Street Politics

A response to the media mayday...

Reclaim the Streets has again been caught up in a chorus of condemnation. May Days 'guerrilla gardening' action in Parliament Square, was the spark this time. The Sun used its language, 'scum', the Times its, 'terrorists', the Guardian, no different, 'incoherent vigilantes' according to George Monbiot, 'inchoate herbivores' according to Hugo Young. However, as ever, the media failed to provide basic information about RTS or the May Day action to allow people to make up their own minds about RTS. I am involved with London RTS, and would like, within the thousand edited words I have been given, to provide some basic information.

When the media talk of 'Reclaim the Streets', they mean one of several different things. Sometimes RTS means 'London RTS', an open group that meets weekly to discuss, debate and plan events. Sometimes commentators mean the loose national network of non-hierarchical groups and individuals under the banner 'Earth First!', of which London RTS is a very visible part. At times the meaning is the wider radical environmental movement or direct action movement, including groups growing their own food, or building their own houses. Lately RTS has been used as shorthand for anything relating to the words 'anti-capitalist' or 'anarchist'. What they really mean is rarely stated. How can anyone have a sensible analysis when journalists have failed to take the time to define even the subject of their 'analysis'?

London RTS has existed in current form since 1995, born out of the fight against the building of the east London M11 link road. One stated purpose was to 'take back those things which have been enclosed within capitalist circulation, returning them to collective use as a commons'. Behind this elaborate language is a biting critique of the way in which public spaces have become increasingly privatised: choked with private cars, colonised by advertising; criminalised if used for enjoyment or protest, and stolen for 'development'.

The theft of time and space by capitalism, and resistance to it, along with a fusing of green (ecological), red (socialist) and black (anarchist) politics has always been central to London RTS. The links between occupying streets, targeting financial centres and celebrating May Day then become clear. Nobody should believe George Monbiots critique that London RTS has somehow 'lost the plot', or mutated from some previous self.

London RTS uses direct action. This is not, as many commentators would suggest, a clever technique to gain media exposure at a time when competition for space is intense. Direct action is about perceiving reality, and taking concrete action to change it yourself. It is about working collectively to sort out our own problems, doing what we thoughtfully think is the right course of action, regardless of what various 'authorities' deem acceptable. It is about pushing back the boundaries of possibility, about inspiration, empowerment. It is about thinking and taking, not asking and begging. Nobody asked me if I wanted to work for 45 years as part of a low paid army to keep the rich rich, they just took. Why should I ask for my time back?

London RTS is leaderless. I write here as an individual. It purposefully lacks a party line, any official policy, any form of membership. People generate ideas, they are discussed and some are taken on, limited only by the time and energy people volunteer. Recent projects include producing thirty-two pages of articles by over a dozen writers in the form of 30,000 copies of a spoof Evening Standard newspaper called 'Evading Standards', and targeting the square mile in solidarity with the U'wa Indians of Coloumbia whose land and culture are being destroyed by the arrival of capitalism, specifically oil and finance companies. These and many of our other smaller actions are not mentioned by our critics - the media is interested in the spectacle of our large actions, not any issues.

Very occasionally a journalist forgets their day-to-day reality of producing a quick piece to keep the wages rolling in, increase the papers share of the market, keep the editor happy, massage their ego, or whatever the real motivation is behind their piece, and thinks about the 'bigger picture'. As Hugo Young noted in his May Day 'analysis', no government, corporation or institution can deal with serious environmental problems such as climate change, biodiversity loss, or the endless expansion of the economy on a finite planet. Or social problems like colossal poverty, both nationally and globally, or the drudgery of working harder and harder every year.

If London RTS has no blueprint, are we only 'anti-politics'. No, RTS and the broader radical environmental movement, as individuals, groups and social movements are testing, exploring and refining methods of expressive, participatory and radically democratic forms of politics. This is inherent in the way we conduct our meetings, plan our events, how we participate in, create and maintain our national and international networks. We are not replicating existing structures, but developing new ones. We develop our solutions as we attack the forces that are destroying people and our planet.

Where next? I hope London RTS continues to be a catalyst for radical social and ecological change (remember June 18th was an inspiration for Seattle). I hope other ways of organising society shine through as we tear down the stock exchange brick-by-brick. I hope we make people laugh with our cheek and creativity. We are nothing more than a bunch of people radically remaking the world, inspiring others to do the same. We make mistakes, we learn, we try new things. But we are not content, like those in the media, to sit back and ride out capitalism untill the fat lady sings. Are you?

post-mayday 2000

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