The street culture is under siege and people want to do something about it.
In many cities in the world, the police crack down on graffiti, postering, panhandling, sidewalk art, etc.
This tension between the commodification and criminalization of street culture has created a lot of problems in England. In the nineties the lawmakers in Britain founded the 1994 Criminal Justice Act that made raves all but illegal.
To fight with this act, the club scene forged alliances with more politicized subcultures that were also threatened by the new powers the police had. And a common theme began to emerge among these countercultures: the right to uncolonized space for homes, trees, dancing, etc.
In this way the most vibrant and fastest growing political movement started: Reclaim the Streets (RTS).
Like the location of the raves, the RTS party’s venue is kept a secret until the day. Before the crowds arrive, a van with a very powerful sound system is parked in the street. Some theatrical means of blocking traffic is devised soon after. For instance, two old cars crash into each other and a mock fight is staged between the two drivers. With blocked traffic, the roadway is declared a “street now open”.
The crowd is formed by bikers, New Age artists, stilt walkers, ravers, drummers, deejays, etc. They dance on cars, bus stops, on roofs and near signposts. They attempt to fill the space left in the city with an alternative version of what a society looks in absence of commercial control.
The most theatrical RTS stunt occurred when 10,000 partyers took over London’s M41, a six-lane highway.
RTS was formed in May 1995, with the only purpose of turning streets into creative, celebratory and vibrantly living streets. The news spread across Britain to Manchester, York, Oxford etc.
The largest RTS event to date was when 20,000 people came to Trafalgar Square in April 1997. RtTS parties had gone international, popping up in cities like Sydney, Helsinki and Tel Aviv.
The Critical Mass bicycle rides started in San Francisco in 1992 and began spreading to cities across North America, Europe and Australia at the same time as RTS. Dozens of citizens every last Friday of the month gather at a designated intersection and go for a ride together.
Reclaim the Streets is the urban centerpiece of England’s thriving do-it-yourself subculture. Spontaneous street parties are an extension of the DIY lifestyle where people can make their own fun without asking any permission to anybody. RTS actions have been too joyful and humane to dismiss.
At the Trafalgar Square party, when the police tried to impound the van with the sound system some protesters attacked them with bottles and rocks. When the organizers tried to regain control, some rioters turned against them.
Some London RTSers say that one of their goals is to “visualize industrial collapse” and the challenge then is for the participants to inspire one another to dance and plant trees.
The first-ever Global Street Party was on May 16, 1998, which was the same day the G-8 leaders gathered for a summit in Birmingham, England.
Thirty RTS events were successfully mounted around the world, in twenty different countries. The situation and performance of the RTS events was very different in every city. In California, Australia and other places the situation was very pacific but in Toronto the RTS event caused a real riot.
Greta Đekić, TSŠ-SMSI Rovinj-Rovigno
No Logo by Naomi Klein, Reclaim the Streets