An article from Do or Die Issue 5. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 23-26.
Reclaim the Streets, launched in early '95, exists to act as a catalyst for social revolution, to resist car culture and to end the domination of that representative of global capitalism - the car. It will act as the London contact for EF! A reclamation of that bastion of consumption Camden High Street began what promises to be a long, hot summer of discontent. On Sunday 14th of May around 1.30 pm two respectful old bangers entered the High Street and to the astonishment of passing shoppers ceremoniously piled into each other - CRASH! This was followed by 30 radical peds rushing into the street and jumping onto said bangers, continuing trampoline like... tyres were slashed, decoration added in the form of flying paint and a rather large banner unfurled atop, proclaiming "Kill the Car, Free the City: RECLAIM THE STREETS". Thus commenced the sister of all street parties.
An instant cafe was set up distributing free food to all and sundry, rainbow carpets unrolled smothering the tarmac, and a host of alternative street decor informing all of the 'changed priorities ahead' put into action. A plethora of entertainment followed, including live music, fire breathing, juggling, and unicycling displays, and the rinky-dink bike powered sound system. The police admitted 'fete accompli' and the eco-rave rolled on till 6.30 pm when as smoothly as it began, the party 'vanished' and as the metal machines invaded the street once more the vision remained of what could and will be, of the joys of life without the car and of the power of direct action.
Critical Mass, that spontaneous eruption of cycling empowerment showed itself worthy of its name here in the centre of the 'smoke'. After winter numbers of 20-200 people and incidents including one cyclist involuntarily taking a 200 yard ride on a car driver's bonnet, numbers are pushing above 1,500. They assemble to assert their collective selves, in a sight for literally sore eyes (and a respite for sore lungs) swarming into the city, stopping the traffic in its tarmac tracks. The passing pedestrians applaud, the drivers fume and the cops show their usual incompetence by doing not much at all.
Last time after completely bicycling Parliament Square (allegedly joined by a pedal powered Lord who enjoyed himself so much he went around five times!), the Mass headed off to London cyclists' nightmare, Park Lane, where a much needed cycle crossing complete with cardboard cut-out 'crossing lights' was swiftly installed before continuing. The usual warm discussions with drivers occurred (toot if you support us?) and at least one bicycle found a car taking a liking to its rear wheel! All in all an amazing show of cycling solidarity and a 'breath of fresh air' for London.
Various capitalist baddies have had their offices 'visited' recently by an assortment of activists determined to show that 'destruction is not anonymous - it has an office address'. The British Road Federation, the umbrella group for many of those working together to trash the planet was due for such a visit but upon arrival at the meeting place it was found that a welcoming committee of dozens of police had been arranged at the BRF building. Being flexible and undogmatic, the protesters sent a small delegation to meet the police there while the rest of us sauntered off to arrive instead... at the Highways Agency, the glossy front for the Dept. of Roads. After walking through a locked lobby door, representatives were dispatched to various parts of the building. Some found themselves on the roof, hanging banners. Others found themselves crashing into computers and a large contingent found themselves 'talking' to Laurie Haynes, the Chief Executive, in his office. After much palaver the police escorted our heroes from the building. A few days later the BRF found themselves discussing ecology with some anti-roaders in their office while a huge banner hung from their rooftops.
Wimpey who are trashing Pollock estate were subject to two such visits to their London offices. The first, unexpected by them, resulted in activists launching a take over bid during an executive board meeting. The second found mounted police waiting, but unable to stop a lobby occupation and the usual rooftop demo. Stupid enough to hold their AGM in London, Wimpey shareholders including Pollock Free Staters covered all the action angles including pertinent questions, rants, banners, and drenching the directors in their own drinking water, while other activists kept the security busy. Total disruption and a fun-filled day for all. Except maybe Wimpey.
St. Agnes Place, Kennington, recently saw the attempted eviction of its then occupiers the Offshore State Circus. Tipped off to the bailiffs' imminent arrival they, along with assorted M11ers in support, took to the rooftops to defend their homes. Not reckoning on much resistance, the bailiffs found themselves unable to evict and after sending in the demolition squad to trash most of the six houses, knocked off leaving the defenders in occupation. Found amidst the rubble were national newspaper clippings from 1977 including The Scum which had a large picture captioned, 'The Squatters and the Smasherball', showing squatters sitting on top of those same houses. Over 20 years of successful resistance.
