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Water and weapons


Brussels, 21st June 2023
We knew there would be a before and after Sainte-Soline. On the 25th March, I knew that by going to this French village for a demonstration against mega-basins, which are gigantic water reservoirs, I would be taking part in an important moment in the environmental movement. We knew that this protest would be decisive in determining the balance of power. We also suspected that there would be strong repression from the police… but not to that extent! In all my years as an activist, I’ve never experienced anything like it.

I came all the way from Belgium because I wanted to support this farmers’ movement, which is fighting for the right to water and against its monopolisation by a small minority. I wanted to participate in a big, joyful act of protest and to see what would happen with my own eyes.

We arrived the day before and set up camp like the tens of thousands of other people. The next day, we set off. What was really powerful was the sheer number of people in the procession, which stretched for as far as the eye could see. You feel a force that’s impossible to imagine if you’re not there, the collective power of being in a crowd that’s prepared to “break the law” to preserve the common good.

Afterwards, it all happened very quickly. It’s hard to describe. The police started tear-gassing and things got out of control. As time went on, more and more tear bombs fell, and more and more people were wounded. Even on the sidelines it was dangerous. You could feel the determination of the forces of order – or rather disorder, in this case – and confusion set in, followed by anguish, anxiety, incomprehension and tension.

Not a day has gone by since, where I haven’t thought about Sainte-Soline, or rather about the cause and the ‘Soulèvements de la Terre’, one of the groups that called for the demonstrations against the mega-reservoirs and that the French government subsequently dissolved. It was a real wake-up call. What transpired has forced us to think more strategically, tactically and politically than before. For example, the fact that we are openly engaging in a form of protest that is no longer “civil disobedience”, but the dismantling of certain harmful infrastructures. These questions are now being asked by people who weren’t asking them two years ago, at the end of Covid, during the new climate marches.

Sainte-Soline has provoked a change. Today, there are now collectives and groups of people in France and elsewhere, who are communicating with each other. It was not as easy even a few years ago.. The demonstration was attended by people who share the same political objectives, but who usually employ different strategies to achieve them. There were Green politicians alongside farmers, members from independant movements as well as youth climate activists, all united around the increasingly central issue of water management. This isn’t usually the case, and gives us real power! This power has since crossed borders and spilled over into Belgium and other countries.


Simon is a Belgian environmental activist. On the 25th March, he, alongside thousands of others, took part in a two-day demonstration in Sainte-Soline, France, to prevent the construction of a mega-basin, a huge 628,000m3 water reservoir. The demonstration was severely repressed – more than 5,000 tear bombs were thrown – resulting in 47 gendarmes being injured and 200 demonstrators, including 40 seriously injured. By going to Sainte-Soline Simon feels that he has taken part in a very important moment in the environmental movement.
*First name has been changed

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