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Reclaim the Streets

How do you to hold a party for 5000 people in the middle of a motorway without the police getting wind of it till it's too late to stop? Reclaim The Streets knew how! Outrageous...

"Who are these lunatics?"
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London: May 14, 1995

An old car drove up Camden High Street, one of the busest streets in London. Although it was driving painfully slowly, it managed to hit an equally rusted car coming the other way. Both drivers, obviously upset, got out & started to abuse each other, much to the annoyance of onlooking drivers who were stuck in a traffic jam because of the altercation. The two drivers quickly got so irate that they started to smash up each other's cars with sledge hammers. Road Rage? No, a theatrical tactic to block the road & the signal for several hundred activists to reclaim the street & party. Every car entering the intersection was gridlocked. Shoppers joined the party, which lasted five hours. The police just re-directed the traffic. What else could they do?

Emma Goldman

"Car rage is the new focus of rebellion, & it's challenging the very way we live. Urban & rural guerrilla groups are trying to undermine car culture & defy a government committed more in words than deed to changing it"
The Guardian.

"Car sickness or just sick of the car? As cities get clogged, radical protests attract unlikely supporters."
The Sunday Times.

Similar anarchic scenes took place in Leicester, Belgium, Germany, & Finland. But it was more than a just a party - It was a celebration of alternative culture, people power & street politics.


One of the most interesting developments in the movement was been it's involvement with the Liverpool Dockers. RTS evolved into more than just an anti-car campaign; it became part of a global struggle for social justice. The alliance first emerged in early 1997, & made a big splash on April 20, when thousands joined to March for Social Justice. RTS organised a street party to celebrate the event. Most of the day was peaceful. A few people jeered at the Police, a protestor scrambled in through a Foreign Office window & grabbed a few files.

We filled the square with Carnival; people danced, chatted, & enjoyed the sun. The violence came to the Square much later, when at about 8 pm the police decided that the party was over & had the horses, dogs, shields & batons to prove it.

Past RTS parties have always had a bit of warning that the Police were getting itchy truncheons. A curt warning to be out by a certain hour or face the consequences at least gives you a chance to choose how you want to leave. But I heard no warnings of impending charges. Maybe I was too busy having a good time! But charge they did - first police on foot, then with horses.

The alliance was not broken by the violence that day, but grew in strength. On September 29 1997, the second anniversary of the Liverpool lockout, dockers and RTS supporters occupied Sheerness Port and the Department of Trade and Industry. Sheerness was targetted because the port is owned by Mersey Docks & Harbour Company. Cranes were occupied on the dock, while seventy dockers & several hundred supporters picketted outside the gate. TGWU drivers employed by Axial refused to bring car imports out through the picket line, & left the port with a fleet of empty transporters. Drivers from a second firm, Walons, refused to enter the port. Drivers from ECM crossed the picket line.Actions were also being taken in South Africa against exports to Sheerness. The deputy manager of the fruit terminal found this "very disturbing". Meanwhile, 70 members of Reclaim the Streets invaded the Department of Trade & Industry in London in solidarity with the dockers. They originally intended to travel to Sheerness but were intercepted by police at Victoria Station, switched to an alternative plan. Two helicopters circled overhead and a massive police presence on the ground blocked off all trafficAccording to BBC Radio Merseyside, there were 27 arrests.

June 8th 1997:

Leicester activists reclaimed their streets with a huge community party on a major road. Local people made up at least 3/4 of the 500-strong crowd giving the event a strong community feel. Despite a heavy police presence activists successfully set up three tripods to block the street, & were then joined by Critical Mass cyclists & several hundred party-goers.After four hour dancing in the streets, they marched to Victoria Park where the dancing continued until midnight. successfully set up three tripods at the location & were joined by a critical mass & the march.The next morning's Leicester Mercury newspaper headline pushed the conventional line:

"Car-culture protest 'irresponsible' - police"

But photos of the dancing crowds told a different story.

The Leicester Mercury has a high local circulation & recognised that there was public sympathy with anti-car protest. So they published a 500 word article about Reclaim the Streets, written by a local activist.A phone-vote on the issue followed, asking callers: 'Were the Reclaim the Streets protesters right?' - 66% of the callers said 'Yes'.

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related links: Twyford Down, M11, Newbury, Stringers Common, 100 Days of Protest, A Corporate response
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