Earth Uprisings – une histoire

Christine Dann

“Nous sommes des habitant·es en lutte attachés à leur territoire.”

Les Soulèvements de la Terre [2023] *

“We are inhabitants in struggle attached to their territory.”

“One common factor is the territorialization of the movements – that is, they have roots in spaces that have been recuperated or otherwise secured through (open or underground) struggles.”  [Emphasis added] (Zibechi, 2012, p.14)

In 2012, the year that Raúl Zibechi’s analysis of the ‘new’ (late twentieth and early twenty-first century) social movements of Latin America was published in English, across the Atlantic in France a group of inhabitants was struggling to defend a territory – the Zone à Défendre (ZAD) of Notre-Dame-des-Landes. In 2009 the farmers who lived and worked on parts of the 1,650 hectare territory near Nantes – who thought that it would not be turned into a second airport zone for the city – were joined by dozens of new ‘neighbours’ (inhabitants) when the airport scheme was revived. The newcomers built a creative range of dwellings across the territory, and worked with the original inhabitants to contest the airport plans. In October 2012 they were attacked by hundreds of police, who destroyed thirteen dwellings, and evicted the occupants.

The ZAD protest movement lit the spark for defending territories as a civil and environmental right.

But that was only the beginning of this story….. In November 2012, some 40,000 people turned up to defend the zone, and thousands of police throwing thousands of grenades could not stop them. The short film Rear Window – Zone à Défendre (Zone to Defend) shows how it all happened. Also, how the ‘zadistes’ won, and resumed living in the zone and protecting it.

When a new movement to defend territory arose in France in 2021 (Les Soulèvements de la Terre/Earth Uprisings/SDLT), and was so effective by 2023 that the French state issued a decree to dissolve it, I started to wonder if there were common factors connecting these independent (and unknown to each other) defences of territory in different parts of the world. Specifically, why and how did the activists engaged in fending off extractivist industries and protecting human and other-than-human life in their home districts come to settle on the defence of la terre/la tierra (land/ Earth) as a foundational principle guiding their actions? And what tactics do they consider to be acceptable? Using the work of writers on these matters I explore some of the answers to these questions, below.

Defining the defense of territory

If you want to find out about what is currently happening with regard to defending territory in France, it helps (a lot) to be able to read French (and/or use on-line translation systems). Before writing a first draft of this article (in May 2023) I spent three weeks searching on-line for a good account of what is going on in English, without finding one. The top mention I found was actually a bit misleading. It came from the Swedish professor of Human Ecology, Andreas Malm, whose heart is certainly in the right place when it comes to the urgency of taking action against the ecological devastation being wrought by fossil-fuelled industrial capitalism. However, his account of how SDLT came into being is incorrect, and his understanding of why and how SDLT does what it does is also lacking.

On 21 April 2023 The Guardian reported Malm’s views thus: “But the most exciting development in environmental protest, says Malm, has been in France, where activists under the banner of Les Soulèvements de la Terre have begun sabotage campaigns against environmentally destructive targets. Last month, thousands fought with police in Sainte-Soline in western France, in an attempt to sabotage a new mega-project to harvest groundwater for industrial agriculture…. Les Soulèvements de la Terre have developed the tactic of the climate camp first invented in the UK and fully elaborated in Germany with Ende Gelände, the German movement against coalmining, and combined it with the longstanding Gallic tradition of political struggle and confrontation. “Les Soulèvements de la Terre really has as its tactical agenda to engage in sabotage,” said Malm. “That was the purpose of this action, that they wanted to sabotage this water reservoir, which they have done on previous occasions,” he said.”

This history is not correct. SDLT is part of a movement to defend territory which developed in France independently, and on a completely different basis, from the climate camp phenomenon in the UK. (That initiative lasted only five years, from 2006-2011, and had its origins at a protest against the G8 summit meeting in Scotland in 2005).1 It also preceded Ende Gelände, which was not formed until 2015. And while the author of How to Blow Up a Pipeline is naturally very keen on what looks to him like using sabotage as a tactic, this is not what SDLT itself says that the 2023 Sainte-Soline action was about. Their plan was always to encircle the bassine with the demonstrators who turned up, and they also organised a tractor convoy, and lots of educational and musical events, which they saw as equally important.  Unfortunately, as SDLT itself admits, these were overshadowed by the ferocity of the attack by the police, and the need to prioritise dealing with it.2

So what is the true history of SDLT, and how does it view what it does?

