road protests 1997
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Date: Wed, 30 Apr 1997 12:41:15 +0100
From: Road Alert!
Subject: Chapter 12 - Reclaim The Streets
hey now everyone's doing it
Reclaim the Streets
Across the world people are taking to the streets, demanding an end to
stinking concrete car culture. Direct action against cars, and for
increased mobility and safety for cyclists and pedestrians, can take many
The emphasis is on celebration.
CRITICAL MASS BICYCLE RIDES
These are gatherings of cyclists who ride together, en masse, taking
control of the road space. Critical mass is pure inspiration, for those
who ride and have seen their streets temporarily transformed from a
transport sewer into a peaceful space for the living. Around thirty towns
and cities in Britain have a regular ride, and the number is growing.
Spontaneity, flexibility and freedom are what it is about. It is not just
a demonstration, but people riding their bikes together, each with their
Making it happen doesn't require centralised organisation or leaders.
Just talk to likely people. Pick a safe
car-free meeting space in a central location, set a regular convenient time
(e.g. 5.30 pm on the last Friday of
every month) and then make some fliers. Hand these out to passing cyclists,
flypost them, put them in cycle
shops and on notice boards. Don't include names of individuals, groups or
any telephone numbers on the
On the day, anybody can suggest a route. Be ready to adapt and keep
together, even if that involves those at
the back going through a red light. If there are only five of you don't try
to take up the whole road as this will
be too risky. The police may ask who is in charge. The correct answer is -
NOBODY. Most encounters with
car drivers should be friendly, don't forget to wear a smile. Have leaflets
printed up to give out to pedestrians
and drivers explaining what is going on.
At traffic lights and junctions, outriders, sometimes known as "corkers",
can block waiting cars so that drivers
won't be tempted to drive into the critical mass. When you meet the odd
nutter, you'll usually do better with a
sense of humour and proportion than a hostile attitude. Whatever you do,
have fun and enjoy the calm
created by lots of push bikes and bells. For more information see Critical
Mass: How To (see Chapter xx), and
have a browse through the World Wide Website
Traditional street party celebrations were once a regular occurrence in
Britain's towns and cities. They have
all but died out; another casualty of the motor car. Showing how things
could be different is fun and inspiring.
Ideally, street parties can temporarily recreate a sense of community that
has been all but lost to the pollution
and danger of cars.
There are different levels of defiance. Community groups may want to
make a noise about traffic calming in
their neighbourhood by holding a legal street party. You will need to get
police permission, invite the whole
community and local councillors. If you are refused permission, keep trying
and then consider holding an
illegal party. If planning an illegal party, the location will have to be
kept secret to all but a few. Advertise a
meeting place elsewhere and then take people on a mystery tour to the party.
Location group - About four people who decide the party location. The
location must remain secret until the blockade is in place.
Blockading groups - These groups quickly put a section of the blockade
in place. Only one person in each
blockading group needs to know the location, and groups don't need to know
what the others are doing. They
need to liaise with their support group, and should acquire and store their
equipment in advance. There are
many different ways of blocking a road to traffic. For example, you could
stage a mock car crash, erect
scaffolding tripods, hold a critical mass or a pedestrian procession
carrying banners. These tactics will work if
the blockade is quick and unexpected. Other ideas might include street
theatre, redirecting traffic with mock
road signs or groups of people continuously walking across zebra crossings.
A combination of these, plus
your own ideas, should establish a temporary blockade.
Blockading support groups - These groups reinforce the initial blockade.
They assemble somewhere else,
waiting for a signal from the blockading group, before moving quickly to the
location. The police are likely to
be monitoring support groups.
Traffic redirectors - Deal with traffic until the police arrive.
Explain what is happening, suggest alternative
routes and invite motorists to join in.
Guides - When the blockade is in place, making the party a success
relies on getting a large number of
people there quickly from the publicised meeting place. The meeting point
should be a public space from
which a large number of people can move relatively quickly to the target
location, either on foot or by public
transport. Guides should be easily identifiable and their identifying
feature must be networked through the
crowd at the last minute. For example, a legal briefing leaflet distributed
at the meeting place could also
include a message saying something like, "Follow the people in wigs, holding
Press liaison - It may be worth setting a time and place to meet the
media. Press releases should NOT include the location of the Street Party
even if you embargo it.
Police liaison - This is optional. One person could take on the role of
approaching the police to give them
just enough information to keep them off your back. Don't tell them
anything useful, especially the secret
location. If they think they know what is going on, then they are less
likely to over-react. For example, give
them a finish time and tell them that there will be an army of litter
pickers. Use a false name. If you hear
anyone saying too much, step in and chat about the weather.
Mobile phones in each group are the ideal means of communication but be
careful what you say. Don't specify
the location until the blockades are in place. Consider using code names
for people and locations. Mobile
phones can be tapped and you don't know who is listening nearby.
Information leaflets will help to spread the message of what the party is
about. Separate, appropriately styled
leaflets for pedestrians and motorists are ideal.
Organise some legal support to advise on the legal implications of the
action and to take care of anyone
arrested. Breach of the Peace and Obstruction of the Highway are the most
likely charges if you block a road.
Prepare bust cards and set up a team of action observers.
Now celebrate the car free space and show its possibilities. Groups can
take on setting up a safe children's
play area, sandpit, cafe, music (acoustic and amplified), banners between
lamp-posts (for climbing them, see
lamp-post prussiking in the Appendix), street decoration (eg. painting, tree
planting), information stalls and
theatre. These things can take up to two months to organise, as you have to
book performers and persuade
them to take part for free. Be sensitive to local residents - think about
noise pollution and general disturbance.
ENDING THE PARTY
Tell the police (don't ask them, tell them) that the party will end at a
certain time - the music will stop, the
banners will come down and litter will be cleared. It is a good idea to
have a procession to somewhere else - a
park or indoor venue - where partying can carry on, or where people can
disperse. Telling the police this, may
persuade them to let you end the party, rather than them breaking it up by
force. Protect expensive
equipment, like sound systems, from being impounded by the police.
It is important to communicate clearly that leaving at a certain time
is the intention of the people who planned
the party - not a concession to the police. The end of the party is the
point where the police may wade in
heavily against stragglers. They create violent scenes which can then be
used to discredit what has actually
been a wonderful day.
Think about what state you want the street to be in when you leave;
impassable to motor vehicles, colourfully
decorated, a vegetable garden, or a beer can graveyard.
The above was written with experience from London street parties. The
largest party of 1996 saw 8,000
people reclaim, redecorate and plant trees in a six-lane motorway.
CYCLE LANE PAINTING
Painting your own cycle lanes on roads is a way of gradually reclaiming
road space back from aggressive
motorists. In London, various councils stated that they would create a
network of cycle lanes throughout the
city. When they failed to keep to their deadline, activists went out and
finished the job. Make a good stencil
from lino or cardboard, copy the official bike symbol and use the right
paint. Busy junctions and traffic lights
are especially good target areas.
CAR BOUNCING BONANZA
Radical pedestrians have taken to direct action against cars parked on
pavements. Choose a street near you
where cars regularly park on the pavement, make some stickers saying
something like "Pavements are for
People", and get bouncing! It takes about 10 people to bounce them into the
road. Be gentle on your backs.
road protests 1997
| road protests (current)
| movement links