Global Street Party, 16 May 1998 - report


Today [18 April], around 200 people occupied Charles street in the first ever Reclaim the Streets Party to be held in North America. The elements were with us: it was pouring rain in the rain forest of Vancouver!

The people first gathered in the nearby Grandview Park to celebrate anti-corporate Earth Day, when suddenly the Food Not Bombs truck showed up, slowly going down the street that was to be freed from traffic, noise, pollution and capitalist control. That was the signal that the party could start.

In less than a few minutes, a huge "Reclaim the Street" banner unfolded across the street while an old rusty car was pushed at the other end of the street to block vehicles from entering the block. Orange traffic cones, signs, car bumpers specially decorated for the event, sofas, barrels, drums, and boxes of free food magically appeared on the street, drawing the crowd that had gathered in the park onto the street. All the energy that was flowing around in the park crystallized into a mass movement to reclaim public space from the enclosed private arena and challenge the centers of power and wealth.

Free food, music, laughter, play and colors replaced the sterility and uniformity of corporate consumer culture. The street, usually a mere metal conduit driven by greed and speed, was turned into a dance floor, a dining room, a theater, a play ground for people to enjoy life and assert the beauty of community. At first, the people ate and listen to the drums, guitars and the trumpet. A fake British policeman was chasing people playing hackeysack and tried to beat them with his stick. But the players ran faster and made the policeman look ridiculous. Among the now empty food boxes, a little green fairy with a hat covered with flowers was jumping here and there. She was later followed by a couple of black bears and the Lorax himself, who told us about the current ecological nightmare happening in the region.

The festival was disturbed by a few car drivers who seemed very frustrated to see people celebrating and dancing together. They tried to drive through the crowd.... unsuccessfully. As for the police, they watch from a distance, in undercover vehicles, and let us finish the party without any problem. One of them tried to arrest a few people who were cleaning up the street afterwards, for "stolen property", but finally stopped harrasing. The alleged stolen property was a few traffic cones and city signs.

Once the party was over, the sun started shining again over the city. The street had been liberated from concrete and gasoline for an hour. It had been full of life, culture, genuine communication, pleasure, and curiosity. It was happy.

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