Occupation of Sorbonne in Paris - Actions and strategy
We came to participate to a general assembly of the movement, we ended up occupying the building to act our revolt against the elections and their world
From Wednesday, April 14th to Thursday, April 15th, 2022, the Sorbonne "mother" was occupied to act a revolt against the elections, the rise of the extreme right and fascism, the ecological emergency, the destruction of social rights by the ambient neoliberalism. We feel at war against this world and to take action seems to us the least we can do. This is why, when we came to participate to a general assembly of the occupation movement that was taking place in Sorbonne, we ended up occupying the building that, for most of us, we just discovered at this very moment.
* * *
1- Unlocking doors, disconnecting servers: Small actions and sabotage in the occupation
One would be tempted to remember the Sorbonne occupation only for the way it ended : it means by a police siege and a departure from the occupation far from being empowering. For us, this disappointing image doesn't represent everything that happened and we think it's important to highlight some of the cool things that happened. Media, police and justice will always have the job of discrediting our acts and criminalizing our existences. They put our acts and our existences in boxes : "degradation", "anarcho autonomous movement", "grouping with the aim of committing violence", "black blocks" etc. We will always refuse to identify ourselves with their categories as we will refuse to recognize their charges and we will always act to make revolts overflow, because this is how we will be able to mark a balance of power in this shitty society. And that no mode of existence and action seems to be the more relevant thing from our position. We think that writing on the walls, transforming the space that surrounds us, is to reappropriate the places that are dedicated to us. Because we don't have anything, let's take everyting ! To attack the university is to attack the reproduction of social classes that it allows. It is to attack the daily life routine, which imposes on us that when we are born as daughter of a worker we will be doomed to destroy our health for a meager salary and to have no free time. Occupying and attacking the university is to put ourselves on strike, to deviate from this daily routine. Even if, when we are lucky enough to be able to access it, we can find a lot of satisfaction in the university, because the courses stimulate us intellectually, it remains a place of oppression, a symbolic place of the violence of social war, of the war of class, gender and race. We don't forget that depending on their condition, students are discouraged from pursuing their studies, or even suffer sexist or racist harassment by teachers who have an ascendancy over them, these same scum pump their students' dissertations for their own benefit, or build up a nice reputation as leftist allied teachers on the backs of struggling students, etc.
This is, among a thousand other things, why many small actions have flourished throughout the occupation and why we refuse the sacralization of the university as a place of study to be preserved, blah blah blah. Here is an anthology:
To redecorate our rooms, to get as many school supplies as possible, or just for kicks, we tried to get into classrooms, offices, libraries, etc. Inside the offices, we found keys that gave access to other offices, and a whole bunch of more or less useful stuff that we could bring back home or use on the spot, like printers to spread leaflets, kettles and coffee makers, brooms or household products, computers, projectiles. It was not always easy to open the rooms, because the equipment was missing, but in the end, all the doors may open.
And it's a good thing, because we had to guarantee access to renew the occupants, to pass the supplies and to keep the rooms occupied by preventing the security to lock them. Naturally, locked doors were opened thanks to fire extinguishers, doors were opened (just by lifting them) and stored to make barricades. For those of you who are curious, there are many techniques to open locked doors, some of which are well explained in this little brochure "All doors open". (https://infokiosques.net/spip.php?page=resume&id_article=1814)
In the college, there were a few cameras, especially at the exit doors. Some were shot out with trash cans, some were just shot to the ground by hand, some couldn't see anything because a great sticker covering their view. In short, we thought it was better that they were out of order, because they could provide evidence to incriminate us or our comrades. Members of the administration or the police could have recognized some of us on them.
Several people also developed hidden talents on how to operate the food dispensers and coffee machines. They were opened with the help of crowbars, we could eat a lot of Oreos. And by searching a little more, it was not complicated to find their reserves of money, that allowed in particular to buy food for the occupation or to make donations. But we didn't manage to make the coffee machines work...
On thursday noon, during a support gathering at the place de la Sorbonne, in order to make a diversion and to try to bring in new people, some occupiers threw a maximum of furniture, tables, chairs on police trucks. They threw fire extinguisher powder and water on the cops themselves. In the end, it didn't allow us to get people into the Sorbonne, but it was a way to let off steam, and it disorganized the cops a lot. We think that we could have done that on other occasions, like during exits or entrances, to put obstacles in the way of the police.
The question of the tags was important and we spent a lot of time on it in General Assembly (GA). In fact, it was even more important than the collective legal defense of undocumented people...
