Reclaim the Streets
Reclaim the Streets (RTS) is a collective with a shared ideal of community ownership of public spaces. Participants characterize the collective as a resistance movement opposed to the dominance of corporate forces in globalization, and to the car as the dominant mode of transport.
Reclaim the Streets often stage non-violent direct action street reclaiming events such as the 'invasion' of a major road, highway or freeway to stage a party. While this may obstruct the regular users of these spaces such as car drivers and public bus riders, the philosophy of RTS is that it is vehicle traffic, not pedestrians, who are causing the obstruction, and that by occupying the road they are in fact opening up public space. The events are usually spectacular and colourful, with sand pits for children to play in, free food and music, however they have been known to degenerate into riots and violence. A Temporary Autonomous Zone sometimes results. The style of the parties in many places has been influenced by the rave scene in the UK, with sound systems playing dance music.
Reclaim the Streets is also used for this type of political action, regardless of its actual relation to the RTS movement.
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The earliest written source for the phenomenon "reclaim the streets" can be found in Marshall Berman's (1981) All That is Solid Melts Into Air. In a chapter entitled "Modernity in the Streets" Berman writes:
"At the ragged edge of Baudelaire's imagination we glimpsed another potential modernism: revolutionary protest that transforms a multitude of urban solitudes into a people, and reclaims the city streets for human life. . . Thesis, a thesis asserted by urban people starting in 1789, all through the nineteenth century, and in the great revolutionary uprisings at the end of World War One: the streets belong to the people. Antithesis, and here is Le Corbusier's great contribution: no streets, no People." (pp. 166-167, emphasis added)
Streets have many times been occupied with the intent of using them for other things than traffic. For example, a group of environmentalists occupied the streets of central Stockholm in autumn 1969. And in 1990-91 the same group arranged a tradition of 20 minutes "culture crashs" in busy street crossings. Like other occupations against car traffic before 1991, these events were not called Reclaim The Streets.
Reclaim The Streets was originally formed by Earth First! in Brixton, London, in Autumn 1991 and was born out of anti-road protest camps at places such as Claremont Road and Twyford Down. The idea of street reclaiming soon spread throughout the United Kingdom. The first actions can be seen as specifically anti-car and pro-alternative transport, but over the years the members of the core group changed its focus, realising that it was better to go to the root of the problem as they saw it, namely the capitalist system. "Our streets are as full of capitalism as of cars and the pollution of capitalism is much more insidious." Nevertheless, the actions always followed the principle of non-violent direct action.
Selected RTS actions include:
- Camden High Street, May 14, 1995. A busy London street closed to motor-traffic for an afternoon.
- Upper Street, Islington, July 23, 1995. One thousand people party at another busy traffic junction. There is a sound system and kids play in a hastily constructed sandpit.
- Birmingham, 6 August 1995
- Brighton, February 14, 1996. Protest publicised in part by Justice? & SchNEWS closes a section of the North Laine area of Brighton. A bouncy castle is erected in a crossing and traffic is stopped for most of the afternoon.
- M41 Motorway, Shepherd's Bush, London. July 13, 1996. After a cat-and-mouse game with the police, 6,000 protestors take over part of the elevated motorway. Many sound-systems play. Hidden underneath dancers walking on stilts and wearing huge, wire-supported dresses, environmental activists drill holes in the tarmac and plant trees.
- Pershore Road, Birmingham, 17 August 1996
- Mill Road, Cambridge, Saturday 14 September 1996
- Reclaim the Future, Liverpool, Saturday 28 September 1996
- Trafalgar Square, April 12, 1997. The 'Never Mind The Ballots' protest against the forthcoming general election. A march with the sacked Liverpool dockers started at Kennington Park and ended up at Trafalgar Square in the centre of London.
- Brixton Road, Brixton and High Road, Seven Sisters, June 6, 1998. Two street reclamations in one day, with an estimated 5,000 people at each party.
- Grassmarket, Edinburgh, 11 August 1997
- Bank Underground station, London, 13 July 1998. In order to show support for London Underground workers striking resisting privatisation, activists shut down the Central line by climbing on a train in the morning rush-hour and unfurled a larger banner at the station entrance.
- Toxic Planet at 173 Upper Street, London (opposite Islington Town Hall), 4–11 October 1998.
- Tube party, May 1, 1999.
- Carnival Against Capitalism: 18 June 1999. A global day of action. In London the financial district is targeted. The LIFFE building is stormed.
- Seattle Solidarity Action, Euston Station, London. November 30, 1999. The World Trade Organisation was meeting in Seattle and met with concerted protest. In London, after a peaceful rally a police van is overturned and set on fire.
