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Dannenrod Forest: About violence and non-violence

What follows is an interesting read from some people (they are speaking for themselves, not for the whole occupation) of the Dannenrod forest occupation about violence and non-violence.

Originally published by Wald Statt Asphalt.

A white coat covers the dead trees. It snowed here in Danni. And it should snow again this weekend. 

The struggle to protect the forest has failed. We have lost 90% of the trees on the trail of the highway. There is only one barrio and a hundred meters of woodland left. In spite of the rather effective blockades of Ende Gelände every Sunday, on other days of the week the trees fell. We failed. And we have had time to analyze this, but the same strategies remained in use. A ritual that brings the energy of revolt to the feeling of powerlessness and then depression. Lots of activists leave, burnouts. The tactics of treehouses and tree climbing don’t work completely. They save time, but don’t keep the machines and the police out of the forest. Or one has to build structures 60 meters high to be out of the access of the elevating machines (a structure at 40 meters was finally evicted by a machine up to 51 meters). An example of a victorious struggle to save trees is Julia Hill in the USA who stayed 2 years on top of a sequoia tree at a height of 55 meters (“Of sap and blood” – Julia Hill, ed. Libre). But unfortunately there is no sequoia in Danni. 

A major problem I encountered here is the lack of perspective. When I ask several people if it is possible to win. I am often told, “Win what?” or “What does it mean to win?”. I say: “Let the trees stay”.In 80% of the cases I am told  that this is not possible, that we are going to lose and that we can simply save time or make them lose a lot of money. It is difficult to find people who still believe it is possible to stop the cutting of trees, or are working towards this goal. 

It’s as if at the Notre-Dame-des-Landes ZAD we accepted that the airport would be done anyway because the State and its police are stronger, that if we had to fight, it would simply be “to make them lose time and a lot of money”. With this state of mind, there would have been an airport.

The other problem related to that of the objectives is the feeling of powerlessness. Criticism of the police is weak in the sense, that few people question where it is legitimate to use force in this forest fight. Is it in defending or destroying this forest ? We don’t ask this question, we put ourselves at the mercy of the police who beat us up and then complain about police violence. There is such a consideration of the police function that we even go so far as to see this kind of thing appear on the twitter of the local police: 

“Distance yourself from violent delinquents and don’t let militant actions destroy your cause.” 
– Tweet from the Hessen police force

It’s interesting to analyze and to see that the police allow themselves to give advice so that the cause is not destroyed. The militant cause is to save the trees, the police’s cause is to destroy this forest. It’s ridiculous thing that the police (who have an objective opposite to that of the activists) allow themselves to give strategic advice to win the struggle. In order to grasp the absurdity it is necessary to allow oneself a bit of rhetoric. It is as if an activist were to say to the police: 

“Distance yourself from violent police officers, don’t let the action of deforestation destroy your cause. ” 

By following this militant advice, the police will not succeed in destroying the forest.
By following the police advice, the activists will probably not manage to save the forest. 

Before moving on to the next point, we could take a look at the elements of language used by the police:

– “destroy your cause”. They dare to use the word “destroy” when that is precisely what the police are constantly doing here. Destroying the treehouses, destroying the forest. This allows us to blind our consciousness to reality by transposing the destruction to the side of “militant actions”.
– “Violent delinquents”; this gives rise to the imagination of thugs, thieves. And depoliticizes the confrontation with the police or forestry machines. As if these forms of struggle no longer had anything to do with the cause of the forest. 

The last point is a problematic one because it highlights a dynamic of censorship and mind control internal to the struggle. I don’t mean to say that it is organized, this may be the case of isolated individuals. Some days ago, I made a banner with a quotation from Nelson Mandela that I hung a little into the entrance of the forest. I climbed to the top of two trees to place it high up. A day later, it had been torn down, and completely disappeared. Here’s what it said: 

“Nonviolent passive resistance is effective as long as your opposition adheres to the same rules as you do. But if peaceful protest is met with violence, its efficacy is at an end. For me, nonviolence was not a moral principle but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon.”

This quotation generated a lively debate bypassers, often people showed understanding and a smile on their face. Even among “citizens” that the militant milieu too often has the habit of classifying as moderates, who must be caressed in the direction of the hair [french quote to say that you tell people things in a way that doesn’t hurt their feelings] by phrasing things conscensual, flat and empty. So I took the time to rewrite the quotation with an additional part in the hope that it would remain.

The quote continues:

“I learned the lesson that in the end, we had no alternative to armed and violent resistance. Over and over again, we had used all the nonviolent weapons in our arsenal – speeches, deputations, threats, marches, strikes, stay-aways, voluntary imprisonment – all to no avail, for whatever we did was met by an iron hand. A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle, and the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor.”
– Nelson Mandela (27 years in prison for acts of sabotage)

I also would like to show you some quotes from Gandhi, a figure often put forward who exhorts us to non-violent action, but invites those who are not ready to reach this level of effectiveness to turn to violent action. 