"You're going to say that I'm bourgeois again, but the ancient frescoes above the lecture halls are so much more deep than your ugly tags on the walls." Anyway the tags were already done before the General Assembly (GA) made a decision lol and they would have continued whatever was decided. We just wrote what we could think of, with mistakes and drawings. We painted anarchist symbols, feminist symbols, trans-inclusive symbols, squat symbols. We could read "Fire to the CRA" (* CRA means center of administrative retention, that means prisons for undocumented people) "Squat everywhere", " Revolution is a duty " " Neither Le Pen nor Macron ".
We also saw that all the connectivity of some internet network closets, switches, servers, had been disconnected. We think that this is quite effective in preventing the normal resumption of activity at the Sorbonne because it must be complicated and long to reconnect.
At one point of our exploration of the buildings, we came across underground galleries under the Sorbonne, it was crazy (like when we were on the roofs), moreover, in this kind of underground, there can be some material of DIY which we can use to improve our barricades (serflex, cable, ...), we can also discover new exits or accesses to the rest of the building.
At the beginning of the occupation, the idea was mentioned to go to the "Vieux Campeur" shop (* a shop where you can find some good quality camping stuff) and to come back directly in the college, unfortunately it was not implemented :'(
* * *
2 - Eternal GA, self-organized "Service d'ordre" and our holy suppliers: questions of self-organization
(*Service d'ordre : it is the group composed by tough guys of the CGT, the mainstream Syndicat in movements in France, who can organize strikes, but also prevent us from doing actions in demonstrations. They make sure that we can't join their cortege in case of crowd panic movement, and feed the work of the police by validating the categories of good or bad demonstrator.)
Actions don't make everything, and we had to think about how to keep an occupation going over time. The lunchtime GA turned into an infinite GA. In the end, two lives went on in parallel in this occupation, some of us organized ourselves in small groups on different tasks, others seemed to want to parley in the amphitheatre all day long and vote on more or less important things. Many of us went back and forth between these modes. The GA was useful to organize working groups. For example, a communications group to write the occupation communiqué. It was vital to divide up the tasks, since not everyone can be everywhere, and it was really worthwhile to make small autonomous groups. Different militant works were carried out, and we must learn to value them as they should be, as the work of spreading of the anti-repression culture, the work around the communication with the outside.
About the SO ("Service d'ordre"), on Wednesday evening, it turned into a bit of a nightmare. A group of about fifteen virilists guys were walking around the corridors with iron bars to "enforce the decisions of the GA", they prevented any "degradation" or any behavior they didn't like, considering as suspicious anyone hanging around too long in the corridors. They didn't hesitate to physically prevent us from opening doors, taking things. They were using cop techniques, like coming in at 15, picking on someone in small spaces, having colored armbands. It was really the executive power that reappeared, that came to apply the decisions more or less voted in GA. Anyway, the vote is useless in such a context. We had finally to hide the actions we were doing, having to watch if they came while we were trying to open doors... In an occupation that's supposed to emancipate us, being treated like kids who were doing something stupid was a lot of shit.
We were able to talk about it with people from the SO afterwards, who explained to us that it was not the initial objectives of the SO, which had been presented as a group in charge of self-defense, against the cops or the fascists. This group of 15 guys obviously were part of the SO, and we didn't see them anymore on Thursday morning. After that, to avoid the SO being too virilistic, there were some embarrassing calls in the GA that, please, non cis guys, join the SO, it will solve the problems, and then we'll move on. We think that to avoid this kind of problems, it would be better not to call it an SO, first. The SO, for us, is the tough guys of the CGT (mainstream Syndicat) who prevent us from doing actions in demonstrations, make sure that we can't join their cortege in case of crowd panic movement, and feed the work of the police by validating the categories of good or bad demonstrator. Why not call this group "self-defense group" for example? And be careful about who constitutes this group from the start and if in fact it is only interested in cis-het men to be part of the SO, maybe it is not relevant to have one. And then we think that there is no need to impose by force the decisions taken in GA, because we are not here to re-found a state inside the occupations.
On the other hand, clearly, there are people who knew the place, and others absoultely not. That's why the GA is a good moment to make a map of the building so that everybody knows where they are. This is also important in case of an attack or eviction. Maybe next time we could photocopy a map of the college to hand out.
Maybe a communication group could be useful inside between the people spread out in several rooms and floor is complicated. When we decided collectively to go out all together we almost left people inside because we couldn't find them and we didn't know how many there were.
We also have to talk about the role of the people outside, the people who do the shopping, thank you. For an example of things to do when you're not on site, but you have strength outside, one night people from the Baudrière squat, an anarchist, feminist and TransPedeGouine squat in Montreuil (labaudriere.noblogs.org) made a canteen that they brought to the site. Also, on the 2nd day, there was the setting up of a care and listening group in the infirmary.