French movements to defend territory

Strong opposition to the exploitation of home places has a long history in France. The most recent examples which preceded SDLT actions were the successful (after ten years, 1971-1981) resistance to plans to expand a military base on the Larzac plateau and the successful five year (1976-1981) campaign against a proposed nuclear power plant at Plogoff. 3 José Bové, an activist who took part in the Larzac occupation (and went on to farm sheep and make cheese there) continued to play a prominent role in defending land and its produce, and spent months in jail as a result. He was one of the founders (in 1987) of the Confédération paysanne,4 a union which represents small farmers  opposed to industrial agriculture. This includes opposition to pesticides, the genetic modification of plants and animals, and latterly the mega-bassines – the huge water reservoirs being developed by industrial agriculture concerns to irrigate monocultures of maize and other cereals to keep them alive in a warming, drying countryside.  Also opposed to such extractivist constructions are the supporters of Bassines Non Merci! (Bassines, no thanks!) 5 which was formed in 2017, initially to defend the Deux-Sèvres region from unregulated and excessive bassine construction. 

Since 2012 the ZAD ‘movement’ in France has also grown, with over a dozen ZADs being set up since Notre-Dame-des-Landes. Some have succeeded in protecting the zones they were defending from exploitation; others have failed; some are still trying. The zadistes have usually formed alliances with the local branches of the Confédération paysanne, and made common cause. In January 2021 representatives of all three strands of territorial defence actions came together with other eco-activists to contribute to the formation of Les Soulèvements de la Terre (Earth Uprisings/SDLT). In an undated (13 May 2023?) blog post in English SDLT described its origins and purpose thus:

“The French movement Earth Uprisings (Les Soulèvements de la Terre) brings together climate activists, farmers, unionists, autonomous anti-capitalist groups, as well as people involved in local territorial struggles and ZADs. The movement began in January 2021, emerging from the observation that only a radical shift – an actual uprising – could stop climate breakdown and the sixth mass extinction which is underway. The goals of Earth Uprisings are to take collective direct actions and to weave together a network of local struggles, whilst promoting a larger scale movement of resistance and land redistribution.” 6

Since then SDLT, working with national and local partners who meet in planning assemblies twice yearly, has organised several seasons of actions. SDLT issues a public invitation to gather at a territory under attack, and sets up a base arriere (rear base) on the site to care for supporters of the local defenders. These supporters come from all over France, and even beyond. The large actions are usually held for two to three days each month in the warmer months. All of them involve coming together to help defend particular territories threatened with mega-bassines, motorway extensions, mines, airports, and other forms of industrial and commercial extractivism at the expense of the local inhabitants – human and non-human.

France has a terrible record of unleashing state violence against legitimate people’s protests.

These actions have had varying degress of success, and none of them attracted much attention outside France until March 2023, when a large action against the mega-bassine in Sainte-Soline turned very ugly. Thousands of police attacked tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators with teargas and stun grenades, throwing 5,000 grenades in just two hours. Hundreds were wounded, and two were critically injured. 

Sabotage? Or disarmament?

This over-response by the police (which unfortunately is not uncommon nor unprecedented in France)7 has provoked a lot of debate within French activist circles about whether, when and how damaging private property is an appropriate tactic. In this regard, it is important to understand both the history of such tactics in France, and the way in which SDLT is organised as a ‘movement of movements’ to evaluate the role of sabotage as a form of defence. Some of the history has been given above, and with regard to the latter it is necessary to know that appropriate tactics are not determined at a national or movement-wide level, but are made in response to local conditions, by those directly involved in taking action.  As SDLT itself explained it in the political ecology review Terrestres on 17 April 2023:

“If we cannot always completely stop construction sites, we can participate in creating an unmanageable situation that is too costly for our adversaries. Of sixteen basins planned in Deux-Sèvres, only two got off the ground. No other project has yet started, although several are scheduled. We can see this as a direct consequence of the demonstrations carried out by the organizations, but also undoubtedly of the anonymous work of nocturnal craftsmen who disarmed thirteen basins in the region, coupled with the colossal work of scientific counter-investigation making it possible to undo the arguments of agri-business.” 8