The following is an excerpt from an article in a journal of radical ecology [1]

“Gandhi himself affirmed (with sexism) that “if we do not know how to defend ourselves, our women and our places of worship by the force of suffering, i.e. nonviolence, we must, if we are men, be at least able to defend all these by fighting[2]”. 

Everything today tells us that the “force of suffering, that is, non-violence” is not adequate, that it is not enough – we cannot defend the places we hold sacred, we cannot defend our loved ones, every day 200 species are pushed towards extinction, and everywhere the natural world goes up in smoke – and that it will not be enough in our context, our struggle against the current social-ecological disaster. Therefore, according to the advice of Gandhi himself, we should go on the offensive. He insisted heavily on this point: “I have been repeating over and over again that he who cannot protect himself or his nearest and dearest or their honour by non-violently facing death may and ought to do so by violently dealing with the oppressor. He who can do neither of the two is a burden.”

Gandhi’s non-violence was extremely demanding. He stated that it could “not be taught to those who are afraid to die, and who have no power of resistance.” He even went so far as to be suicidal: ” History is replete with instances of men who by dying with courage and compassion on their lips converted the hearts of their violent opponents. […] Self-defence is the only honourable course where there is unreadiness for self-immolation.” His non-violence implied the “cold courage to die without killing.” He even put it more precisely: “But if one has not that courage, I want him to cultivate the art of killing.” [3] (There is, indeed, a certain binarity in these remarks that we do not approve of, they simply serve to illustrate the true nature of Gandhian non-violence). “

One might reproach and find it inappropriate to be willing to die for something. For the situation in Gandhi’s time would not be the same as it is today. However, when activists go to danni and the police cut a rope or a tree falls on a crossbeam with someone on it, one may wonder if they decide to continue occupying for the next few days. Martin Luther King invites us to ask this question in a timeless way: 

“As long as a man has not discovered something for which he would be willing to die, he is not able to live. ” 

I will relativize Gandhi who is in my opinion too violent in his remarks when he invites to learn “the art of killing“. It is possible to be effective through sabotage by being careful not to hurt anyone, as for example  Mandela did, by simply destroying machines or oppressive structures. Or as young people in the USA blew up the power structures without casualties, in order to oppose the Vietnam War [4]. In a context of confrontation with the police on a low or medium intensity level (without going as far as firearms and “the art of killing”) it is possible to win with barricades and stones as we have seen in the Zad of Notre-Dame-des-Landes with regard to the airport project or plogoff and the project for a nuclear power plant in France [5].

This text is not intended to sweep away strategies of non-violent action. It simply urges each person to ask themselves questions and find their own answers. It is problematic that pushing, destroying a machine and killing someone are defined by the same word: “violence”. It is necessary to break the moral ban on violence, to analyze the spectrum of possibilities hidden behind the word and to search for one’s own limit. In the same way, we need to break down the preconceived ideas surrounding non-violence. Don’t limit your imagination to sitting, walking, or waiting for the police to look for you in a tree, but as in Danni, lock yourself in lock-ons with padlocks and concrete, try to escape the police by climbing from branch to branch or on crossbars, build highpods higher than machines can reach, or slowly push a police line. It is necessary to break the dogmatisms of non-violent action, just as it is necessary to break the dogmatisms surrounding violent action and try to join the two in a common strategy in order to reach this goal: Danni bleibt. With, why not, an exposition of the different strategies that will be used to protect the forest. If actions on a lower level don’t work, actions on a higher level can be brought in and combined with the previous tactics to finally reach effectiveness that is appropriate to the situation. Some of these levels could be:

1 – hugging police officers
2 – trying to resonate with the police
3 – march, pacifist demonstration
4 – sitting
5 – swing force, climbing trees
6 – escape into the trees to make it difficult to evict.
7 – sitting in chains to each other
8 – to put themselves in barricades
9 – lock-on, padlock
10 – burying oneself underground with the head sticking out
11 – marches, demonstrations that push or pass through police lines
12 – climbing on machines
13 – sabotaging machines without injuring people
14 – defending barricades
15 – clashes, riots
16 – Removal of responsible of highway in a permaculture farm in exchange for abandonment.

I realize that these few thoughts may not be able to move the lines of non-violent action strategists who believe that this is the only way to succeed. I will therefore end with this quote from Martin Luther King, who, although he was convinced that he had to act through non-violent marches to win, never disassociated himself from the riots against racism.

“The barricades are the voices of those we cannot hear. “M.L. King

He knew how to be in solidarity with those who share the same cause as him. He didn’t listen to advice of the US police who asked him to disassociate himself from the rioter, just as we shouldn’t listen to the twitter advice of the police today.

We stand in solidarity with all activists in jail for violent or non violent actions.


[1]: Violence, non-violence: a response to the Decline (by Kevin Amara and Nicolas Casaux) – [dgr le partage            
[4]: The Weather Underground Organization
[5]: youtube: plogoff, stones against guns

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