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Wednesday, 1 December, 1999, 14:28 GMT
The group reclaiming the headlines
camden Camden 1995: Reclaiming the high street

With a burnt-out police van, Euston station closed off and a running battle between police and protesters - Reclaim the Streets is back in the headlines again.

The last time it made a mark was on 18 June, in the Carnival Against Capitalism demonstration which wreaked havoc in the City of London.

But while Reclaim the Streets is widely seen as a new organisation, it can trace its roots back to the early 1980s when anarchists first turned their attention to the City of London with the Stop the City and Bash the Rich protests.

euston 1999 Euston: RTS demo flares into violence
RTS first surfaced under its own name in 1995 with a demonstration in Camden, north London.

Their method of protest - turning "the streets" into playgrounds - became its hallmark of later protests around the country.

Thanks to RTS, no UK road has been free of risk of being turned into a giant sandpit or dug up for impromptu tree planting.

From inner city streets to motorways, RTS became a force to be reckoned with, albeit very difficult to deal with.

There are no spokespeople or leaders of RTS, an umbrella for a loose collection of groups, from eco-warriors, roads protesters and anarchist groups to campaigners against Third World debt.

In fact it prides itself on being a "disorganisation" in which everyone "can reclaim their own lives".

flag RTS Flag: Communism, anarchy and ecology
Its flag sums up the group's beliefs - green for ecology, black for anarchism, and red for communism.

But the main enemy is capitalism, represented in all its forms, including the car.

For RTS, cars are more than smelly things that clog the street.

According to its website: "The struggle for car-free space must not be separated from the struggle against global capitalism - for in truth the former is encapsulated in the latter.


It's a kind of rage against capitalism or against the modern world
Professor Peter Waddington
"The streets are as full of capitalism as of cars and the pollution of capitalism is much more insidious."

Michael Lessing of RTS said: "Our policy is to unite against global capitalism and just as capitalism has no conscience, we have decided to have a conscience."

Of the violence at Euston, he said the fight against capitalism included the "police force of capitalism".

"It would be better if people did not fight, but it would also be better if capitalism did not set people against other people, rather than co-operate together."

The lack of leaders has resulted in RTS being branded secretive, but in fact, it is quite open and advertises its weekly meetings with a phone number on its website.

What makes it new, according to Peter Waddington, professor of political sociology at Reading University and an expert on protest politics, is its lack of aims.

"With organisations like Greenpeace, you know what the objectives are, but RTS does not have a clear policy agenda - it's a kind of rage against capitalism or against the modern world.

carnival Carnival at an RTS demo
"It is a representation of discontent rather than a clear attempt to do something about it."

But perhaps this is where its strength lies.

"You can pitch for a protest which covers a broad range of interests and therefore a broad range of people," said Mr Waddington.

Perhaps with such a broad range of people involved, RTS would have trouble mobilising its supporters.

But 10,000 people attended the J18 protest in the City, causing more than 2m of damage.

There's a wide range of websites disseminating information on actions with RTS the British link in a loose coalition of groups called People's Global Action.

These came together, via the internet, for co-ordinated events like last year's Global Street Party in 20 countries in May last year, the first so-called "transnational" protest and for the World Trade Organisation protests which culminated in the UK, at Euston.

And while Seattle and Euston are still reeling from the WTO protests, activists including RTS is already planning a similar global action for May Day 2000.

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See also:
01 Dec 99 |  UK
Arrests as protesters clash with police
01 Dec 99 |  UK
From carnival to chaos
28 Jul 99 |  UK
Police to admit riot failings
21 Jun 99 |  UK Politics
City violence premeditated - Straw
19 Jun 99 |  UK
Police probe City riot
18 Jun 99 |  The Economy
Debt activists target City

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