An article from Do or Die Issue 6. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 117.
Excitement was mounting on both sides of the Channel last February,as Amsterdam hosted its very first Street Party!
Around 30 British activists took a busmans holiday to the land of canals and bicycles to see how our Dutch cousins deal with a "public order situation". We arrived by coach the day before, suffering a mild dose of culture shock as we were led from the art-deco station, through meandering cobbled streets with canals and Bauhaus bridges, to a secret location that was to house us for the event.
The squat (an old brewery warehouse sat on the oldest canal in Amsterdam), was home to a group of Dutch anarchists with a sorted itinerary and enough floor space to sleep an army!
The day drifted into evening as we spent time acclimatising in coffee bars, toking freely, meeting old and new friends (some of whom had come to actions in England), and speculating on the following day's events.
Our only instructions were to meet at the main station at midday. About 1,000 protesters buzzed around the station; ranging from students to anarcho punks, and with many people from France, Belgium, and Germany present. The police, looking more like 70's bikers, seemed as laid-back as the crowd. We were unobtrusively split into two groups and rumours spread quickly that our affinity group should head to the underground terminal leading south. Marshals hidden in the crowd blew whistles signalling our destination. 200 of us raced to the street with orders to hang a left; as we turned the corner we could see a group of about 500 protesters being driven back by only a handful of police. Seized by the moment, we ran with drums beating to join our comrades, and the party began.
A single sound system on a customised bicycle trolly chugged out repetitive beats on a now deserted highway about two miles south of the main city. Two portacabins acted as stages as people pretty much made their own entertainment, and we soon found out about all the things that didn't make it. The main sound system,tripods,banners and food, all confiscated by police who didn't want to play!
Also there was mounting tension about a missing 200 odd people who were acting as the decoy posse, and who, rumour had it, were sealed off in another part of town. The celebrations ticked over, though you were left with a feeling that something else should happen as we didn't feel that occupying an out of city street was worth the excitement. Sure enough, with roars of cheering, the once lost decoy posse charged through police lines and gave the party crowd a strong enough feeling to go on the move. With a bit of to-ing and fro-ing the merry troupe of now about 1000, led by the sound system, danced its way 2 miles to a busy roundabout on the city border where the police were waiting in greater numbers. Tension mounted as, being closer to the city, we now posed a greater threat.
The following events happened pretty much spontaneously and were the inspiration for others to follow suit. A critical mass of about 30 bicycles processed round and round, sealing off traffic from all exits. The police, now geared up, sealed off some of the main road exits and tried to shepherd us down slip roads. The crowd, most of whom I would say were inexperienced in street tactics, soon found it made sense to carry on moving. We had now reached the typical situation - raised often at street parties - of rising conflict or party. A police cordon tempted a group of 50 or so to charge its lines; on doing so the mere finger reaction of the riot cop's hand on its truncheon was enough to send the crowd scurrying in retreat. A brief exhilaration on our behalf and it was time to go down the road that we chose ourselves. We were now heading down the busy shopping street of Amsterdam with its twee little houses; it felt more like a carnival as we more or less ignored the State's orders to disperse. By this time I had become curious about a unit of police that had slipped intentionally down the back of the market place, parallel to the main street. I followed suit, only to see them darting into the market place to grab their lunch, which gave me the wonderful opportunity to sample the almost gypsy-like stalls (excuse my romanticism but I was a tourist after all!). By late afternoon we ended up in the town centre in a big open square at the foot of a church, where people lit bonfires and danced till nightfall.
In terms of success it did manage to mobilise a vast number of possibly new people and as we found out later that night we had carried out plan B of the operation. Plan A was to hit a main Autobahn close to where one of the biggest motor shows in Europe was being staged, but this had been rumbled the night before. So in terms of the damage limitation exercise I think we coped well.
A small affinity group found they could not leave Amsterdam without visiting the largest show of monstrous death traps, and as we were in the area at the time we found slipping in rather easy; although faced with 4 of us and 4000 of them, we did feel a bit intimidated, though not deterred. It was only slightly ironic that it was ineffective technology that beat us on the day as not a single fire alarm or sprinkler was responding that day. So much for health and safety!