Note that SDLT does not take the credit for sabotage actions in the Deux-Sèvres region, but attributes it to the “anonymous work of nocturnal craftsmen”. It does however take credit for the demonstrations it has organised, and it gives credit to the scientists who have researched what is wrong with the mega-bassines. But in June 2023 it published an explanation and defence of  ‘disarmament’ as a tactic, saying:

“Compared to the term “sabotage”, that of “disarmament” offers the advantage of directly explaining the ethical scope of the gesture and the nature of the targets, of linking the end and the means. While sabotage refers in the penal code to the “destruction of vital infrastructure for the country”, disarmament targets toxic and destructive infrastructure. It is a matter of self-defence, of a vital necessity in the face of disaster.” 9

From the perspective of the French state, however, a large number of people attacking a Lafarge company cement factory at La Malle in December 2022,10 and doing considerable damage, counts as ‘eco-terrorism’. Although this action was not organised by SDLT, supporters of SDLT  have also engaged in ‘eco-tage’, and this was one of the reasons given by the Interior Minister, Pierre Damarin, for his decision to initiate the dissolution of SDLT, which he announced to the French parliament on 28 March 2023. On June 21 the dissolution edict was issued, and on June 28 the police summonsed eight SDLT activists “on the grounds that they have organized or participated in one or other of the two major demonstrations in Sainte-Soline.” 11

Does this mean that the tactic of sabotage should be abandoned? Lots of French thinkers and activists think not. The desirability of taking diverse forms of action, and not privileging one type over another, is the point made by the philosopher Baptiste Morizot when asked in April 2023 by Terrestres why he supports SDLT.  He said that previously intellectuals who were asked to support a movement had to choose between modes of action – ‘violent’ or ‘non-violent’ – and stick to that line.

But with SDLT, he said, “…a great originality of the Uprisings is to consider that these two questions are secondary. Because the fight is about specific places, it activates relationships of attachment to the land. Once a collective position linked to place is clarified (such as how water is to be shared, and the absurdity of mega-bassines), we do not need everyone to align themselves with a restricted political ideology. We can just be ourselves and create a common front to support the movement. Such plurality centered on territorialized issues is part of the political intelligence of Earth Uprisings. Similarly, there is no need to take a position in principle on the question of the mode of action, because in the context and the territory where you are located each time, it is up to the local composition [of forces] and collective intelligence to choose the action that makes sense. The project of coming to terms with those who live in these environments and who care about these places, human and non-human, completely changes the nature of the struggles.” 12

Territory versus state

Morizot is not the only French thinker, or activist, noting that SDLT’s actions can be primarily defined by their relation to territory, rather than by the modes of action employed.  In this regard SDLT differs markedly from most other environmental activist movements of the 21st century, and particularly from those operating on a national and/or global scale. SDLT’s actions are initiated at the local rather than the national (let alone international) level. The impetus for large actions comes from people living in the places where the action occurs, who are responding to local provocations like plans for airports or mega-bassines. Large numbers may travel to support demonstrations and other actions in these places, but they do so at the invitation of the locals, who remain in the place and continue the struggle after the guests have gone home. 

By way of contrast, the most prominent climate action movement in the UK at present (Extinction Rebellion) is actively international or global rather than based on the defence of local territories. It claims to have 1070 groups in 86 countries.13  It is also state-oriented. Its three core demands all begin with “Governments must…” and it asks people to “join our global and politically non-partisan movement where we use non-violent direct action to persuade governments to act justly on the climate and ecological emergency.” Similarly, the USA’s oldest and largest climate action movement,, is also a global organisation, with over 100 staff around the world.14  Its three core demands are not government-focused, and two of them mention community-based actions, but it did not start with and does not prioritise the defence of territory. This means that there can be disagreement over tactics, although as’s France-based Associate Director of Movement Partnerships Nicolas Haeringer claimed on 4 July 2023, in The two-sided uprising sweeping France, this should not matter. He points out that “…alliances are not built upon tactical discussions. Debates and disputes over tactics tend to steal the whole conversation when we’re strategically lost. There’s always plenty of time later to agree to disagree. Alliances emerge from something else: a shared experience (or a shared anger); a set of demands that can be articulated in a way that makes them stronger; a common horizon; or a shared political project.”

