Reclaim the Streets
Reclaim the Streets (RTS) is a collective with a shared ideal of community ownership of public spaces. Participants characterise the collective as a resistance movement opposed to the dominance of corporate forces in globalisation, 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 crashes" 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 UK actions
- Camden High Street, 14 May 1995.The first major RTS street party action took over a busy London street and closed it to motor-traffic for an afternoon.The action met in the morning and left from the Rainbow Centre a squatted Church in Kentish Town
- Upper Street, Islington, 23 July 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 Organised with a handful of people around 200 people turn up for very enjoyable family afternoon with live band playing from the back of a truck. To prevent police using riot tactics to clear the street at the end, a procession with music and dancing headed off down the road to a pub.
- Brighton, 14 February 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. 13 July 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, 12 April 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, 6 June 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. 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, 1 May 1999.
- Carnival Against Capital: 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. 30 November 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. 3 February 2000. A solidarity action in support of the U'wa people of Colombia.
- Guerilla Gardening. 1 May 2000. An expressly non-violent gardening action at Parliament Square.
- Action to mark the introduction of the Terrorism Act. 19 February 2001.
- Bye Bye Planet. 19 April 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. 5 June 2001. 50 trains receive stickers announcing a new Cattle Class.
- Free shop at a May Day event. 1 May 2002
- Reclaim the Future. 11–22 September 2002.
- Street party against arms trade. 10 September 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 on 17 May 1997.
Selected Global Actions
- 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; Bogotá, 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; Barcelona in 18 June; 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 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; Schiphol/Amsterdam, Netherlands; Berlin, Germany; Rome, Italy; Long Beach, CA/USA; Baltimore, MD/USA; Tel Aviv, Israel; Nashville, TN/USA; Washington DC/USA.
- 9 March 2000 Barcelona, Spain.
- 1 May 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 March 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 privatisation 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
- 31 May 2008 San Francisco – Street party against Prop 98
- 1 September 2008 Limoilou, Québec, Canada
- 19 September 2008, Malmö, Sweden
- 16 June 2009, Helsinki, Finland
- 6 February 2010, Zurich
- August 2011, Jyväskylä, Finland
- 7 August 2011, Helsinki, Finland
- 28 April 2012, Dublin, Ireland
- 10 June 2012, Brussels, Belgium. 3,000 people participated in a disobedient Pic Nic to Reclaim The Streets.
- November 2014, India (Delhi, Mumbai) Raahgiri (Our Streets, Our Freedom) Sponsored by various media partners.
Renewed Sydney Actions
- 6 September 2014, Sydney, Australia 
- 13 December 2014, Sydney, Australia – Against the Westconnex Motorway 
- 1 February 2015, Sydney, Australia – King Street Crawl Against the Westconnex Motorway 
- 13 September 2015, Sydney, Australia – 99 Reasons To Dance 
- 12 December 2015, Sydney, Australia – A Liveable City For All 
- 19 March 2016, Sydney, Australia – Against The Star Casino 
- 23 April 2016, Sydney, Australia – Keep Newtown Weird and Safe 
- 18 June 2016, Sydney, Australia – Broke But Not Broken 
- 2 October 2016, Sydney, Australia – Save Sydney Park 
- 19 March 2017, Sydney, Australia – Keep Newtown Weird and Safe 
- 23 September 2017, Sydney, Australia – Signed Sealed Delivered 
- 15 November 2017, Sydney, Australia – Love Triumphant 
- 22 April 2018, Sydney, Australia - Keep Newtown Weird and Safe 
- Car-free movement
- Stop the City
- Critical Mass (cycling)
- M11 link road protest
- World Naked Bike Ride
- World Carfree Network
- Time's Up!
- Situationist International
- Guerrilla gardening
- Peter Lamborn Wilson (Hakim Bey)
- Temporary Autonomous Zone
- Pirate utopia
- Carnival Against Capital
- 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 13 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. 31 May 2008
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 10 November 2014. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- Reclaim The Streets Facebook Event, 6 September, 2014
- Street festival headlined by DJ Paul Mac being held to protest against WestConnex, The Daily Telegraph, November 27, 2014
- WestConnex motorway protest brings 3000 people to King St, Newtown, The Daily Telegraph, February 2, 2015
- Reclaim the Streets protest hits Sydney’s CBD, News, September 13, 2015
- If they shut down our dance floors, we'll dance on the streets: Newtown residents protest lockouts and WestConnex, Sydney Morning Herald, December 12, 2015
- Anti-Lockouts Protesters End March By Dumping Giant Turd On The Steps Of “Star Shtty” Casino, Music Feeds March 20, 2016
- Keepin it weird in Newtown, City Hub, April 28, 2016
- Broke But Not Broken? Sydney’s Street Protests Continue, Howl and Echoes, June 20, 2016
- Protestival for Sydney Park, City Hub, October 5, 2016
- Newtown reclaims its streets, City Hub, March 22, 2017
- Signed, Sealed, Delivered – Music Festival for Marriage Equality, City Hub, September 14, 2017
- Oxford Street party to go ahead after Yes court battle with police, The Australian, November 13, 2017
- Meet the local organisations trying to keep the Newtown vibe alive, The Quo, April 2017, 2018
- 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