- No Blood For Oil. February 3, 2000. A solidarity action in support of the U'wa people of Colombia.
- Guerilla Gardening. May 1, 2000. An expressly non-violent gardening action at Parliament Square.
- Action to mark the introduction of the Terrorism Act. February 19, 2001.
- Bye Bye Planet. April 19, 2001. An action at the Natural History Museum protested at the perceived greenwash and corporate rebranding of BP by subverting an exhibition about climate change which was sponsored by BP.
- Business Class Tube launched. June 5, 2001. 50 trains receive stickers announcing a new Cattle Class.
- Free shop at a May Day event. May 1, 2002
- Reclaim the Future. September 11–22, 2002.
- Street party against arms trade. September 10, 2003.
The idea of a Reclaim The Streets action was quickly taken up as a form of protest around the world. These "street parties" have been held in cities all over Europe, Australia, North America, and Africa. Initial instances confounded authorities and drivers alike, but over the years the protests have become institutionalised in many places, occurring much like other forms of legal protest in that the event is arranged with authorities beforehand, but not in all places like for example in Finland, where the first Street Party outside the UK was arranged in 17 May 1997.
Selected RTS actions include:
- February 1998 Sydney.
- April 1998 Amsterdam.
- April 1998 Bielefeld, Germany.
- May 1998 Global Street Party!; Arcata, California; Berkeley, California; Athens, Greece; Birmingham and York, England; Bogota, Colombia; Brisbane, Melbourne and Darwin, Australia; Dresden and Berlin, Germany; Geneva, Switzerland; Ljubljana, Slovenia; Lyon, France; Prague, Czech Republic; Stockholm, Sweden; Tallinn, Estonia; Tel Aviv, Israel; Toronto, Canada; Turku, Finland; Utrecht, Netherlands; Valencia, Spain; Vancouver, Canada.
- July 1998 Helsinki.
- August 1998 Jyväskylä.
- September 1998 Berlin.
- October 1998 Broadway, New York City.
- April 1999 New York City: Avenue A. Reclaim the Streets and Turn them into Gardens.
- April 1999 Berlin.
- May 1999 Turku, Finland; late May 1999 Brussels, Belgium
- June 1999 Global carnival against capital; London; Scotland; Nigeria; Czech Republic; Los Angeles; Germany; Australia; Spain; New York City.
- July 1999 Tampere, Finland.
- July 1999 Helsinki.
- September 1999 Berlin.
- September 1999 Stockholm.
- All over the place: N30; Seattle, WA/USA: N30 and today's Seattle Indymedia; London (and commentary; Geneva, Switzerland 16 Nov and 27 Nov; New Delhi; Manila, Philippines 24 Nov; Athens; New York City 26 Nov; Padua, Italy 27 Nov; Milan, Italy 27 Nov; presque toute la France; Brisbane, Australia; Cardiff & Bangor, Wales; Halifax, England; Leeds, England; Manchester, England; Totnes, England; Limerick, Ireland; Iceland; Narmada, India; Bangalore, India; Schipol/Amsterdam, Netherlands; Berlin, Germany; Rome, Italy; Long Beach, CA/USA; Baltimore, MD/USA; Tel Aviv, Israel; Nashville, TN/USA; Washington DC/USA.
- May 1, 2000 Beverly Hills, California, USA.
- May 2000 Helsinki.
- May 2000 Turku, Finland.
- July 2000 Joensuu, Finland.
- September 2000 Naperville, Illinois.
- September 2000 Brussels.
- September 2000 Prague: S26 at the World Bank / International Monetary Fund.
- November 2000 Den Haag, Netherlands: Rising Tide (etc.) protests at the UN climate talks
- December 2000 Nice: European Summit (indymedia reports: more a joined-up-Europe than a UK thang?)
- January 2001 Davos: World Economic Forum demonstrations.
- 24 Feb - 12 Mar 2001 Chiapas - Mexico City: the Zapatour
- March 2001 Adelaide, Australia.
- April 2001 Québec: Anti-capitalist Carnival, welcoming in the spring (and shaking down the Free Trade-touting "Americas Summit"): www.quebec2001.net
- April 2001 Everywhere (mostly Nordic) Operation Dessert Storm.
- May 2001 All over - MayDay. RTS in crèche shock! statement; and see indymedia.
- May 2001 Thessaloniki, Greece.
- May 2001 Helsinki.
- May 2001 Prague.
- May 2001 Asheville, North Carolina.
- June 2001 Brno, Czech Republic.
- June 2001 Bratislava, Slovakia.
