This week the @ActivistPerform twitter profile uses a photo from a legendary protest that happened on 13th July 1996 – the largest street party ever – when 8000 protestors blocked the M41 motorway in Shepherds Bush (London).
This protest was planned by Reclaim the Streets, a global direct action network that used tactics of rave, carnival, blockade and occupation. Their protests sought to reinvent public space – disrupting the destruction of communities and ecologies arising from the building of roads – roads that were there to support the smoother flow of products and commodities.
The photo (reproduced below) shows a street party – the large figure in the hooped skirt was one of many huge pantomime dames moving around the reclaimed motorway during the party. Under her skirts were people with pneumatic drills, digging up the motorway and planting saplings in its place.
There were also bouncy castles and a beach for the kids (inspired by under the famous Situationist graffiti of May 1968 in Paris – ‘under the paving stones, the beach’).
There is a brilliant account of the nerve-jangling build up to the protest in We are everywhere. This is a book (published by Verso in 2003) which can be bought but is also available online (go to p51 for the account of the protest, written by Charlie Fourier) – http://www.weareeverywhere.org/
Also see accounts of Reclaim the Streets in the more recent Beautiful trouble: a toolbox for revolution. This is also available as a book or online – http://beautifultrouble.org/
Here’s a quote from Beautiful trouble on Reclaim the Streets –
‘with its music, wild costumes, liberated bodies, color and revelry, RTS created rebel carnivals. Unlike regular carnivals and parades, RTS never asked for permission, leaving the event open to the possible and impossible, turning the world on its head in true carnival spirit’
The photo was taken by Julia Guest – we think – and we’ve been unable to locate her to ask formal permission to use this. If anyone knows where she is – please get in touch.