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Reclaim the Streets: Washington DC
report from D
Saturday, 27th October 2001
The gathering was due to begin at around 4 pm in Dupont Circle and move to the first of several possible locations nearby. I arrived at around 5 pm at the location to find about 45 people dancing in the street with a couple of puppets and some banners. There was a van with a DJ spinning some drum 'n bass and disco remixes. There was also a handful of cops, some in riot gear, some not, standing on the periphery.
Prior to my arrival, someone drove a somewhat battered-looking white car with the words "Reclaim the Streets" scrawled onto it in red paint into the centre of the street (apparently to block traffic, or so I was told).
About 45 minutes later - and I didn't actually see this - a group of people turned over the car and began jumping on it and pulling parts off it. The windows had already been smashed out (or so it appeared) and, I think, more writing was added.
The next thing I knew, massive numbers of police - clearly waiting for an excuse to shut the party down - descended upon the party and closed the street. The police put up a police line, arrested about three people (one for "incommoding" the sidewalk - I don't know about the other two) and the party dissolved.
It's a shame that the party had to be policed in the first place, but it makes me want to scream that the morons who trashed the car gave them an excuse to do so.
I wouldn't dispute the right of anyone to destroy their own property, but I have some serious reservations and questions about the car-trashing.
If the point of the event was to "reclaim the streets", why would anyone provide the cops with an excuse to shut the party down when they could, instead, seek to prolong the festivities further?
What kind of positive, justice-promoting message does destroying a perfectly good car convey?
To any observer (myself included), it was completely unclear whether the car destruction was an act of illegal vandalism (e.g. a car seized randomly from the street and destroyed).
Donate the car to a disabled city resident or someone in rural Virginia if you want to get rid of it, for crying out loud, don't smash it up in the middle of the street, catalysing the closure of a peaceful party, and leaving an enormous mess behind you.
This event was a source of embarrassment and infuriation on one level and complete perplexity on another. The whole party collapsed into a display of cheap, base, and ineffective symbolism.
I have never identified with that kind of nihilistic impulse. I don't understand why anyone would invest energy and jeopardise their safety and the safety of others for the sake of destroying something.
When you destroy something in the middle of the street, you have an obligation to pick up the debris (a rather difficult task when the debris in question is a motor vehicle).
The RTS London site says something to the effect of "Above all, never make transportation an issue by itself. Always connect it to the problems of the city, of the social division of labour, and to the way this compartmentalises the many dimensions of life."
How about connecting it to the fact that many people are immobile, isolated, and unable to move in and out of communities because they lack transportation? Ideally, the answer to that problem is a more effective public transport infrastructure that takes into account the needs of poor, rural, and disabled people. Until we have that solution, destroying perfectly good cars that somebody else could use is nothing short of insulting.
While the dancing was fun for its brief duration, the whole ordeal was by turns infuriating, stupid, depressing, and farcical.
There was a keystone cop dimension - officers two blocks away from the car didn't know what had happened ("we closed the street down for pedestrian safety" was one response, "there is a demonstration" was another, "there's a parade" was a third) - and an oblivious, punk fun component (a teenage boy in a black wool hat grinning wildly and jumping up and down on an overturned car as if it were an inflatable castle at a weekend carnival).
Thank goodness for stereotypes, right? I mean, without them, we wouldn't know how to behave.
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