- July 2001 Bonn, Germany at climate conference.
- July 2001 Naperville, Illinois.
- August 2001 Turku, Finland.
- August 2001 Seattle.
- September 2001 Leuven, Belgium.
- September 2001 Cochabamba, Bolivia: PGA gathering.
- 25 September 2001 Cochabamba, Bolivia Magical Mystery tour.
- October 2001 Ghent, Belgium.
- November 2001 widespread actions coinciding with the World Trade Organization Doha Declaration.
- December 2001 Sydney
- December 2001 Brussels
- March 2002 Summit of the European Council Barcelona.
- March 2002 Active Fair (street party) Sydney.
- April 2002 Seattle Street Party.
- April 2002 Gap, France
- April 2002 Paris
- May 2002 Lahti, Finland
- May 2002 Liège, Belgium
- May 2002 Lyon, France
- May 2002 Dublin
- July 2002 Helsinki
- August 2002 Zurich
- Sept 2002 Dublin
- Sept 2003 Melbourne
- Sept 2003 Brisbane, Canberra & Sydney
- Sept 2003 Wellington, New Zealand
- December 2006 - Protest against demolition of the 1957 Star Ferry Pier, Central, Hong Kong
- May 2007 - Protest against demolition of the 1953 Queen's Pier, Central, Hong Kong
- Mar - Apr 2008 - Performance art competition against the privatization of public area in front of Times Square (Hong Kong), Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
- Apr 2008 Amsterdam - protest for free space and a performance from a truck driving through the streets of Amsterdam
- May 31, 2008 San Francisco - Street party against Prop 98
- Sept 01, 2008 Limoilou, Québec, Canada
- Sept 19, 2008, Malmö, Sweden
- Jun 16, 2009, Helsinki, Finland
- Feb 06, 2010, Zurich
- August 2011, Jyväskylä, Finland
- August 7, 2011, Helsinki, Finland
- April 28, 2012, Dublin, Ireland
- June 10, 2012, Brussels, Belgium. 3.000 people participate in a disobedient Pic Nic to Reclaim The Streets.
- Car-free movement
- Stop the City
- Critical Mass
- M11 link road protest
- World Naked Bike Ride
- World Carfree Network
- Time's Up!
- Guerrilla gardening
- Hakim Bey
- Temporary Autonomous Zone
- Pirate utopia
- Carnival against Capitalism
- Open Spaces Society
- Alternativ Stad website "Bilfria dan"
- Alternativ Stad website "Kulturkrockarna"
- Do or Die, Voices from the Ecological Resistance, issue 6, summer 1997, page(s) 1-10
- A direct action network for global and local social-ecological revolution(s) to transcend hierarchical and authoritarian society, (capitalism included), and still be home in time for tea... Welcome to the cyber-streets of RTSLondon. Reclaim The Streets! website
- Reclaim The Streets Agit-Prop (Distributed at the M41 Street Party on Saturday 13th July 1996) quoted on Do or Die Issue 6, Summer 1997. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 1-10.
- RTS: Street Party report
- RTS: Street Party '96
- RTS: Street Party report
- Cambridge Cycling campaign, Newsletter #8, September 1996
- Lockout 1st Anniversary demonstration
- RTS commentary
- Report Reclaim The Streets, 11 August 1997 (Edinburgh)
- "SF Reclaim the Streets Opposes Proposition 98", Indybay.org May 31, 2008
- Klein, Naomi. No Logo.
- Berman, Marshall. All That is Solid Melts into Air.
- Klein, Naomi. No Logo. Toronto : A.A Knopf Canada. 2000. ISBN 0-676-97282-9
- Mosey, Chris Car Wars - Battles on the Road to Nowhere London: Vision Paperbacks, 2000. ISBN 1-901250-40-7
- St John, Graham. 2009. Technomad: Global Raving Countercultures. Equinox Publishing (UK). ISBN 978-1-84553-625-1
- Wall, Derek Earth First and the Anti-Roads Movement: Radical Environmentalism and Comparative Social Movements London: Routledge, 1999. ISBN 0-415-19064-9
- UK's Streets Alive's carfreeday.org.uk
- Reclaim The Streets (London)
- Reclaim the Streets Feature length documentary about RTS
- Car Busters Magazine is published four times a year by the World Carfree Network
- International Car Free Day - 22 September
- Google video RTS & Liverpool dockworkers march from Kennington Park, April 1997
- Video RTS 7, Sydney
- urban75 Reclaim The Streets reports and photos RTS articles, 1996 onwards
- Wild in the Streets skateboarders reclaim the streets
- What if everyone had a car? by the BBC World News