Beverly Naidus reviews ‘We are nature defending itself’

In a previous piece for ecoartscotland Beverly Naidus, Artist/Writer/Activist/Facilitator/Co-learner, reported on her 2017 visit to the zad. Here Beverly reflects on the publication from Pluto Press We Are ‘Nature’ Defending Itself: entangling art, activism and autonomous zones (WANDI), the recently published text from Isabelle Fremeaux and Jay Jordan.

The text is avowedly not a blueprint but a report, originally written in the process of defending the zad (zone a défendre), but now published after the confirmed end of plans to build an airport on a wetland. The book is describes the journey leading Isabelle and Jay to the zad, and the multi year conflict with the French authorities to maintain the autonomous zone. It is a reflection on art as life and activism as the defence of life. Beverly reflects on shared experiences and touchstones, and raises questions about the wider implications for young people increasingly engaged in challenging neoliberalism and capitalism.

Response to WANDI, June 4, 2021 by Beverly Naidus, sitting on unceded traditional Puyallup land, one of the many Coast Salish tribes in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. Revised slightly on April 24, 2022.

The sketch was done on my iPad with Procreate while listening to JJ and Isa offering their wisdom online sometime last year. (Beverly Naidus, digital drawing, 2021).

I read WANDI with the kind of excitement that comes from touching something sacred and precious: such a rich weaving of philosophical and political touchstones, a deeply felt connection to a vision, and a commitment to true and lasting revolutionary social change. I kept thinking about how to apply some of the lessons and theoretical frameworks offered in the text, here in this context, in our very harsh and challenging time in the States. My own experience visiting the Zapatista world indicated that we need to be building these revolutionary visions in our own neighborhoods, so the text reinforced that point of view. In the end, the inspiration I was left with contained questions that I will share as I write this too short review.

The rhythm and poetry of the narrative matched the inspiring content. I could understand all the philosophical and emotional underpinnings of each of the choices that were made and recognized some of the yearnings that pushed JJ and Isa to choose a more meaningful mission inside of zad’s disobedient juiciness. As was mentioned in different places, the zad builds upon some of the experiments in ritual and cultural animations of earlier decades (as well as ancestral ones); many lessons have been harvested from political resistance movements of the recent past. There is no question that this pamphlet/book is essential reading for this time. The stories shared can encourage us to seek ways to build collectives that focus on creative disobedient actions of all kinds. In many sections, we learn how crucial it is to build relationships with diverse beings, human and non-human, to acknowledge the complex histories of place and its people, and to create new systems, as well as rituals, some ancient and some new, that reaffirm the affection for place, respect for the elements, for each other and for the ecosystem that supports us.

And as I was reading, I kept thinking about the youth, particularly art students who might choose the path of studying art to be subversive truth tellers, to be disobedient, and in rebellion to the dominant culture. Whether they understand the privilege or politics of such a choice is one thing to consider. Another is how swiftly most of them get corrupted by the education they receive, one in which entrepreneurship and branding has become the buzz word in recent years, an outcome or goal that appears necessary to many of them because they have so much debt.  What does it mean to choose art as an idealistic path, one that seems to be outside the frame or off the tread mill of capitalism, and then to learn how naïve that choice was, especially as survival concerns become paramount? The path of being an artist has shifted markedly over the years since I chose that route, and had I not had the predilection towards fighting for social justice and healing trauma, circumstances might have led me more deeply into the celebrity commodity art world. This text should be required reading for art students, as well as all kinds of students.

Another question is whether the activists reading it will be able to embrace a larger vision, one that incorporates community-building, ritual and a total reframe of purpose, rather than just seeing themselves in opposition to the dominant culture or the fight of the moment.

Finally, as someone who has the privilege to sit in BIPOC circles, I wonder how certain leaders in the BIPOC community (one of whom you cite, adrienne maree brown) will respond to this very European story; the zad is definitely an example of “Emergent Strategy.”  But translating it into the very faceted movements in the States may be a wide step. The fight against white supremacy & capitalism merge in the abolition and just transition movements and are central at this time. The Allied Media Conference born in Detroit, deeply influenced by Grace Lee Boggs and the Emergent Strategy Institute, as well as Movement Generation  based in Oakland, CA are clear allies here in terms of visionary thinking born out of Afro & Indigenous futurisms as well as queer ecologies. It would be great to create a bridge into those communities so that they can at least know about zad and its success fighting the French state and the forces of unfettered growth and petro-capitalism. Hopefully any alienation that might be felt about a text emerging from white authors from a colonial power will be overcome by the lessons the book will offer.

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