What the papers said about Street Party '96
Guardian, July 17
Life in the fast lane on the M41
The Guardian, 17 Jul 1996
Jay Griffiths parties without reservation at the invitation of Reclaim The Streets
THERE are transvestites snogging in the fast lane, stilt-walkers partying in the slow lane, and parents encouraging their children to play in the overtaking lane. By a sound system on the hard shoulder, a 24-foot high pantomime dame sways to music, skirts billowing yards of pink fluffiness. Welcome to a typical street. Not.
The Street, according to Reclaim The Streets who organised Saturday's occupation of the M41 in West London, should, rightly, be "the city's commons" - an urban public space, owned and used by all. Instead, as an art installation on the southbound carriageway says: "Streets, once the open forum of daily life are now the open sewers of car culture." In today's cities, it continues, streets are "blank spaces which make everyone homeless- no crowds live in the street, and no one hosts the mood of the street". But for today, as one purloined road sign reads, there is a "change of priority ahead", Seven thousand people appropriate the street, reclaiming the urban commons. Seven thousand people host the mood.
"Call those bodies of men anarchial which are in a state of effervescence", wrote W S Landor 150 years ago. He could have been describing street activists today. There are bagpipers, firebreathers and lamp-post lampooners. Some are masked, many costumed, most feisty, come as you please, rude as you like.
One man recites a poem about anarchy from the central unreservatlon. A bewigged, bothered and bewildered barrister berates a car in a staged Car Trial. An eco Punch and Judy has four-yearolds wringing their skirts in pained over-excitement - It's behind yer." "lt" is the spirit of the earth" asking you to leave yer car behind yer, asking for a vision of such change that it will turn the world upside down; the shapeshifting vision of reversal.
Reverse. Go back to the pantomime dame in pink fluff. Under cover of the techno music is a steely noise. Under cover of the skirts is something quite other; four men and a pneumatic drill are digging up the motorway and planting trees. It is the spike under the fluff. For this is the nature of carnival, the order turned upside down, the political transvesticism, not shape shifting but shifting reversal.
The first road casualty is the road itself. The only others are party casualties. One man sleeps curled up in the yin of a yin-yang sign painted on tarmac. Nearby another sign records the presence of the Newbury "possee". You've got too many E's. "I didn't think you could have too many E's." ('Nough said.) Near the dame, painted on the road are fluffy purple dolphins. Next to it, the spiky message: Fuck The Car. The fluffy philosophy plays yin to the spiky philosophy's yang.
Your hosts reclaim streets and street signs. There is elegant semiology going on. Men In Cars Come Too Fast is a new traffic warning sign . No Through Road is a political observation. Diversion Ahead is pun and parable. The spirit of ironic reversal is the heart of carnival.
Leaving the party, you pass a line of wry but wary police: this, be it said, was an event marked by policing at once sensitive and self respecting. "Bye- bye," says a genial officer "thanks for coming." It is a gentle claiming of the role of host, but the real reclaiming is done; by those whose carnival vision has created a change of priority, who have hosted a new mood.
Trees planted in the fast lane at road protesters' party
Guardian, July 15th
Alex Bellos and John Vidal
ROAD protesters occupying a 3/4 mile stretch of the M41 in west London at the weekend dug up the Tarmac with a pneumatic drill as techno music drowned out the noise. They then planted two small trees in the fast lane.
Protesters yesterday described the occupation by up to 7,000 people and the road drilling under the eyes of police as the most radical and symbolic actions yet taken to make cities better places to live in.
"It is the first time a motorway has been occupied in Britain," said one man involved in organising the event. "This is a social phenomenon. All political parties should wake up the new mood in the streets."
But the party, which began at 2pm on Saturday and featured sound systems, live music and the mock trial of a car, caused at least £10,000 damage and serious congestion, the Highways Agency said yesterday. The motorway was closed between Shepherd's Bush and the Westway.
