03 May 2012

Whose streets? Our streets!

Yes, only six days late I'm posting about Reclaim The Streets.

Last Saturday saw the return after a few years' absence of Reclaim The Streets, a guerrilla street party celebrating civil disobedience and the reclamation of public spaces for the public, by the public. During the early Noughties these were a regular occurrence in Dublin, normally taking over a busy city thoroughfare in a protest over the promotion of the automobile over cycling and people by city planners, and featured a soundsystem or two with a few hours of dancing in the street. Unfortunately these also often featured large numbers of unhappy gardai, resulting in 2002 in some rather brutal baton action for which, despite a lengthy trail, no member of An Garda Siochana was ever found guilty of using excessive force.

Thankfully Saturday's event passed off almost entirely without Garda intervention (they merely circled through the crowd removing cans of beer from folks), probably due to the fact that rather than shutting down a busy road it was sited on a pedestrian plaza beside City Hall and celebrated the reclamation of public spaces in general. I did hear some grumbling from folks at the start of the event of the "back in my day, we reclaimed actual streets, harumph, harumph!" variety, but after four hours of free dancing, food, acrobatics, face-painting and general merriment there wasn't a cynical face to be seen.

Except perhaps on the assembled members of An Garda Siochana.

The gardai aren't too impressed, but to be fair it is dubstep they're being forced to listen to
Reclaim The Streets, Dame Street, Dublin, Saturday April 28th
If wanton acts of civil disobedience aren't your cup of tea (which is disappointing, but I won't hold it against you), but you still feel an overwhelming need to take back your street in a show of community solidarity, then may I recommend this year's Street Feast, taking place on the 17th of June. Billed as "A day of local lunches across Ireland hosted by you and your neighbours - out in the street, in a local park or in your front garden" (think the type of street parties that our neighbours in the UK like to organise for royal weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and the occasional sinking of an Argentinean ship with the loss of 323 lives, only hopefully with a little less jingoism), it's exactly the type of display of positive community spirit that we all secretly wish existed in real life, but don't want to actually initiate ourselves for fear of having to talk to our neighbours.

The event was launched today on Dublin's North Earl Street with a flash banquet (like a flash mob, but a bit more civilized) by the Lord Mayor and Eamon "the guy from that party that used to exist, you know, the one that supported Fianna Fail and voted for NAMA even when they had a chance to reject it and save the nation from its current economic doom, the lad who used to be a Minister, no, not him, the other one, yer man on the bicycle, no, the other lad on a bicycle" Ryan, but we won't hold that against it because some of the folks behind UpStart are involved and the good people from Seomra Spraoi provided the food for today's Flash Banquet (as they did at last Saturday's Reclaim The Streets event - some people are just very, very nice).

Some people found the notion of a street party inSpireing (see what I did there)
Street Feast Flash Banquet, North Earl Street, Dublin, Thursday May 3rd
The reclamation and repurposing of civic spaces for non-commercial activity by the citizenry is an essential and incredibly positive act of urban civil disobedience. Writing in The New Left Review in Nov/Dec 1990 André Gorz said that:
"If a socialist movement does not focus on cultural, interpersonal and community life as intensively as it does on working life, it will not be able to succeed against the capital-realizing leisure and culture industry. It only has a chance if it consciously insists on the creation of expanding free spaces for the development of a many-sided, communicative, everyday culture and everyday solidarity liberated from commodified relations of buying and selling"
Since the last Reclaim the Streets more and more of Dublin's public space has been eroded and commercialised, with the adoption of UK-style "Town Centres" like Dundrum, that are actually privately owned and managed shopping districts where non-authorized, non-commercial activity is treated at best with suspicion and at worst as criminal trespass, where the citizenry can actually be prosecuted for walking on what were once their streets. For a good overview of what the future holds if this policy of the privatization of city spaces is further adopted check out Anna Minton's Ground Control for an examination of the nightmare of current UK commercialised city governance.

Anonymous fun with red tape
Reclaim The Streets, Dame Street, Dublin, Saturday April 28th
Now more than ever events like Reclaim The Streets and Street Feast are a necessary, positive message that should be embraced by the citizenry at large. A huge congratulations from us here at Booming Back to the organisers of both, and all who came along.

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