Is a common horizon or shared political project forming around Earth Uprisings? In April 2023 Terrestres asked fourteen French intellectuals why they support Earth Uprisings, what they thought of the Minister for the Interior calling intellectual and media support for SDLT the “intellectual terrorism of the extreme left”, and whether they thought activist political ecology was dangerous.

Reclaiming subsistence

Sophie Gosselin, a philosophy teacher and the author (with fellow philosopher David gé Bartoli) of La Condition Terrestre (Seuil, 2022) gave the most thorough answer to the first question.15 She sees the Earth Uprisings as marking a new stage in political activity, which affirms “….the need to reclaim our material conditions of subsistence and to defend the terrestrial commons on which our existence and that of other forms of life depend: water, earth, air, wildlife….”

To do this, she says, “…..involves a territorialization of struggles which raises the question of the places we inhabit and that we wish to inhabit, which poses in a concrete and collective way (and not through reports, accumulation of figures, great speeches produced by experts for experts) the question of terrestrial habitability.” [Emphasis added.]

Another new feature which she identifies is “…..breaking with an essentially economic reading of social problems.” This involves “…. questioning an economy that is ….. based on globalized infrastructures of production and consumption which cut us off of our living environments by reducing them to exploitable “resources”.” This has led to people in France “…..find[ing] ourselves in the same situation as the colonized indigenous peoples who refused the economic and political model imposed by the colonizing States in the name of progress. What were and are still being defended by these peoples: land, water, control of their subsistence conditions, political and food autonomy.”

This echoes what Sherri Mitchell says in Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit Based Change.16 In Chapter 17 she outlines the ‘Four Foundations of Self-Determining Societies’. These are water, food, energy and education sovereignty.  Education sovereignty is the fourth factor which the Latin American territory-based social movements studied by Zibechi have in common. He devotes Chapter 2 of Territories in Resistance to describing ‘Social Movements as Spaces of Learning’. Mitchell emphasises the necessity of taking control of one’s subsistence and one’s learning methods and their outcomes, rather than expecting or relying on the state to provide what is required or desired.

People protesting environmental destruction as inhabitants of the Earth, in a way, epitomize “nature defending itself”.

Gosselin makes the same point with regard to the novelty of what Earth Uprisings is doing, saying
“ …. most ecological struggles, as we have seen with the climate movement, for example, aim to make governments aware of the need to change their policies. They put themselves in the position of begging the state to act better. Which amounts, it seems to me, to renouncing the democratic renewal of political life and instead renewing the helplessness in which the peoples, the citizens and inhabitants find themselves because of the confiscation of political action by a minority of oligarchs in power …. it is also to act as if one of the components of the problem (the State in its modern form) could constitute a solution.”

Is this nature defending itself?

But the self-determination of humans in their territories is only half of what makes Earth Uprisings different from previous ecological movements. As Gosselin puts it “….until recently, the challenge of ecological battles was most often to protect natural environments [which were] still conceived as outside human society. Through Earth Uprisings, it is the Earth itself which rises, that is to say the beings who populate it and who recognize themselves as “terrestrial”, as inhabitants of the Earth. The Earth Uprisings are the concrete realization of the slogan worn at the Zad of Notre-Dame-des-Landes which said: “We do not defend nature. We are nature defending itself”. What is affirmed through these uprisings are the bonds of interdependence that unite humans and non-humans in common destinies.”

Zibechi sees a similar sense of interconnectedness and identification with a particular place in the Latin American movements. He says that “…..unlike the old worker and peasant movements (in which Indians were subsumed), the current movements advance a new organisation of geographic space in which new practices and relations emerge. They see land as more than a means of production, thereby going beyond a narrow economic conception of it.” (Zibechi, 2012, pp 18-19)

