Global Street Party, 16 May 1998 - report



Here's one (of 8,000!) impressions of the Brum do:

Well, that selection of the fattest of the cats, the leaders of the eight most heavily industrialised nation-states on the planet were no match for the combined intimidatory power of the Global Street Party and the more sedate but more numerous Jubilee 2000 human chain. The news that Tony Blair was to lead his band of international ne'er-do-wells and their vast battalions (ie. hairdressers, jokewriters, media sycophants, spin doctors etc) of cronies to a sumptuous, secluded rural retreat to better ponder the perils of international crime... made absolutely no difference to the 60,000 or so who had a point to make that Saturday afternoon. When the polite but impassioned plea of the 50,000 debt relief human chainers had subsided, an altogether wilder and less conciliatory note began to be heard from the region of New Street Station, as pulses sped and sweating clowns were spotted making ready to laugh in the face of the G8 in the adrenalised melee.

Then suddenly at 4.30 the crowd (by now about 8,000) felt a tug towards the waiting road, and the reclamatory hordes poured onto the Bull Ring roundabout, the waiting police looking on powerlessly. A huge circle of tarmac surrounding a sunken market place was brought to a standstill as the partygoers revelled in their new freedom of the open road. For at least half an hour it was uncertain what would be our territory for the rest of the night. One tripod went up and came back down along with its occupant; another stayed up only to find itself stranded behind a police line; another staked our territory successfully, marking an endpoint beyond which all that could be seen were the hundreds of police vans from all over the country containing riot gear patiently waiting to be donned. Eventually we laid claim to half the circle and got down to the party.

A bangin' techno sound system encased this time inside a private car provided the bulk of the entertainment while at the fringes fire was eaten and odd passages of unamplified music were heard occasionally. A second system and various other props couldn't make it through the police lines. Nifty lamppost scalers had soon decorated and contextualised the space with banners reading "Protest is Hope" (underneath the G8 Joker), "Beneath the Tarmac the Grass", a huge red kitelike masterpiece with floating yellow tassles bearing the names of all the global street parties, and of course not forgetting that old favourite: "Reclaim the Streets". Other banners, like "Local Vibes Not Global Lies" for instance, didn't make it up.

Boxes of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber, some brought up to the road by market traders, became slapstick weapons, sailing through the air into police lines (on the odd occasion they were accurately aimed.) When twenty policemen moved in apparently to remove the sound system they found more resistance than their superior officer had obviously expected, and beat a hasty retreat. One slightly less hasty P.C found himself the recipient of an unexpected gift from a nimble clown: a perfectly baked and perfectly aimed custard pie. It's doubtful whether he'll be regaling his grandchildren with the tale of his long, dignified walk back to the safety of the police line, half his face immaculately smeared in creamy custard.

As dusk began to fall the party continued full pelt (as it were), some determined to have a good time in their temporary autonomous zone, others equally determined to have "discussions" with by-now riot geared-up law enforcement types. A white car abandoned hours before became the object of some fairly intense scrutiny, so intense in fact that it ended up on its back, but not incinerated. (The crowd was split between those who wanted to build a funeral pyre to car culture, and those who were worried either about safety or the impression it would send out.)

The Stars + Stripes and the Union Jack made a pretty pair as they were ceremonially torched atop a bus-stop. Then when it came time to depart for pastures new (ie. a local club), our seasoned diplomats negotiated with the police, the result being the safe passage out of the sound system. Thus the blessed system was slowly escorted off site and across town by over a 1000 people, all the way to the pre-arranged after-party party venue. That this procession departed unscathed by riot police was a real example of the power of determined citizens over a pushy police presence.

So at the club the celebrations went on until dawn. Press coverage was, needless to say, only concerned with occasional outbreaks of conflict with the police, and chose to ignore the significnce of the day's conclusive acts of transnational resistance both in Brum and clear across the planet. Anyway, the stomach-turning sight of the G8 leaders joining together for a chorus of "All You Need Is Love" close by that evening was more than made up for by the heart-warming vision of Birmingham - not to mention 37 other towns and cities in 22 other countries - reclaimed.

Lancaster people in Birmingham

About 40-60 people went down from Lancaster, but as lots of individual groups, so we didn't really meet up.

We got to New Street station about 10 past 4, and stood around, joining in lots of woohoooing, and trying to spot the coolest costume.

The RTS finally (spontaneously, it seems) "set off" at about 5pm, the roundabout right outside the station was taken, and a fair amount of duel carrigeway (I think, I'm not good on types of road) also. Tripods and banners went up, and the Police tried to push back the amount of duel carrige way taken, with some success. A game of volley ball was started up, and a sound system "appeared" out of a "people carrier" type vehicle and played a cool trance --> techno --> hard stuff --> drum and bass set, making the lower part of the roundabout jam packed with people throughout the afternoon. Druming, started out all over the place, and eventually congregated on one side of the duel carrigeway.

Paint and foam was everywhere, and a car which got stranded at the junction was slowly "decomposed" throughout the day. The bumble bee cafe delt out yummy food, and things were generally hunky dory. Their was a huuuge police presence throughout the day, often 3 or 4 lines deep. Towards the bottom part of the roundabout someone got pulled off a sign (after spraying it), and some stuff got thrown. After that, all the police at that end word head gear, which later progressed to full riot gear around 8ish. Other police were generally friendly, and listened to our ideas.

Towards 9 o'clock, the feeling of the crowd seemed to be that people were readly to move off, and the sound system tried to escape around one side of the roundabout, but failed. Around this time, their was a bit of pushing between the riot police down the bottom end of the roundabout and a couple of people got trunchioned. However, this was nothing like a riot, which some of the local papers claimed on sunday. The sound system turned round and headed off up the empty side of the duel carridgeway, with everybody crowding round it.

The police put up an extremely futile effort to stop people, with just two lines on that side of the road. They constantly moved backwards as the people moves forwards, and a few bottles were thrown, but none did any damage to either side. Everyone walked up round the side of the city centre to a club, where the sound system was unloaded, and people went inside, or dispersed.

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