A Street party of another kind. That’s how I remember my first Reclaim the Streets action in Leeds.
Over the summer of 1995 Reclaim the Streets actions had sprung up across the country. The first Reclaim the Streets activity in Leeds took place on a cold and clear December Saturday.
We were told that it was going to happen but not where. Only a few people knew this, the rest of us were just told to meet at the Art Gallery. As the congregation swelled to a few hundred, you could feel the excitement and anticipation build. We were taking a step into the unknown. We didn’t know where we were going or what we would be doing. There was already a party atmosphere.
We were split into three groups. One group went between the Town Hall and the Library. The Second went up the Headrow and the third, the group we were in, went up between what are now the Henry Moor Institute and the Light.
After a bit of marching around we turned on to Merrion Street. In between the two sets of traffic lights we came to a halt. Just in front of us a van had pulled up. The shutter rattled up and out jumped a load of people. They were soon passing scaffolding out of the van and within no time at all two 12 foot tripods had been erected. Over the next few minutes there was a flurry of activity. Soon there were carpets in the road. The street was full of people in colourful costumes. A settee and sofas appeared. A trestle table was erected and filled with food which was handed out free. Then the music started up and the party really began.
It was more than a party though. Reclaim the Streets, rooted in situationalism and environmentalism, was an attempt to challenge the way the car has come to define our streets and culture. It aimed to challenge the political and economic forces that are exploiting our dwindling finite resources.
Reclaim the Streets activities were also about encouraging people to get involved in direct action. For many direct action is about challenging the states power and authority. Philosophically many people believe that direct action is not just a tactic; it an end in itself. Reclaim the Streets was about enabling people to come together with a common aim and to change things directly by their own actions.
There were two more Reclaim the Streets events in Leeds, one was in Cookridge Street in May 1996 and another two years later in Albion Street, which was a much more violent and scary affair.
Were you at any of these Reclaim the Streets events?
What was you experience?
Looking down Merrion Street what do you see now?
What stories do you have to tell about Merrion Street?