So, is Earth Uprisings really more like the territory-based and autonomy-affirming movements of Latin America, and/or indigenous peoples’ movements, than it is like the nationally and internationally focused climate movements? To answer this question will require a lot more research, which I hope others will take up. It will involve looking at the other typical characteristics of the Latin American and indigenous movements, and seeing if they can be found – or not – in Earth Uprisings. It will also require careful consideration of the extent to which it is possible, and whether it might even be desirable, to make such comparisons. In this regard, it may be necessary to exhibit the caution advised by Saurabh Arora and Andy Stirling around seeing what emerges from the global colonising countries as having relevance for the rest of the world. They wrote in April 2023, with regard to degrowth (a concept which first emerged in France, and has largely been developed in Europe) that:

“There is much to commend in degrowth arguments, which are often limited to colonially privileged regions in the Global North. However, like the sparring of the 1970s, degrowth narratives share with ecomodernism, a deep conditioning by colonial modernity – manifesting as the imagination of a ‘one-world world’.”

“In this view, people across multiple cultures are imaged as a single humanity. This extends to a singular ‘nature’ approached as a separate category of objects to be used primarily as resources (and knowable only through modern science). Differences between diverse ways of living are thus reduced to quantity and efficiency of resource-use, with more or less ‘environmental’ impact. This unfortunate fixation with magnitudes on supposedly pre-set dimensions, overlooks and undermines the true radical diversity of social and material worlds whose entanglings constitute the pluriverse on Earth.”17

As well as giving up on the ‘one-world world’ view, will adherents to Earth Uprisings also go further along the path travelled in Latin America towards developing non-capitalist and non-state ways of producing and reproducing, of communicating and organising – of living? The English-speaking radical feminists of the 1970s had a slogan chanted at rallies against repressive abortion laws:  “Not the Church, not the State – Women must decide our fate!” Are those opposed to global capitalism and colonialism, living within the states from whence these systems of exploitation became hegemonic, now ready to explore and practise what it means to create rather than merely inhabit places where the Market and the State (the twin and co-joined pillars of capitalism and colonialism) no longer rule?

Given the range and depth of the thinking and acting around defending territory currently occurring in France, with ongoing but civil debates on how to best do it, along with an openness to how it is done in other parts of the world which could provide useful guidance, I am picking that maybe (am I too hopeful?) what Earth Uprisings represents is something truly new for the original centres of global colonialism and capitalism. A new way of thinking and being which goes beyond colonial modernity and (re)turns our attention to daily life and its Earth-based conditions. To ‘all our relations’, human and non-human, past, present and future. A movement which understands and is prepared to practise what Australian Aboriginal teacher and writer Tyson Yunkaporta knows to be true –  

“Being in profound relation to a place changes everything about you – your voice, your smell, your walk, your morality.”

(Yunkaporta, 2019,p. 255)


Christine Dann is a writer from Aotearoa, New Zealand who has been active in and writing for and about social and environmental movements since the 1970s. She is on the core team of the Global Tapestry of Alternatives. (


A note on translations: I used the Google translate facility to be able to read English versions of the original French articles I consulted in order to find out more about the thinking and actions of Earth Uprisings. Most of the quotations in this article are as I found them, already translated. But in some cases I have used my existing (although limited) knowledge both of the French language and of contemporary French political history to tweak the text so that it makes more sense – or just reads better – in English.


*          Les Soulèvements de la Terre[2023] Qui sommes nous?

1          van der Zee, Bibi (2.3.2011) Climate Camp disbanded

2          Les Soulèvements de la Terre (17.4.23)  À celles et ceux qui ont marché à Sainte-Soline

3          Larzac continues to be actively engaged with local struggles, and in August 2023 is hosting a meeting of representatives from the hundreds of such struggles currently occurring in France. (See 

Les Résistantes 2023 – Rencontres des luttes locales du 3 au 6 août au Larzac !  ) 

4          Confédération Paysanne [2023] Who are we?

5          Bassines Non Merci![2023]

6          See also SDLT’s account of its history and purpose in English in March 2023 here – Les Soulèvements    de la Terre » Composition of forces and new offensives in defence of land and water

and the short video on SDLT with English subtitles –

A Message to the Earth Uprisings – What grows back everywhere can’t be dissolved!                     [13 May 2023?]

