1995 – Reclaim the Streets

Reclaim the Streets (RTS) began as a creative activist direct action group in London in the 1990s, but its tactics of blending party and protest soon spread around the world. Reclaim the Streets sought to challenge the enclosure of public spaces by cars and commerce and through its exuberant and participatory street parties to provide a mini-vision of what a post-capitalist society could look like.

Reclaim the Streets fused the direct-action culture of an extensive anti-road building movement in the UK and a counter-cultural rave scene. Their first street party took place in North London in May 1995, and they soon became known for their audacious reclaiming of busy and polluted London streets. Using rave culture tactics, the exact locations of the parties was kept secret, and participants would be led from a public meeting point to the party site before police could stop it.

The street parties evolved in complexity and scale. In early ones, cars were ‘crashed’ to seal off streets; later tripods were were made from scaffolding and sand was dumped to create beaches on roads. In one of their most audacious efforts in 1996, 8,000 participants took over a motorway while huge carnival figures with hooped skirts moved amongst them. Underneath the skirts, hidden from view, activists drilled into the tarmac with jack hammers and planted saplings into the motorway. In 1998, simultaneous parties were held in 70 cities across the world to coincide with the G8 summit.

The movement was popular because it differed from typical protest, such as marches and political lobbying and because it allowed for maximum creativity and diversity. The movement also built links with workers, notably the London Underground workers and Liverpool dock workers and the international network, Peoples Global Action. As the scale of the parties increased, police repression and surveillance also increased and differences over tactics emerged amongst participants.

Some RTS groups remain active, such as Reclaim the Streets Sydney; in other countries the energy and people of RTS has spun off into other global justice movement groups such as Genetic Engineering Network, the Wombles, Dissent!, the Rising Tide Network, the Clandestine Insurgent Clown Army, the Climate Camp and the Occupy movement and continues until today.