Dynamics of Autonomous Healthcare on the ZAD

Dynamics around healthcare on the Zad

Shared experience and common desire brought into existence several dynamics around healthcare based in the Zad of Notre-Dame-des-Landes. Here we present four of them : the organisation of street medics, the medic team of the zad, the herbalism project and the group who organises street medic trainings.

These dynamics share several common bases. There is a desire to reappropriate knowledge around healthcare, because we find it important to decentralize knowledge related to our bodies, but also as a response to the difficulties in relationship to classical institutions of healthcare : the ambulances blocked by law enforcement, the routine collaboration of hospitals with police, and the disdain and non-respect of consent lived by some. There is the desire to learn and share knowledge about more holistic ways of healing and which is not dependent on the pharmaceutical industry. There is the desire to reinforce social movements by propagating knowledge about emergency care and to form new groups.

These projects are independent but they are all entangled with elements of herbalism introduced into our street medic practices, trainings which bring new participants into the medic teams, and our experiences on the ground which nourish the content of the trainings.

The street medics

As soon as we show disagreement in concrete ways, or we block the smooth unfolding of increasing profit, repression quickly follows. Whether for the duration of a demonstration or because we live together on an outlawed zone , or when we are labeled « undesirable » or « protestors », the State wounds and kills at the hands of law enforcement.

Consious of these risks, in many countries revolutionary groups and activist movements have developed their own medical support networks for demonstrations or direct actions. This dynamic is different than humanitarian practices like the Red Cross, because we don’t pretend to be neutral. We take a clear political stance and an active role in the conflict, and in the support that we bring to our comrades in struggle.

In a demonstration, street medic teams try to be present on the scene as early as possible to be able to provide emergency care to people who ask for it , and to evaluate the needs of the situation before an ambulance arrives, which is sometimes blocked or diverted by the police. There is also an assessment of the legal risks in the case of recourse to official emergency care : for example, identity controls and arrests inside the hospitals to take in people without papers, people with outstanding warrants, or just because the simple fact of being wounded makes someone a suspect.

Law enforcement regularly update their equipment dedicated to repression with new chemical, electrical and physical weapons. As street medics, we try to respond by spreading techniques of defense developed on the ground and shared across the world for preventing, protecting, and healing.

For us, medical knowledge is accompanied by a political reflection in how we put it into practice, to avoid reproducing as much as possible relationships of domination, administration, and dispossession that the medical institution exerts. Our desire as street medics is to put the first priority on the consent of injured people and to give them the information to make clear and informed choices for themselves.

The street medic team of the Zad

On the zad there is a medic team which represents an autonomous medical presence during demonstrations and actions, including during past and possible future evictions, but also being present on the ground for medical emergencies when they happen. The medic team brings together people who are interested in that role, with or without official training (there are very few people with professional backgrounds). We organize together to get the knowledge and the material necessary to be able to be autonomous in actions or demonstrations.

Daily healthcare plays an important part in our work. There is a house with a living collective where many medics live, and people can pass through with their injuries or health problems for material, care, advice, and contacts. We evaluate the person and depending on their desires and the capacity of the individual who is treating them (knowledge in first aid, conventional medicine, or herbalism), either we treat them or we direct them to further care. For this we have contacts with medical professionals we trust (nurses, doctors, osteopaths, homeopaths…) who are in exchange and relationship with us.

There is also a medic trailer, to make sure that we are not the only way tfor people to have access to medical materials. It is left open, and stocked with first aid materials to use there, and material and information for harm reduction linked to drug use and sexual practices.

We also are part of a network of healthcare workers involved in the struggle against the airport. During the evictions of autumn 2012, a number of healthcare professionals came to support the medics on the ground. Over the years, we have worked together to prepare logistical and communications strategies, and to have the materials necessary in the case of eviction attempts or other police intervention. We also have regular discussions, and regular reciprocal trainings.

The herbalism projects

For the past six years, a dynamic around medicinal plants has been developing and made concrete by the creation of a medicinal garden, a dispensary, the creation of an autonomous phytotherapy school, the organisation of plant walks, and of trainings on the uses of plants and how to prepare them. There is a clinic project in the early stages, with regular individual consultations for chronic conditions, and drop in clinic days for more acute illness.

As many other projects which co-inhabit this zone, care by plants is rooted for us in a logic of long term struggle and autonomy, in conflict with the State and capitalist logics. As we try different ways to live, to resolve conflicts without legal intervention, to organize with many people with a diversity of positions and practices in the same territory, we take the liberty to be autonomous in care. We don’t want the world of the pharmaceutical industry, and of the disempowerment of bodies by a vertical and imposed system. We want to play an active rôle in the expansion of a method of accessible, understandable, and participative care which opens up new paths towards more knowledge of our bodies and the plants that surround us.

With a local support group we have built a cabin which serves as a lab for making and storing medicine, a place for distribution, for care, and passing on knowledge. From this place we offer different forms of consultations- individual, but also other times where we see people in a more collabotative exchange, to be able to share skills and learn together with the person seeking care, while having access to the dispensary so that we move together beyond a theoretical level.

Street medic trainings

The training group was created after realizing that the militant french networks were relatively poorly organized in terms of street medics, in comparison with other European countries or in North America. The street medic trainings are intended as a tool for improving our capacity to self-defence by contributing to the existence and multiplication of street medic teams in france and neighboring countries.

The trainings are done for specific geographic areas, to encourage the creation of local groups who can continue to practice and organize together.

The group was formed around self-training in relationship to first aid ; it consists of mainly non healthcare professionals involved in social struggles, with diverse levels of skill and experience.