A man hidden under the skirts of a 25ft-high carnival figure dug several holes with the drill connected to a generator. He was surrounded by hundreds of people dancing to the music. Graffiti was sprayed along the motorway. It was the third and largest unauthorised London street party organised by Reclaim the Streets, which describes itself as "a net work of autonomous groups organising mass demonstrations around the country as part of a growing grassroots movement opposing car culture".
At least 3,000 people gathered at Liverpool Street station at noon. Leaflets were circulated advising people to follow anyone who had a pink ribbon or armband. Most people were led into the Underground while a rally of at least 500 cyclists set off outside.
Several hundred police were waiting at Shepherd's Bush, surprising the organisers, who had kept the location secret. After some scuffling, Police failed to stop a crowd of thousands from streaming into the area from the Tube.
Soon a long stretch of the motorway resembled a festival. People danced, stalls were set up and children played in about a ton of sand deposited on the road.
The road stayed closed once the party finished shortly before midnight. It was reopened at noon yesterday, after the Highways Agency made emergency repairs and cleared litter. A spokesman said it would close tonight from 9pm to 6am, and traffic would be diverted along Wood Lane.
Police said there were eight arrests, mostly for minor violent offences. Two people are to appear before Camberwell magistrates today charged with threatening behaviour and assault, and a man will be charged with affray and possession of drugs. The trees were thrown away.
Why I want to block the capital's roads
Evening Standard 16th July 1996
A new kind of road rage came to London's streets at the weekend, in the form of a street party in the middle of the M41. One of the protesters justifies his actions to MARK HONIGSBAUM.
PATRICK Field is the latest addition to a growing list of nuisances that makes owning a car in London such a misery. On Saturday afternoon, Mr Field could be found reclining on his "quad"-a low-slung fourwheel bicycle-in the middle of the fast lane of the M41 near Shepherd's Bush.
He had gone there to join the impromptu street party thrown by Reclaim the Streets, the anarchic direct action group committed to ending "the rule of the car culture". Thus it was that while 7,000 protesters danced and sprayed graffiti on the motorway until late in the evening, the rest of us were left to fume.
"What can I say?" says Mr Field "It's a war out there. We are trying to show people that the way things are now aren't the way they have to be. I guarantee that none of the people who were caught up in the action on Saturday will ever think of the motor car in the same way again."
The weekend's protest was the latest in a series of actions which began with the blockade of Camden High Street a year ago and was followed by similar blockades of Upper Street in Islington and Greenwich.
But this is the first time RTS - which calls itself a "disorganisation" to reflect its anarchic, decentralised structure - has disrupted a major motorway and represents an escalation of its campaign. What next, the M25 at rush hour?
Mr Field pleads ignorance. On 26 July there is a picnic protest against a new tripledecker bridge planned for the River Lea at Hackney Wick, but he says he is not part of the inner core of veteran M11 protesters who plot RTS's long-term strategy.
He also claims to have no idea who gouged holes in the M41 with a pneumatic drill the repair of which the Highways Agency says will cost £10,000.
Indeed, Mr Field claims he responded to RTS's call to meet at Liverpool Street on Saturday without even knowing the destination. "The truth is, I prefer not to know," he jokes. "That way you cannot crack under torture."
Aged 40, he doesn't fit the stereotype of a road protester. He doesn't sport a nosering or combat boots and fatigues. An occasional actor, who has appeared in The Bill, he opens the door to his rambling house in Dalston dressed in shorts and a T-shirt.
Although he works part-time as a consultant for the London School of Cycling and participates in most RTS actions, he isn't-surprisingly-opposed to cars per se (the other weekend, for instance, he hired two lorries to transport a load of sound equipment to Brighton).
It's just that he doesn't think car travel makes much sense, particularly in London where time spent fuming in traffic jams is out of all proportion to the supposed benefits cars were supposed to bring.
"It's movement without travel," says Mr Field, "We are so intent on getting from A to B that when we get to B we fail to notice that it is the same congested high street and city centre. These days, if you really want to get away you have to fly to Bali."
OF THE outcry over Saturday's action, he says: "The point is that if two petrol tankers had collided and overturned on the M41 on Saturday nobody would have given it the second thought, but because it was a street party there's this huge outcry."
