with water”. An objective that will be achieved, the artificial mega-basins, being, according to him, “just the breach in which we will rush to make to bring down the agro-industry” in favour of a new life-protection based agriculture.
We are therefore in a confrontation between two irreconcilable worlds:extraction, production, the monopolisation of land, water and labour power on the one hand; ,the aspiration to an ‘earthly’ life on the other.
Faced with this major challenge, the State, in a panic, chose the hard way, hence the decision to dissolve the movement ‘Les soulèvements de la Terre”, the other co-organiser of the demonstration. It also opted for a strategy of criminalising the activists, thinking that it would benefit from images to discredit its opponents, and by excluding them from the field of participative democracy .
The movement “Les soulèvements de la Terre” is not the cause but the consequence of an anger that is reaching its peak among a growing number of the inhabitants of the Earth, in the face of the continued destruction of ecosystems by capitalism. To dissolve the movement was a great mistake. The decision has strengthened it and has led to an outcry of protest, calling the measure ‘undemocratic’, ‘’unjust’., ‘political nonsense’ and ‘historical nonsense’.
The evening meeting in support of the movement , co-organised by alternative media (Reporterre, Socialter, Blast, the magazine Terrestres), was sold out, bringing together several hundred people.
At the same time, new committees of “Les soulèvements de la Terre” sprang up all over France. They all proclaimed their solidarity and brandished an unequivocal slogan:
We are ”Les soulèvemetns de la Terre”!
We are the Earth rising!
We could also add: ‘We are the Inhabitants of the Earth, fighting for the rights of the Earth, for the Peace of Water!’
We at AGORA are proud to be part of the movement of the revolt through the active participation of our comrades from La Boisselière, Melissa Gingreau being the co-spokeswoman of the Cullectif MegaBassines NON merci.
It is still early to assess the events of Sainte-Soline, but let us note
a few observations:
1. The events of Sainte-Soline affirmed what we at AGORA had anticipated: since the ’90ies opposing water-for-life commodification and privatisation was going to be a crucial fight art world level.
2. The activists of Santa Solina succeeded in mobilising many citizens for the protection of a common good called water, which is a vital resource, like the air we breathe .
3. They understood that it was absolutely necessary everywhere to merge social, ecological , economic struggles with the struggles for the land as a world public common good, including indigenous peoples and the landless to stop the destruction of life and to achieve the maximum limitation of climate catastrophe.
They made the link with the peasant world, the rural world, while bringing the urban people to the rural world, too.
4. This experience has shown the need to multiply fronts and struggles, both locally and at a world level. The events in Sainte-Soline mobilised young people who are worried about their future, Th-eir presence was effective in confronting the violence as well as mediation and communication.
5. The State has failed in consultation, mediation and dialogue. It confirmed its structural trend towards autocracy and despotism , the more the political systems is globally privatised and the res publica confiscated by financial and military powers. Its repressive nature is the consequence of the agony of liberal democracy and its replacement by market capitalist oligarchies.
(*) Based on a text elaborated and drafted by Lilia Ghanem (Lebanon/France)