“For Last Renovation, getting arrested is an integral part of the strategy”

“For Last Renovation, getting arrested is an integral part of the strategy”

Manuel Cervera-Marzal.

Manuel Cervera-Marzal is a researcher in political sociology, specialist in social movements. Author of New Disobedients: citizens or outlaws? (Le bord de l’eau, 2016), he explains how Last Renovation is part of a long tradition, while innovating in certain aspects.

Last Renovation presents itself as a civil disobedience organization. Where does this concept come from, and is it new to the environmental movement?

The term “civil disobedience” was coined by Henry David Thoreau, a 19th-century American philosopher and naturalist.e century, which for several years refused to pay its taxes to the slave state of Massachusetts. He put forward the idea that what is legal is not necessarily just, and therefore legitimate. From Gandhi and Martin Luther King, non-violence was put forward, with the refusal to take up arms and to harm the physical and moral integrity of the adversary. Civil disobedience then became a collective act, in order to reverse the balance of power.

In the 1950s, in France, the communities of l’Arche, which were inspired by ashrams in India, formed counter-societies which carried out non-violent anti-militarist actions. Civil disobedience was then used by other environmental movements, notably by Greenpeace, in the fight against GMOs and nuclear power. However, these yesterday’s associations have become institutionalized and normalized. Last Renovation only resumes what its elders did, with this ambition of disruption and obstruction of justice. Getting arrested by the police, going to trial, is an integral part of this strategy touted by the Briton Roger Hallam, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, an international social and environmental movement, with the idea that the more arrests there are, the more the support of the population and therefore the pressure on the state are strong.

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How do you analyze the criticisms against them, on the counterproductive aspect of their actions?

Attacking symbols of affluence like private jets may generate public support, but target the poor motorist on the ring road or a canvas of Monet, who died there a hundred and fifty years old, it’s hard for most people to understand. Hannah Arendt spoke of “indirect disobedience”: when traffic is obstructed or works of art are attacked, there is no obvious link between substance (thermal renovation in this case) and form. This may cloud the message.

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