On the RTS home page of the Internet, you can find other reasons why, in its opinion, the "great car economy" no longer makes sense.
"In 1969, 90 per cent of seven and eight-year olds made their own way to school Now the figure is nine per cent. The others go by car. It's too dangerous to let the kids go on their own - because of the traffic."
But, as Phil McLeish, one of the "disorganisers" behind the street party in Islington, acknowledged last year, human nature often flies in the face of such statistics. "When you start talking about the car economy people immediately take it personally, as though the only car you're trying to take away is their car," says McLeish.
My last memory of Mr Field is a blur of wheels and shifting gears as he pedalled his quad at top speed towards Dalston Lane while I, in a taxi, had to endure a traffic jam in Kingsland High Road and a frustratingly slow crawl back to west London.
Under the circumstances, I had plenty of time to contemplate his final words to me ... "The action on Saturday wasn't just a street party. Someone also had the foresight to dig up the road and plant some trees. That shows we are deadly serious."
Road protesters' party bars motorway
INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY, 14TH JULY 1996
The Reclaim the Streets organisation led its supporters to a site on the M41 at Shepherds Bush that had been kept secret from the police and most demonstrators as well.
There they barred one of Britain s shortest motorways, setting up sound-systems that pumped out high-volume rave music for road protesters to dance to on the tarmac.
The anti-roads group assembled supporters near Liverpool Street station in the City, then led them to Notting Hill gate station via the Central Line.
Activists had already set up 20ft-high steel tripods to block approaches to the M41 from the busy A40(M) Westway into central London.
Other organisers, wearing pink wristbands or ribbons told the demonstrators when to leave the tube trains and led them to the motorway. Police were unable to stop the demonstration because of the numbers involved, estimated at around 3,000.
Chaos as 5,000 join motorway street party
THE OBSERVER, 14TH JULY 1996
The street festival was immediately hailed by Reclaim the Streets campaigners as a triumph of people over the car. The southbound stretch of the motorway that links the Westway with the busy Shepherd's Bush roundabout was blocked with scaffolding just after 2pm. As protesters arrived covers were drawn back from two lorries that had pulled on onto the hard shoulder to reveal huge sound systems.
There was little that the 400 hastily summoned police could do but watch as events grew into something between a protest and a rave. Banners were stretched across both carriageways and children and old people joined the stilt walkers, fireeaters and thousands in fancy dress.
Cyclists rode north along the width of the motorway towards central London, blocking vehicles. Periodically they would move aside to allow some traffic through.
Not all the trapped drivers were amused. `I think this is bloody stupid,' said Joyce Mann, delayed for 40 minutes at Shepherd's Bush.
AA Roadwatch said drivers had been advised to avoid the area or face delays of more than an hour.
Motorway is damaged after protesters dig up the road
DAILY TELEGRAPH, 15TH JULY 1996
A WEST London motorway was closed during the weekend after anti-car protesters staged a sit-in and damaged the carriageway.
Police discovered that holes had been dug in the surface of the M41, Near Shepherd's Bush in the early hours of yesterday morning after a demonstration that had blocked the road since Saturday afternoon broke up.
Contractors immediately carried out temporary repairs in time for it to be reopened yesterday.
It will remain open for this morning's rush hour, but further work will be carried out tonight. A spokesman for the Highways Agency said he expected the Motorway to be closed from about 9pm until 6am when traffic would be diverted along the A40.
He added: "We shall try and cause minimum disruption to drivers and will ensure that a traffic management scheme is in place."
The damage to the M41, at a cost to the taxpayer of thousands of pounds was not discovered until the crowds dispersed at about midnight on Saturday. At its height, the police said the motorway in West London had been blocked by about 3,000 campaigners.
The protest was organised by Reclaim the Streets and was billed as "the largest unauthorised street party".
Demonstrators wearing carnival clothes began their "party" at 2pm and blocked the road with parked cars and scaffolding before police could intervene.
Ten people were arrested; two were cautioned for public order offences and one was charged with possession of an offensive weapon and a quantity of drugs.
Contractors also had to remove a lot of litter and clean up graffiti.