Planning for this RTS had been going on for months with a group of organisers meeting on a regular basis. In the weeks before the protests this involved a few meetings a week as all the different things that needed to be organised for the day were sorted out. Dozens of other people helped out by spreading word of the party and by attending the fundraiser; a few weeks back that paid for the equipment, used on the day.
After the last Reclaim the Streets when the Gardai attacked party goers, arresting 24 and hospitalising others they were very much on the defensive. In the last weeks they were making increasing desperate attempts to contact the organisers and when these failed telling the papers that RTS would be responsible for any trouble on Sunday. Seeing as there was none this must tell us something about who was responsible for the trouble last time! The partygoers proved quite capable of looking after themselves and having a good time without the permission of the boys in blue.
Of course this is one of the central points of Reclaim the Streets. It is as much a statement about the freedom of people to organise themselves free from state control as it is one about traffic. As the leaflet distributed on the day said "RTS is not anti-car, we are anti-car culture". RTS parties are statements about the way the city and the street is viewed purely as a mechanism for allowing business to function and of extracting money or labour from the population. It's ironic how those attacking RTS echo this in complaining that the party might have delayed people getting to work!
There were several components to the RTS on the day. In the weeks beforehand a meeting point (top of Graton St./Stephens Green) had been advertised all across the city by posters and graffiti. In the days beforehand as the newspapers ran stories about RTS most also included the meeting up point. At the point on the day the organisers had divided the two sides of the road into a black group and a green group. This was to allow us to take different routes to the party point if needed. Leaflets were given out to people assembled at the top of the Green saying they should follow the flags that were the colour of the dot on the leaflet. They also gave a brief explanation of what RTS is and some legal advice. The back page had contact details for a range of campaigns people should be involved in.
Meanwhile a Critical Mass (cyclists) was in progress down at Heuston Station where they were demanding more bicycle parking spaces. This then made its way across town, also heading by its own route to the party point. Something like one hundred cyclists took part in this.
As the Critical Mass was getting near the party point RTS organisers on it contacted another group actually at the party point whose responsibility it was to initially halt and divert the traffic so cars wouldn't get trapped in the middle of the party. They in turn contacted organisers at Stephens Green and told them to start heading towards the party point.
At Stephens Green we triggered air horns to tell people we were about to move off and people with RTS flags and banners moved out to the front of the crowd and started to lead it down towards the party point (at Baggot St.). Meanwhile the road blocking group waited for the lights to change and then put a row of traffic bollards and a diversion sign across the road diverting traffic out of the party area.
Critical Mass arrived just after this was happening swelling the number to over 100 at the blockade point and then a couple of minutes later the head of the march appeared coming from Stephens Green. As the march arrived the sound system was taken out of a nearby van and assembled in a lane way entrance facing onto Baggot St. Within a few minutes we had music blasting out and the party could begin.
Other people were reading to carry out other tasks which were fortunately not needed on the day. This included a legal group in case anyone was arrested and a medical group in case the police injured anyone. People also brought and distribute free food, groups and individuals distributed free literature.
Spacecraft who are putting on an Irish adaptation of Accidental Death of an Anarchist based on the police riot at the last RTS staged the first act of the play on the street. Elsewhere on the street there were jugglers, skateboards and the unavoidable drum players. The crowd was mostly young but also included a fair few older people, parents with young kids and even the parents of some of those taking part. People had travelled from all over the country including of course many of the 'direct action' activists so there were lots and lots of informal discussions going on up and down the street with various ideas for the future being floated.
The police just had to stand back and watched the day's proceedings although we did have to put up with a low flying helicopter over head all day. They had obviously been told to leave their batons at home and even the dismounted motorcycle cops replaced their helmets with soft caps. One of the more amusing things was the protracted political discussion that went on between one of the people they had battered at the last demonstration and the senior cop present. As this went on more and more cops were drawn in until he was addressing six or more of them.
One thing RTS had learned from the last time was that we needed to set an end time in advance of the event and a method of getting the participants dispersed to avoid the guards attacking the crown once the numbers dropped. So at 6pm the music was turned off and as the sound system was dismantled we marched back down to Stephens Green behind the RTS banner. Some people stayed behind with bin bags and tidied up any litter left behind.
This RTS was a good success. Despite the scare stories being printed in the newspapers more people turned up then for the May 6th one. We demonstrated that, with police interference removed, we were quite capable of having a high spirited but trouble free day. The nature of the event allowed a lot of people to meet up with each other and exchange ideas, which will hopefully bare fruit in the future. Many of these discussions should continue at the Grassroots Gathering in Belfast at the end of October.
