Reclaim the Streets first hand report
First hand report and commentary on the May 3rd 2004 Reclaim the Street party on Gardiner street in Dublin.
It's about 4pm in the evening and I'm writing this sitting on a step over-looking the May 3rd Dublin "Reclaim the Street" party, located on the intersection of Gardiner and Talbot streets, outside O'Shea's pub. This has followed from a march of about 700 people from outside the Ambassador cinema at the top of O'Connell.
I wasn't meant to be here. I was in the middle of working on another article for Indy Media on the events of the past week leading up to and including the protests on May 1st near the Phoenix park. I overheard on the radio that the RTS party was taking place, so I headed along.
The organisers have pulled a van up on the street-side and set up a fairly impressive sound system. The sun peaks in and out from behind clouds. A sprinkling of cops hang around the edges of the crowd, no doubt dozens more are placed a minutes drive away. I overhear at least one under cover detective on his mobile, checking in with another unit. Still, the level of official intimidation is minimal, though still present.
The crowd cheers and dances, waving arms as the music pours out onto the street. Two people juggle nearby, a girl blows giant bubbles, a feather-light beach ball is tossed around in the air. There's a lot of colour and movement. I yet again have to regret leaving my camera at home.
A woman with a notepad in hand sits down beside me. Turns out she is an RTE reporter. We chat a bit and she concludes that many people here are reluctant to speak to anyone they perceive as being "the media". I am in no position to verify or deny this, having not tried to formally interview anyone yet. But I do feel that in some ways this is a surprisingly typical slice of Irish society. It is no stranger to any of us. It is a group of people celebrating being free to have a party on the street. There may be a broad political consensus there as well, but primarily this event is what it says on the can: Reclaim-the-Street. There are some cliques here, but that is the same as anywhere. Welcome to the young Irish activist left, 2004.
A guy comes up to me and in an English accent asks me good humouredly "so what is the spin today? 'Otherwise peaceful protest marred by . . .'" He must be assuming that I'm part of the mainstream media. I find that amusing (and almost flattering). Give a guy a notepad and suddenly he's a journalist. I explain that I'm writing an article for Indy Media. He jokingly asks to see my Indy Media press card. I in turn jokingly "inform him" that there is no Indy Media press card. Finally, as an afterthought I add, tongue firmly in cheek, "well there is, the one in my heart". This also happens to be true.
I spoke briefly to one of the Indy Media editors. He put it to me that the road march towards Farmleigh house on May 1st followed by the confrontation between the protesters and the guards at the road block at Ashtown gate was a poor choice of action. He would have preferred to see a bigger protest outside the asylum seekers centre. The Woomera protests in Australia came up. I tried to make the point that the Farmleigh protest was a good symbolic gesture to call attention to the trend towards a "Fortress Europe", with a direct action of free peaceful movement of protesters. The aim I felt was to make our voices heard by the European heads of state in Farmleigh. The symbolism, Fortress Europe versus free movement of peoples was crystallised by the non-violent yet firm confrontation between the protesters and the full-combat-fatigued riot police. We argued back and forth over this. Then I tried to get us to agree that what we most need is a public space with facultative non-hierarchical organisation structures where the very questions like "where should we direct our activist energies and resources towards" could be most effectively and fairly debated and trashed out, leading hopefully to concerted action. We may be moving towards that, and Indy Media is one important ingredient. I think we may have found agreement on that.
I re-found my original vantage point and continued writing. A photographer comes and sits beside me. "I wonder if it'll turn violent?" he commented, by way of conversation. I look out at the crowds of people having fun and relaxing in the early summer evening. I sigh and reply, "not likely. And there are more than enough people around here to defuse it if it did anyway." I added that it's a shame there seems to be a general assumption that there will be violence, and that if there is none then that is the exception to the rule. He seemed to take my point. He then says, "pity they couldn't have had it somewhere like Merrion Square, so they wouldn't be alienating the public". First I am driven to point out that the name of this event is "Reclaim the street" and this place is clearly a street. If it was called "Reclaim the Park", then maybe Merrion Square would have been more suitable. Second, I don't see anyone alienated by this event, and beside if they are, maybe they needed to lighten up. Third, us here at this event are "the public" anyway. Finally, hundreds of people die or are seriously injured on Irish roads every year from car-related accidents. Just how many people will die at this "Reclaim the Street" party. Ammm, none.
This is the first time I have gone along to a "Reclaim The Streets" party, but I hope it's not my last. It has a political edge, but why not? In the midst of advanced consumer society, where we are encouraged to buy our way out of our alienation, here we party and can remember that there is another way to be. It might have the capacity to remind us that we don't have to be consumer nihilists, that we don't have to be alienated. It might plant the seed that we are people before being consumer/producers, target markets, demographics or whatever. And if nothing else it's good to breathe the free air, as long as it stays free.