Lancaster Street Party, 23 May 1998

Lancaster Reclaim The Streets decided upon a different approach for their street party. The plan was to reclaim an area of the city centre directly opposite the Town Hall. Dalton Square is a civic space blighted by roads, what should be at the heart of the city, a place for interaction, participation and relaxation is surrounded by cars and poisoned by their pollution, whilst the bureaucrats of the council march past with their carefully crafted ignorance, studiously unaware of the needs of the community. We thought we might take it back, removing the barrier of the road which stands between the Town Hall and the square and creating a street for people to move between the two, without the hinderance of cars or bureaucrats. We wanted to reclaim Lancaster: our civic spaces, our Town Hall and most importantantly our streets.

The police of course had other ideas. Dalton Square was patrolled by police including officers from as far away as Manchester, police in vans, on motorbikes, on horses, they had even occupied a building overlooking the square and filled it with various evidence gatherers. In addition they had van loads of riot police parked up in support. Despite this, and random unlawful searches, people began gathering in Dalton Square from 12 noon onwards. The square was decorated with bunting, and banners, and an anarchist bookstall erected, food was brought in, acoustic music began and a dragon cavorted as kids chased it with gleeful abandon. Just as everyone began to enjoy themselves and realize the potential of the space we had liberated, the police came in. A number of officers pushed their way through people to where the bookstall was and demanded to search personal bags which had been left there for safekeeping. The crowd however held its ground, refusing to be intimidated, the police were forced to withdraw and the party kicked in again, this time with a local women's drumming group leading the way.

A short while later out of frustration with the increasingly intimidatory police tactics, (they had by this time arrested someone walking through the city centre with a record deck, and had seized a tripod being carried into the square) the dragon began to wander towards the main one way system followed by a procession of drummers and people in fancy dress. In seconds the crowd reclaimed the main road running through the city, traffic was stopped and the roads surrounding the square became streets again. At this point there was an attempt to bring a sound system into the square. The vehicle with the system was driven at by three riot vans, riot police jumped out and assaulted those attempting to protect it. The sound system was unlawfully seized and the riot vans remained in the square. Despite this totally unwarranted attack on a peaceful crowd, the party remained in full flow and continued to draw in more and more local people as word spread.

Later in the day, in a show of solidarity and collective will, a banner was hoisted at the front of the crowd, it simply said 'Raise the Spirit', an air horn sounded and we all returned to the square on mass. The statue of Queen Victoria in the middle of the square was climbed, a red and black flag flying from it. In addition to banners which read 'Reclaim Lancaster' and simply 'Reclaimed', was one that read 'More of this sort of thing'.

The police who had been continually frustrated by the will of those present took to picking people off as they dispersed. Four arrests were made, although the police later claimed to have made seven. The only thing, as ever, that they can be sure of is that there will be 'more of this sort of thing'.


And here's the orginal announcement:

Meet Dalton Square, noon

In sympathy with Global Street Party Day on May 16th, where cities all over the world have arranged to synchronise actions highlighting the dominance of cars in our cities and culture by holding Reclaim The Streets style street parties, Lancaster will be hosting a similar event at 12 noon on Saturday 23rd May.

The change of date is in part to co-ordinate with numerous other street parties around the UK to allow the largest possible attendance at Birmingham RTS/Jubilee 2000 actions centring on the G8 Summit in Birmingham on the 16th May, where it is hoped that around 50,000 people will converge on the 'second city' in order to express opposition to the world leaders' plans for increased globalisation, free trade and expanding markets. As we know, this in effect means the abolition of measures to protect the rights of workers, those in the developing world, and the environment.

The event in Lancaster, in Dalton Square from noon, is intended to combine as many diverse elements and people as possible, linked around the themes of celebrating the possibilities of car-free culture. There will be music, acoustic and electric, drumming and dancing, samba, juggling, face-painting, art 'installations, a vegetarian/vegan cafe, children's space and information stalls by local transport and environmental groups.

Please spread the word, bring along friends and family, and bring along costumes, banners, information, instruments etc on the day.

Further details: lancaster_rts@hotmail.com


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