- T. V. Reed
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On top of the aim of anti-road movement to prevent the construction of new motorways, RTS proposes a temporary blockade of those that already exist, trying to sketch out the vision of a city without cars. In the second party, tripods that can be dismantled only if the person who is at the top of them comes down are placed in the middle of the road. Thanks to this technique, some three thousand people dance in Upper Street in the London borough of Islington, without traffic, on 23 July In only two months, the number of people who took part in the first street event has increased tenfold. This influx of participants is related to the strong rave scene in the Britain of the s and s, which the Criminal Justice Act tries to destroy.
The RTS parties explicitly politicize the rave, taking place in a provocative form and throwing down a challenge to the authorities. Fundamental to this idea of subversive leisure is the tradition of free festivals, large countercultural celebrations that emerged in England in the s. The RTS parties also want to create situations that are fitting for a better world. The experience of being during the party is different from life away from it: ordinary norms disappear and people express themselves by dancing, playing music or making artistic interventions on any available surface.
The economic system of the celebration is abundance and generosity. During the Upper Street party an iconic image of achieving the impossible appears. On this occasion, the beach spreads out on top of the asphalt. This scene is recreated in one of the most famous celebrations, which takes place on 13 July In London, some eight thousand people dance for nine hours on the M41 motorway, after enjoying the rush of adrenaline that comes from collectively crossing a heavy police cordon.
The images of this party show us a floral banner and a great cloth sun, reminiscent of hippy festivals. Once again, the countercultural gathering produces a strong collective creativity, a kind of art brut of the party. In this context, spectacle is combined with the empowering gestures of direct action. In the M41 action two stilt walkers wearing eighteenth-century costumes and wigs walk around.
From above, the stilt walkers play bagpipes, dance and greet people. But beneath their enormous skirts are hidden various members of Reclaim the Streets, who drill into the asphalt and plant trees in the holes: the music and the general hubbub drown out the noise of the pneumatic drills. If the sand on the street had created a symbolic beach in the city, for Jordan this action of guerrilla gardening metaphorically turns a road into a wood.
In this party on the M41 a pink and black pamphlet is distributed which refers to English common land and its enclosure, a recurring theme for Reclaim the Streets and for many other groups:. We are about taking back public space from the enclosed private arena. At its simplest this is an attack on cars as a principal agent of enclosure.
But we believe in this as a broader principle, taking back those things which have been enclosed within capitalist circulation and returning them to collective use as a commons… Under the tarmac, the forest. It is about dancing on common land, to which the party tries to go back. Like many other countercultural groups, RTS dreams of returning to a natural environment. Planting trees in the road implies a metaphorical return of the natural, which comes back to invade the asphalt that has displaced it.
One effect of this road rave is that a group of dockers contacts Reclaim The Streets. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Company MDHC , which owns and administers the buildings and facilities of the port of Liverpool on the river Mersey, has sacked them for supporting a picket by striking workers employed by the firm Torside.
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In spite of the ideological differences which separate them from the London-based group, the port workers are fascinated by the power of an image of poetic subversion. The activists block the port and climb onto the roof of the offices of Mersey Docks and Harbour in a symbolic occupation that refers to an early action of the direct-action ecology group Earth First! The flag, an element of self-determination par excellence, emphasizes the idea of the Temporary Autonomous Zone. The diagonal composition can be seen as an adaptation of the classic red-and-black anarchist flag.
The colours black, green and red respectively allude to the libertarian, ecologist and socialist roots of the movement. Like an ascending ray, the zigzag design evokes sudden and powerful bursts of electricity, explosions of social rebellion and rave. On 12 April , just before the general election, Reclaim the Streets makes an explicit call for abstention, inciting direct action. The triumphant images seem to come from a revolutionary world, where the masses proclaim themselves owners of majestic squares and revel in their new role.
As with almost all activist events there are less joyful moments. The fierce conflicts with the forces of law and order situate celebration as insurrection, and vice versa. The party is turned into a disturbance with the collaboration of about a thousand police officers. That day marks a critical point in the criminalization of RTS events, as within a few hours a group of DJs is accused of attempted murder for driving their van near the police.
This violent character is not really in contradiction with the original objectives of the group, which is not opposed to certain kinds of violence. The British collective seeks to produce a popular uprising through the party — or, rather, it seeks to create revolutionary parties. Its website carries a reflection on the relationship between each form of collective explosion:. Conversely, popular festivities have always been looked on by the authorities as a problem, whether they have banned, tolerated or semi-institutionalized them.
Why does power fear free celebration? Could it be something to do with the utopian urges which seize a crowd becoming aware of its own power?