7          This article reports on the police actions at Saint-Soline in 2022 –

            The differences between the French police force and those of its nearest European neighbours became starkly apparent to the world when widescale rioting erupted across France after a policeman shot a teenage driver dead on June 27, 2023. Just how big the differences are was explored by journalist Jon Henley in this article: French police’s tendency to violence questioned after latest killing In describing the difference Henley says that the expert view is that  “French police and gendarmes see themselves generally not so much as servants of the people but as protectors of the state and government ….. Sebastian Roché, a criminologist, says the French approach, far from aiming to pacify protest, is deliberately confrontational and escalatory. Other researchers use the words chaotic, aggressive, authoritarian, brutal. Roché says French police are “wired to be insulated from society, to respond only to the executive”. He says French police are more heavily armed than most of their European colleagues and deploy weapons that are often banned or used only very rarely elsewhere more extensively – one reason why 36 people have been severely mutilated at demonstrations in France since 2018 and three killed in the last 10 years.”   After a brief account of the 140 rallies in support of SDLT and against the dissolution which took place in France and around the world on June 28, SDLT also paid tribute to the murdered teenager, and made the connections between racism, colonialism and extractivism, and the state’s brutal behaviour.

8          Les Soulèvements de la Terre (17.4.23)  À celles et ceux qui ont marché à Sainte-Soline   

9          D pour Désarmement –

10        200 French Environmental Activists Sabotage Lafarge-Holcim Marseille Cement Plant

11        Sainte-Soline: Gérald Darmanin engage la dissolution de  Soulèvements de la terre 


Four of the activists summonsed are leaders of branches of trade unions supporting SDLT, one is the spokesperson for Bassines Non Merci! and the remaining three are SDLT activists.        

12        Terrestres Collectif (28.4.2023) Un vent de fronde écologique se lève #3

Un vent de fronde écologique se lève #3

13        Extinction Rebellion [2023]

14 [2023]

15        Terrestres Collectif (11.4.23) Un vent de fronde écologique se lève #1

Un vent de fronde écologique se lève #1

16        Mitchell, Sherri (2018) Sacred Instructions Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit Based    

Change, North Atlantic Books, pp 200-214

17        Arora, Saurabh and Andy Stirling (24.4.23) From Growth, through Degrowth, to a Pluriverse of Flourishings

From Growth, through Degrowth, to a Pluriverse of Flourishings


Arora, Saurabh and Andy Stirling (24.4.23) From Growth, through Degrowth, to a Pluriverse of Flourishings

Bassines non merci! [2023]

Gayle, Damien (21.4.21) Climate diplomacy is hopeless, says author of How to Blow Up a Pipeline,


Les Soulèvements de la Terre [2023] Qui sommes nous?

Mitchell, Sherri (2018) Sacred Instructions Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit Based Change, North Atlantic Books

Reporterre (April 2023) Nous sommes les soulèvements de la terre – retransmission

[Short statements in support of Les Soulèvements de la Terre byGeneviève Azam • Olivier Besancenot • Benoît Biteau • Alain Damasio • Philippe Descola • Fatou Dieng • Cyril Dion • Nicolas Girod • Julien Le Guet • Clémence Guetté • Murielle Guilbert • Juan Pablo Gutierrez • Coulibaly Ibrahima • Hervé Kempf • Inès Leraud • Frédéric Lordon • Valérie Masson-Delmotte • Corinne Morel Darleux • Paloma Moritz • Morgane Ody • Alessandro Pignocchi • Kristin Ross • Marine Tondelier • Françoise Vergès • Audrey Vernon • Philippe Vion-Dury • Emmanuel Vire • Louisa Yousfi • Le Syndicat de La Magistrature • La quadrature du net]

Terrestres Collectif (11.4.23) Un vent de fronde écologique se lève #1

Un vent de fronde écologique se lève #1

Terrestres Collectif (21.4.23) Un vent de fronde écologique se lève #2

Un vent de fronde écologique se lève #2

Terrestres Collectif (28.4.2023) Un vent de fronde écologique se lève #3

Un vent de fronde écologique se lève #3

Yunkaporta, Tyson (2019) Sand Talk How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World, Text Publishing

Zibechi, Raúl (2012), Territories in Resistance A Cartography of Latin American Social Movements, AK Press

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  1. Pingback: Knowing Our Home – a review of “Ecosophies of Freedom” by Milind Wani and Sucharita Dutta-Asane – Radical Ecological Democracy

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