* * *
3 - Individualization in front of the cops, leaden negotiations and collective exit in cluster. A critical look at some of the strategies of the occupation :
The strategy of the cops won on this occupation. They besieged the Sorbonne, which made it impossible to have more people inside, to get supplies, and caused panic and some despair. They also benefit from this strategy in the way that there is no formal eviction. The occupiers, tired and scared, leave by themselves. No scandal.
So, on the second day, in the afternoon, some people would have gone to negotiate with the cops how to get out, once the siege was set up. We find it absurd to go and negotiate with the police who beat us and repress our struggles, and even more so to get such shit: the police wanted us to go out two by two, showing our IDs. What could be more classic to destroy the solidarity between us, and to write down identities that they could re use afterwards, if there is any charges or bill to pay to the university. The challenge for us at that moment was to create a mass movement, to avoid the repression which necessarily passes by the individualization of the movement.
Already in the GA, some people proposed to go out all together, without showing our papers. But we already heard many comrades whispering that they would show their papers, which created an atmosphere of mistrust between us.
In retrospect, we think that it was normal for us to be afraid, to panic. Being under siege is scary, and we could have feared that the cops would enter the occupation and beat us up, nobody would have witnessed it. But faced with this situation, maybe we should have taken more time to discuss collectively. We could have reassured ourselves better, given each other strength, shared anti-repression advice, reflex actions to have if we were beaten or arrested.
Finally, we decided to go out in clusters. The cluster is a technique of collective defense in the street, which consists in regrouping with the people with whom we want to be one, holding each other by the shoulders, to avoid the arrests. It was awesome, but the cluster of about sixty people was cut in two by the cops who bludgeoned and closed the doors, locking half the people inside. Moreover the cluster was cut at the exact place where there were less people, because it had been formed in a room and it continued with people in a narrower corridor. So the cops cut the cluster where the hallway started, which may be thought for future times. Maybe we should have stood better at that moment, refusing to leave until the whole cluster had gone out the door. We also heard that when the cluster was about to leave, not everyone was ready, and that some people who were afraid, rightly, of being mistreated at the exit, did not dare to leave at that moment. We could have taken more time to prepare this exit in a cluster of occupants in solidarity, so that the people who felt the least well could have placed themselves in the middle of the cluster, and not left anyone behind.
After that, the people who had stayed inside made a video statement that made us cringe. On the images we saw about thirty young people more or less masked, with their heads down, parked in the courtyard. And a student who was filming and saying that the occupation is peaceful, that it is our constitutional right to protest, that they would go out calmly, that they were afraid. When we saw these images we were disgusted. Even if we understood that our comrades were afraid and wanted to go out, even if we felt solidarity with them, we didn't recognize ourselves at all in these words. We think that having a victim discourse and a bent back position does not give us any strength, any hope, does not make anyone want to join us, and does not even serve us strategically. We are convinced that the violence of self-defense is legitimate, and we feel solidarity with the people who reclaim the violence exerted against them by the capitalist, racist and sexist society. We don't want to rely on the law or our so-called "rights" to justify our actions, because those who govern the law and the rights are old white guys who have no idea what our existences are like, and that the law will always condemn us. We think it's healthy to tell each other when we're afraid, and to build trust that strengthens us in our struggles, to find ways to make our struggles inclusive of everyone.
Besides, we also spent some time on the street outside the occupation to support it. The evening of the exit, the atmosphere was leaden, because we were worried for our comrades inside and the air had like a smell of defeat. We were helpless, gathered in front of the cops who were holding the siege. People started to sit down and we waited there for hours. We tried to propose a GA of outside supporters, but the comrades went out at that moment. We could have organized earlier to allow a collective exit by coordinating with the inside. If we had had the desire and the energy we could have tried to form a wild demo that would have put pressure on the cops who were also starting to fall asleep, to reach the doors a few meters away and leave all together with the occupiers.
Finally, we wanted to remind some advice about collective defense, during actions, occupations or demonstrations. You don't need to be all in black but you can bring clothes to stay more or less anonymous, without too many logos or recognizable patterns, something to hide your face, and gloves to avoid leaving your fingerprints everywhere. The cops and the administration would be happy to recognize some of us to charge us. Or to compare the clothes of the arrested people with the clothes of the people who would have been filmed doing this or that action.
Not taking your papers with you is already a step to remain anonymous and to give yourself the possibility to lie about your identity in case of a quick control, but it's also to be in solidarity with the wanted people, with those who are on file, without papers, refugees, non-French people etc.
Some occupiers didn't have in mind some basic advices of collective defense, you can find a lot of them on this website https://defensecollectiveparisbanlieues.noblogs.org/ or in this little manual https://defensecollectiveparisbanlieues.noblogs.org/brochure-de-a-a-z/
Moreover, it is possible to contact the Défense Collective Paris Banlieues on this mail if you have questions or if you are summoned. firstname.lastname@example.org
Some autonomous and determined participants