The complete nine day trainings focus mainly on the most likely injuries in the case of demonstations or riots, the possible complications or aggravations of illness in these moments (stress, fatigue, cold, etc.) as well as psychoemotional injury. We have added a part about the weapons used by law enforcement and about advice for medics in action situations (organization, prevention…), as well as moments dedicated to harm reduction in sexual practices and in drug use. The content is based on classical western emergency care, with (for now) a partial integration of techniques of herbalism.


@equipemediczad Welcome to the platform! We’re really excited to see your work being published in a broad context like this format. You are such an inspiration to us here in the US!

Wow, @equipemediczad, this looks impressive!

There seems to be quite a bit of background that I am missing. First of al, for non-francophones it is not obvious what a ZAD is (it’s a zone à défendre, a kind of autonomous zone). And then, I’d like to know more about the functions of the street medics. I mean, you cannot be engaged in demonstrations and confrontations all the time, and yet you obviously have substantial skills, equipment and capacity. You hint at some sort of grassroots baseline health care service: the house where many medics live seems to have become a sort of clinic and to function outside of confrontation with law enforcement. Did I get it right?

Also, it seems that there is a sort of permanent community living in the ZAD. Is that the case? If so, how many people live there? What are the health care challenges?

Thanks for sharing~ Have been hearing a lot about the ZAD through friend’s and podcasts. I’m currently working in the aftermath of the 2 hurricanes that made landfall in Houston and Miami in the US, and I think about the vulnerability we are facing solely depending on the state infrastructure being there to catch us when we need it. It’s increasingly not even about a political choice, but a practical one. There is big money to be made though by providing emergency services, and I’m witnessing first hand the sub-par care and quite regressive and inhumane patterns that are showing themselves in both cities. A lot of weaponry, a lot of masculinity and manager laborer dynamics… Looking forward to learning more about the ZAD and spreading the message!


Wow that sounds so exciting. Can’t wait to hear more about over the weekend.

I am curious about this post-hurricane situation… can you say more about it, @liz_biospherex? So far, OpenCare has found that the best community responses have arisen from the direst need.

I think it’s a matter of scale and economics. Places where there is a lot of money to be made, you get the situation like where I’m at. However within this there are microcosms of egalitarianism. Sharing of resources, looking out for each other out of necessity but also desire to help. Outside of here you hear of neighbors helping neighbors, especially when there is no govt to come save them etc. There’s desperation and people taking advantage of the situation. Perhaps this is just a more magnified version of reality. Those who were struggling will now only struggle more. Those on top can now take over entire resorts and hold people there with military force, working 12 hours a day, no power at night (no air conditioning), minimal food, and confronted by security any time they ask a legitimate question. No one to monitor safety of working conditions, call bosses out on racism, sexism. Even within this, there are microcosms of people helping each other but it’s on a more horizontal level of course. Outside of this place, it’s also very militarized since it’s a disaster area and little of the infrastructure is back on grid. Once media attention is gone, there’s less hope for outside aid. In the US it has become ingrained in many of us that we will always be able to depend on the government. When a disaster hits, it leaves those populations extremely vulnerable unless they prepare ahead of time.

Looking forward to seeing how this autonomous healing paradigm plays out when it comes to women’s health and abortion. Part of a project I’ve been collaborating on, called How to Perform an Abortion, involves planting and workshops around Abortion Gardens. Very curious to see how people are discussing and understanding the connections between clinical knowledge and herbal knowledge (and access to both of these).

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Looking forward to hearing more! This is very relevant to the workshop I will be hosting on Day 2. Looking forward to hearing about your experience on the abortion gardens project and connecting women to resources.

I’m looking forward to learning more about your work as well – and better understanding the relations between street / herbal / “traditional” medicine and medical / synthetic / “modern” medicine

Hi, for background information about the zad we have a website, it’s http://zad.nadir.org. It’s randomly translated into lots of different languages, there’s a tab up top where you can pick. Fifty years of local struggle and 8 years of land occupation is hard to sum up in a comment, but basically local farmers and citizens were against the airport, and city squatters came to join them, and built infrastructure and a new dynamic in the struggle, and then the state tried to evict but didn’t fully manage, and then a lot more people came and we had to rebuild everything. And there’s no police and so we organize everything ourselves without State intervention, which is why we get to do primary healthcare without diplomas.

This seems like an amazing panel. I am currently training to be a street medic so I hope I can learn new skills and contribute to the development of this invaluable effort

Hi Alberto
there are currently social struggles going on, with regular demonstrations in the neighboring cities. Recently, there were demonstrations every week, with blocades or actions in the morning. Because of the police repression, the street medics have plenty of occasions to practice first aid. The most frequent injuries come from the teargas and rubber balls (see flash-ball on Wikipedia), or people hit by the police. When stun grenades or other grenades explode, there is a risk of shrapnel injuries !
Outside of confrontations with the police, it also happens that people living at the zad get injured while doing manual work (f.e. carpentry), fighting each others, picking fruits or even chopping vegetables… and of course some get ill… with more of 200 people living there, there is every day a lot of things going on !
About the health care challenges, it’s difficult to summarize as there is a great diversity of ages, habits, activities and physical conditions at the zad. We will be able to discuss it more precisely at the festival.

@equipemediczad @Lacaterelle and @mcverter it’s be really great to have a chat ahead of the panel I am running on financing this afternoon. I don’t know how you guys look - could you find me in the venue this morning? Ill be wearing a blue edgeryders hoodie and hideous glasses :))

@equipemediczad I really enjoyed your session at the festival - and took extensive notes. Feel free to signal anything I may have gotten wrong. And can we ask you to upload your presentation and share it on edgeryders?

We were talking after with Taraneh @tneh and would be curious to learn more about how you develop your network of professionals and get support from them. One thing you mentioned is that they help you get donations of materials from the hospitals, or that they can help get into the system someone with no papers.
How do you approach them, or how do they become part of ZAD in the first place?