Reclaim The Streets Reports: Oxford/Sydney 97/8|
(courtesy of RTS)
The day started off with a student march, at which there was a very heavy police presence, including police horses. Anyway the street party was advertised there and many expressed interest. Around noon people started gathering at the meeting point, South Parks. The police had D-locked all but one of the entrance shut so as "to be able to keep control better". At the same time many police started arriving and showing their strength with their favourite helicopter hovering above, while reports were coming in saying that both the alternative powered sound systems had been turned away when trying to get into the city, and that Rinky Dink had been escorted out of the county.
It later turned out that police had used two motorcycles and a high speed pursuit vehicle to capture a camper van towing Sparky, Greenpeace's mobile mini-solar rig: after cautiously following the van around the ring road the police escort eventually gained courage to seize the outlaws (I think its the first time police have at a street party used anti-rave legislation- s63 CJPOA 1994) and keep them out of the 5 mile exclusion zone, though they gave the vehicle free parking at their police station for the day so that the driver could get to the party, and one of the officers, being a camping van enthusiast, offered to swap some spare parts!
At about 1pm the police noticed a old car that was apparently going to be trashed on the street and that had some equipment for a sound system in. When they tried to take it away some people rushed up to it and the police immediately arrested them for obstruction of a police officer (a non-arrestable offence under s24 PACE!), one gave me hassle and demanded my name and address as I was handing out leaflets and was therefore an organiser. The police were blocking many of the streets and suddenly there was a charge through a back yard. The police then blocked off the exit and some people including Green County Councillor Sushila Dhall, negotiated with the police who offered us Morrell Avenue to have a party on, which was a crap idea. Instead the crowd sensibly made a dash towards Cowley Road.
Part of the road was quickly taken and the police blocked off both ends. A bit later a red van came along, after we had moved up the road away from town. As it had the sound system in, people moved round to protect it. Suddenly there was a mounted police charge, with ground support into the ground. One woman was trampled on, the dragon got its head severed and I was hit by a horse, then I heard "get this one", had my T-Shirt ripped, rucksack ripped open, pulled away by my hair, and there were a lot of people shouting and crying, particularly the kids there. The police suddenly left; someone said that the reason they charged was that they were scared we wanted to use the van to charge through their line and kill their officers (Trafalgar square attempted murder stylee- yeah right), and when they found that it was just a soundsystem they left.
The sound system took so long to set up that someone put a penalty charge notice on their windscreen with the words "You have been fined the sum of £23.23 for loitering with the intent of lunching out setting up the sound system. Signed Chief-Super Pig". In the mean time there was some acoustic activity and ecotrip set up selling their usual burgers and giving out information. The rig was a local one without much experience but when it did set itself up ok there was a big movement towards it and an kicking party started, with hard house and tekno, etc.
The great thing about Cowley Road is that it's full of people up for a party and the local shops loved it, while people danced on the low roofs along the side of the street: while there were a lot of up-for-it ravers, there were also crusties, middle aged, ethnic minorities, pensioners, etc, giving it a real sense of community, as its the only time you really see the area partying together in the common space of a street reclaimed from traffic, and this bit relay made it for me. There were a few kids playing at the kids area, but as was pointed out to the police officer liasing with us when he asked why there weren't more, parents aren't exactly going to want to take their kids through two lines of police and police horses.
The police remained in line form at both ends ("so that we can do the can-can" said one of the few officers able to answer back/with a sense of humour), as a bargaining tool and to try to show their authority- classic police tactics. They later threatened to charge unless we stopped playing dance music (or rather, in legal terms, s63 CJPOA 1994, sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats), so a couple of bands, including Casey Neil from the US and Silas, played using the pedal powered generator, while others danced to the drumming, next to the police in their fashionable UV jackets (not quite mate), others smoking spliff just two meters from the police line! Numbers did dip at this time, along with the temperature, from a peak of about 750, and just before the agreed deadline of 7pm the music stopped. Things were cleared up quickly with random people joining the litter pick-up so that all that remained when the street opened was the shit from the police horses. Those that remained till the end had the amusement of watching police attempting to march in two lines up the street, splitting to allow space for their horses, and then march back and line it to stop us stopping the traffic.
Soon after a dense fog descended and London RTS joined us for a curry on the Cowley Road which was really nice. It was agreed that this was the worst battle for a street in the UK that we'd won, the worst having been in Brighton when a street was never taken. The police presence, which was what one would expect for a football riot not a peaceful demonstration (don't forget there were only 3 police at last year's party), was described as "far too large and far too confrontational" by one of the local Green councillors, and the Green Group will be making complaints on the County Council Police Liason group.
First RTS Sydney was a TOTAL success, 2000 - 3000 people there during party. Three huge bamboo tripods, painted in fluoro orange stripes, blockaded Enmore Road, along with borrowed Roads and Transport Authority barriers. 40 marshals in fluoro safety vests re-routed traffic around site, including government buses - with full police co-operation, once the spontaneous road seizure operation was triumphantly locked down. Sound system was in a huge metallic art-installation tower on wheels, rolled into the street like medieval siege equipment. Two cars, without engines, fitted with metal yokes and art-directed as anti-corporate sculptures were hauled by people into the site. A Permaculture garden were constructed in the middle of the road. Local businesses (except CALTEX service station!) reported exceptional trade, due to increased pedestrian flow.
Mainstream media coverage was positive and thorough. A working group is being established to ensure that the road we liberated is regularly closed down to car/truck traffic for people space, with support of the local council, traders, police and community groups.
We are already planning RTS II! Next time, let's work more on live hook-up between simultaneous RTS parties concept. Media out here loved concept of things going off in different countries.
Reclaim the Streets, PO BOX 9656, London N4 4JY. 0171 281 4621
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