The Virtual Action Roughly twenty hours' work by half a dozen people got press, radio and (minor station) TV coverage for opposition to cars. Some of them were crying out for a radical critique of the government's plans, to "balance" the comments from the road lobby. The Guardian newspaper emailed us to demand we hurry up and put this on the website so they could lift a couple of paragraphs for their "The Editor" digest of things "published" that week. You can't do virtual actions too often, but at a carefully-judged moment...

19 July 1998

Protesters 'subvert' car ads

RTS to 'subvert' Ford car ads to celebrate unveiling of its Transport Green Black and Red Paper...

Anti-car activists from Reclaim the Streets (1) launched a London-wide campaign of subvertising (2) today, aimed at Ford's latest advertising campaign (3). The creative defacing of car ads is timed to coincide with the publication of the government's white paper on transport. The new message, plastered over Ford's Ka ad, will drive home the message that the only 'alternative' is the total abolition of the motor car and the development of ecologically sustainable transport systems.

'New Labour's much-touted Transport White Paper is finally due on Monday,' said a spokesperson. 'By all accounts it will be about as much use to the UK as the exhaust pipe is to the lung. Why is there no charter for those most affected by the car, ie. pedestrians and cyclists? Perhaps it's because these people don't figure so much in the balance books of an economy dedicated to growth at any cost...and if the M25 widening goes ahead, we can assure the government that it will have found its very own Newbury, with the one exception that this time the campaign against that travesty will triumph.'

Tomorrow (Monday 20th) RTS will reveal the hotly-awaited contents of its own Transport Green Black and Red Paper.

'Prescott's much-vaunted green white paper reeks of compromise,' said another RTS'er. 'It is a monumental cop-out that caves in to corporate car culture by selling out possibly the last chance we have not to betray the people and ecology of these islands. It is force-feeding a poisoned, asthmatic legacy to future generations, a legacy founded on exploitation and the fast buck.'


(1) Reclaim the Streets (RTS) is a decentralised direct action network seeking the rediscovery and liberation of the city streets and public spaces. Describing itself as anti-car and and anti-capitalist, it came to widespread public attention with the blockading and occupation of Camden High Street, London, on May 16th '95, a street party with free music, food and clean air replacing the usual traffic and pollution: public space reclaimed for the day. Since then there have been parties in Islington (1995), 10,000 people on the M41 motorway in west London in July 1996, 25,000 on the 1997's March for Social Justice/Street Party in Trafalgar Square (with the Liverpool Dockers), the Birmingham leg of the Global Street Party in May this year, and finally Tottenham and Brixton in June '98), as well as over 50 parties all over the UK (including Sheffield, Oxford, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge etc) and increasingly worldwide (including Sydney, Tel Aviv, Vancouver & Amsterdam).

(2) Subvertising - a mixture of subvert and advert - is a form of creative activism practised since the 70s. It involves the altering/subverting of an advertisement so that it reads as a critical message.

(3) The billboards and bus shelter ads proclaim 'London's Alternative Transport' and superimpose Ford's latest model over a tube map; another sees Hyde Park become a Ka silhouette. Activists will replace the image of the car with one of a bicycle as well as adding a copy of the Transport Green Black and Red Paper.

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