Tufnell Park, North London, recently played host to the spectacular new sport of 'car bouncing'. 50 radical pedestrians gathered to assert the power of the pavement by 'gently bouncing' the tyrannical machine off of them! After two such removals the police arrived and announced "you've made your point, two more and that's it". They soon realised that their real function was re-directing the waiting traffic! In all about 30 illegally parked vehicles were 'bounced' and once again the pavements were safe for passing pushchairs. Coming soon to a street near you...
Shell Oil experienced an extraordinary general meeting on May 18th. Their annual self congratulatory exercise at the QEII centre, Westminster, was severely blocked by 100-150 eco-activists protesting against Shell's genocidal activities in Ogoniland, Nigeria. While representatives enlightened shareholders inside, those gathered on the outside, on the stroke of Big Ben's 11 o'clock, stormed the building, completely blocking the lobby area.
Meanwhile others climbed the flagpoles fronting the building, ripped down the Shell flags and unveiled a 50 foot banner declaring "SHELL MURDERERS". The police of course reacted with their usual display of minimum force, pressure pointing and arm locking all with equality. Soon after, two activists climbed onto the centre's canopy with the aid of a parked police van and proceeded to drench a Shell flag in lighter fluid before setting light to it! The police were dour faced, Shell were extremely pissed off and the protesters were delighted. There were six arrests (including Criminal Damage) but the action was a success and SHELL will continue to receive HELL for their murderous activities.
On May 5th we experienced what the penalty for hijacking live TV is - possible death. We were invited onto the LWT Richard Littlejohn programme. Littlejohn is a right-wing tabloid journalist, and his only reason for asking us onto the show was to set us up to be humiliated. Also present on the programme was Michael Steven, MP for Shoreham. Shocked that his constituency had erupted into mass protests and sometimes all-out street fighting with the cops, he has argued that all urban demonstrations should be banned. His campaign surgery has been invaded by anti-CJA protesters in turn. Understanding that it was all a put up job he was patiently argued against until at a present time we all invaded the stage. We unfurled a banner while two masked activists sprayed Littlejohn with silly string. He was totally unprepared for such action. After a few seconds the programme was cut to adverts. We then played cat and mouse with the Grope 4 guards and eventually we left.
Waiting for us on the forecourt was a squad of riot cops from Kennington TSG. They pulled out their truncheons and started laying into us with them. One activist, Pob, passed out after she was hit on the head, pushed against the wall and then thrown to the ground. She was unconscious for 15 minutes and it was only when she puked up that the police called an ambulance. This sort of brutal policing is not an unusual aspect of Kennington TSG's 'beat'. On the same night Kennington TSG attacked a young black man named Brian Douglas - he received similar injuries to Pob and was treated in the same ward of the hospital as her. He was not so lucky. Two days later he died of the injuries. Another name to add to the hundreds of names of black people killed by British Police. Like those who bound and gagged Joy Gardner, Brian's murderers will probably not be charged with anything. The list of near deaths in the British radical ecological movement is getting quite staggering. Every time something like this happens we must take action. Do not let these events go by without a massive fuss. Remember in the lottery of state murder 'It could be you!'
On Friday 2nd of June a new group calling itself the 'Revolutionary Pedestrian Front' had its first action at the launch of the new Alfa Romeo. "Tonight you will not witness the launch of the new Alfa Romeo - you will witness its demise", one activist declared as flour, stink bombs and yellow paint flew in all directions. The Rev Peds scarpered but four were arrested. The RPD - coming to a showroom near you?
Hundreds of police hung around various parts of the tube system, it was the 23rd of July - Reclaim the Streets 2. Around 1,500 people caught the tube from the meeting place at Kings Cross to Islington High Street. They swarmed across the dual carriageway as five 25-foot tripods were erected blocking all the access roads. Half a ton of sand was dumped on the tarmac for kids of all ages to build sand castles with. An Armoured Personnel Carrier blasting out rave set up, fire hydrants were opened up - spraying the ravers dancing in the sunshine. In this case at least, on top of the cobblestones was the beach. All the cops could do was stand to the side and sweat. The raging festivities lasted for 6 hours - remarkably the sound system wasn't impounded. By around 7.30 pm most people had gone home or off to another gathering in Hyde Park. The police took advantage of the lack of numbers, truncheon charging those who remained. HOW MANY were arrested and HOW MANY were injured. If you witnessed any arrests or police violence, contact us. Our exploding creativity had blocked one of the machine's main arteries. This was the largest single radical ecological action in this country EVER!
- Anon London regional reporter, c/o Reclaim the Streets