Critical mass assembled across from the escalator entrance to Connolly station at around 1.15pm. The mood was light hearted and there were many colours to be seen. The Armagh and Kerry supporters passed by the assembled cyclists singing and waving at us. Some even gave colours to the gathering cyclists and I remember that one person rode the whole way with an Armagh orange and white scarf on her head. The Dublin Cycling campaign where there in their bright yellow t-shirts, along with a superhero woman, a few white suited heads, some cowboy, couriers, and punks. Someone kindly went around and dished out party hooters to us all. At around 5 to two we emerged out into the traffic led by the Dublin Cycling campaign and TD Tony Gregory. We cycled up the ramp towards Conolly station and actually cycled into the station and laughed derisively at their one bicycle rack provided for one of the busiest train stations in the Country.
Then about turn and down off into the city. We decided to cross the bridge (Matt Talbot) and get ourselves quickly onto the south side. The GAA supporters were quiet successfully reclaiming the North side of the city and we left them to that. The route we took was up Dame street, South Great George's street, Angier Street, then off around the back of Dublin Castle to emerge into Partick street. On the way we picked up straying cyclists and a few kids on skates and skateboards. Our mass was growing steadily. Tourists, kids and pedestrians all gave us a great reception. Coming back down from Christchurch back into the city we passed the pathetic attempt at Car free day that was Parliament Street by the authorities. Some stand had been erected and a band played to bemused passers by and a few forlorn children had their faces painted. Meanwhile in our gang the kids had great fun skateboarding down a deserted Lord Edward Street hill.
When we finally turned onto Merrion Square and pulled into Baggot street at 14.51pm. we were at least a hundred strong. There was a diversion sign up on Baggot Street but it didn't apply to those of us on two wheels.
Immediately the Reclaim the Streets crew sprang into action. I legged it up a side alley to an awaiting pick up truck. In the back of it was a sound system that was quickly hauled into place by various masked assistants. A few minutes of frantic plugging in of leads and flicking of switches and finally after some expert assistance from one of the cycling jungalists from Bassbin we had some ropey sounds coming out of the speakers. Even the sound of the generator springing into noisy action was greeted with cheers. By the time I looked up from the mixing desk there must have been a crowd of 1200 people in the street. There were clowns, pranksters, politicos, punks, ravers, street performers drunks and hedonists. It was a huge crowd and they were enjoying their space and freedom under the shade from the trees of Lower Baggot Street. It was great just to be there on this one of Dublin's busiest streets and showing what a CAR free environment is all about. It's not about some corporate sponsored bandstand and some clown tying balloons for the kids. This was about people taking over a street and providing their own entertainment.
This was not being done for profits or for kudos or "brand recognition." It's about people having a party.
Some young woman came up to me and asked if I wanted a free hug. That's what it was about. People danced, people performed, people mixed and made friends. Declan, Krossphader and Dr. Groove, Nessa Johnston, Ross Carrew, and Psyence provided dj-ing from Bassbin. Every track was appreciated by one of the most enthusiastic crowds I've seen. Foghorns went off, whistles were blown and bubbles were blowing in the wind.
Spacecraft &endash; who are staging the play "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" all week in the International Bar in Wicklow street (6pm book to avoid disappointment) staged an act from their play up at the far end of the street watched by over a hundred people. People played with footballs and Frisbee's. An exhibition of Skateboarding skills happened at the other end of the street with kids leaping over bollards on their boards.
Artists went to work at designing and drawing banners right there. Others helped. Some people ran up an cherrypicker and hung a banner, which had the message that Streets weren't just for shopping. They're not just for a way of channelling traffic though the city either. The streets and the space have to be made available for the people of the city for other uses besides getting to and from work. Public space in the city is being evaporated and we have to fight to stop that from happening.
Finally - the music ended at just after 6 o'clock. The sound gear was packed up. People went around with black plastic bags and collected rubbish. All that was left behind as a huge crowd marched down towards St. Stephens green was slogans that had been painted on the ground. The street was opened to traffic and this morning it was jammed with people driving their cars, hassled and stressed, trying not to be late for their boss. They'll be unaware that yesterday for a few hours reclaim the streets showed what kind of future city is possible for a few hours.
The crowd ended up in St. Stephen's green and then all went their separate ways. As I walked down Grafton street and we passed by the assembled cops there were a few conspiratorial smiles from the fellow participators we met. It was a success. A snapshot of what direct action, willpower, organisation can achieve. A free street party where people displayed how truly inventive and creative they are.
Needless to say the day is not going to be front-page news. There was no violence. The cops behaved themselves and maintained a role of bemused spectators. That's not going to make the news. Neither is the fact that over 1200 people took over a major street in Dublin on European Car Free Day and showed what a wonderful city we could have it there was less cars and more imagination applied to the use of space in Dublin. That's not news either - but it should be.
[A Personal report from a Workers Solidarity Movement members of an event they took part in or attended, these reports are posted to the Ainriail list when first written] Note: Pictures are ultra compressed a week or so after they are uploaded to this site to save space on the server.
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