T. V. Reed
Reclaim the Streets does not define itself as a non-violent group. The destruction of private property and defensive violence have a symbolic function for the collective. Indeed, the acronym RTS sounds similar to the word riots.
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Jordan believes in the power of an ambiguous image, sitting in between the organization of a party and the organization of disturbances. From the very beginning, Reclaim The Streets seeks the expansion of the street raves, and proposes ten steps that anyone can adapt to their own party During the autumn and winter of — parties are self-organized independently of the originating collective. The name of the group comes to designate a practice that is accessible to everyone.
In parties to reclaim the streets start to take place in other countries. At the end of the decade this propagation gives way to ubiquity. The horizontally functioning network starts to organize global anti-capitalist days of action. Local dissident groups organize collective dances in sixty countries across the globe. Through the party, anti-capitalist movements for the first time start to co-ordinate internationally in their demand for a change of system.
The second global street party follows the same plan and takes place while the G8 gathers in Cologne on 18 June The Reclaim the Streets group organizes, collectively and through assemblies, the parties in London. For the event, masks in green, black, red and gold are printed.
Three of the colours are related to the ideological components of Reclaim the Streets as reflected in its flag. Gold refers to the environment in which the party is celebrated — on this occasion dancing in the headquarters of money. On the reverse side of the mask, one can read a text that is partly plagiarized from Subcomandante Marcos, who proclaimed self-determination in in the Mexican jungle of Chiapas, with his mythical black balaclava. This speaks about the hiding of identity:.
Those in authority fear the mask for their power partly resides in identifying, stamping and cataloguing: in knowing who you are. But a Carnival needs masks, thousands of masks… Masking up releases our commonality, enables us to act together… During the last years the power of money has presented a new mask over its criminal face. Disregarding borders, with no importance given to race or colors, the power of money humiliates dignities, insults honesties and assassinates hopes. The meeting place for 18 June is the Liverpool Street underground station, where masks are distributed.
Among the thousands of people who turn up are four giant-headed carnival figures, in now familiar colours: one is green, another is red, a third is black and the fourth is gold. Each one represents a social movement and corresponds with a colour of the masks of rebellion.
When music from the film Mission: Impossible starts to play, the crowd must divide itself according to mask colour and follow the corresponding giant-headed figure. When the moment arrives, the music cannot be heard above the general noise, so they use flags and launch a firework. The four groups form themselves in a somewhat chaotic fashion, mixing up their colours: each one follows a different route towards the same place. One of them gets lost and improvises its party in a different place. The building is surrounded by a multitude that enjoys the impunity granted by carnival: many cover their faces against viewing by hundreds of surveillance cameras, which record their own video clips of this day of music.
In fact, a large number of these devices are covered over at the start of the day, when a whole series of actions designed to shut down the City on a working Friday kicks off. This is accompanied by the now classic interruption of motorized traffic: that day some seven hundred cyclists from the Critical Mass group impede the progress of cars with their synchronized pedalling. Although once inside the LIFFE building the activists do no manage to get into the commercial areas, the building is completely evacuated for the day.
While the demonstrators enter the seats of financial power, the street is left marked by various interventions that add new iconographic elements to the City, altering an aesthetic normally governed by the rhythms of stock market trading. Some of the actions have an iconoclastic character. Others are related to imagery of utopia and liberation.
Already in the entrance to the Liverpool Street underground station, the Food not Bombs network gives out free food, an action that is consistent with the moments of abundance and freeness that represent the best tradition of RTS. Towards four pm a fire hydrant is opened, the idea being to symbolically unearth a river, the Walbrook, which runs silently beneath the City. While the revellers refresh themselves in the shower of water, there is a surge of images that display the explosion of liberty and the eroticism of wet bodies. A moment of a couple kissing in this jet of water becomes famous.
Bringing to light something that flows beneath the earth evokes the emergence of the occult, the liberation of the repressed.
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It is easy to assume that John Jordan is one of the people behind this constructed situation. When this idea is proposed at the RTS assembly, someone remarks that it seems like an environmental-art project and John Jordan feels he has been exposed. But nobody gives it much attention: to free the river is seen as an act of revolt, not as a work of art, and for that reason the idea can go ahead. Not sure yet?
Find out more about the books! Get Involved News Donate. Search for:. New website coming soon! In the meantime, check out the latest version of our toolkit at beautifulrising. Beautiful Trouble. Common Uses To mourn the death of a public hero; to link a natural disaster or public tragedy to a political message; to protest the launch of a war. Key Principle at work Use the power of ritual Compared to the average political event, a ritual is expected to have a certain gravitas, a higher level of emotional integrity, even a transcendent quality for participants.
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