Reclaim the Streets: The Film and Other Media Tactics

The Disorganisation

Reclaim the Streets (RtS) cannot be understood as a campaign, although some of its methods are very similar. There are now RtS groups in thirty cities organising illegal street parties. Most of these groups only exist for the event, and many of the activists are involved in local campaigns during the rest of the year. There is no membership or official line although many would like to see a wider global strategy. As a movement, RtS is only four years old, and it could grow in unpredictable ways.


Beyond its immediate goals (creation, joy, immediate intervention against the enforced absurdity of our cities, pleasure, defiance, freedom, clean air, an open invitation to community-), the street party has worked as a focus to unleash diversity and spontaneity, a platform for further, more effective struggle. A tactical conference where the subject becomes the message, as perceived by each individual. RtS groups do not stage events for the media; they are very aware of its power for recuperation and the danger in having a relation of dependence. Too many important campaigns have become commodities.


The notion of 'empowerment' is more important than a social or artistic definition. Its brief texts reject ideology, celebrate RtS' contradictions and shout for collective, insurrectionary direct action, denouncing all human relations based on domination. They are firmly rooted in the culture of civil disobedience, but the emphasis is revolutionary, mistrusting short-lived concessions.


The most effective means for the propagation has been oral: people live an important experience and then tell others about it. It's never recreated or enacted; the inspiration for true, unregulated Carnival is older than the system that represses it.

The message originates from a broad consensus achieved at meetings and through correspondance. A small, variable group of people who are supposed to be widely trusted deal with communications. As a result, the whole attempt at decentralisation is doomed, yet it appears indispensable when creating situations that are attached to a name. The origin authenticates the message.

The RtS web-sites haven't yet fulfilled much of their activist potential, such as their use as printing presses for the dissemination of texts and as comprehensive media archives (indispensable in the information war). However, they are useful for providing a global identity. Debate, libraries, screenings and free information centres are more necessary than any audio-visual presentation.

The sheer growth of dissident global activity, increasingly linked via the People's Global Action network, is creating unprecedented international collaboration. Globalisation produces common enemies. Until corporations like Shell or Monsanto are forced to hide under the names of numerous companies, they will continue to direct a focus of resistance.

The dominant system increasingly relies on ephemeral, much publicised crises to reaffirm social control and to keep their operatives ready for the unforeseen. The activist strategy of marking dates for co-ordinated international actions could be reproducing these crises. Independent media networks are far from being in the position where they can match the speed of corporate media. These crises are short periods of time where the levels of propaganda and indoctrination seem indestructible. The increasing reliance on the Web for communications and fly posting could be very dangerous now that states and transnationals are massively increasing the resources for surveillance, disinformation and propaganda activities. They own the line that you use to spread your free information and it can easily be disrupted or shut down in times of crises. Decentralisation is not just a political position, but a tactical necessity.

The Film

The idea started taking shape as London RtS was preparing a large action in collaboration with a group of sacked Liverpool dock workers. It was a new alliance that went beyond the tactical, and one that made the state nervous. It ended with riot police putting siege to around 15000 people illegally partying in central London, two weeks before the general election.

As the film partially shows, the event was a media disaster. RtS' own media was quickly defeated. 20000 newspapers were confiscated the day before, and a plan for a pirate radio did not take off. For weeks, the authorities had developed a fairly simple disinformation campaign, started within the group and then by placing articles in newspapers announcing a riot.

It worked perfectly. With very few exceptions, all the reporting on the day -'riot', 'murder', and 'police now in control'- came from one, unmentioned source. It was said that whatever had happened, from now on 10 million people would associate, if only in a distant memory, Reclaim the Streets with hooliganism or terrorism. RtS was in a difficult, unacknowledged paradox: to be able to effectively challenge a false testimony, one needs the truth, It can be more effective than propaganda, and it feels much better but it may also need to be as ubiquitous as the message that you are trying to counteract.

Not least, the illegality of the activities means that you cannot give the whole story. Months later, when interviewed for the film, most of the activists still refused to speak about the organisational failures or anything regarding planning, which are essential part in the diffusion of tactics.

In that week, hundreds of reporters contacted the office, from Newsweek to local gazettes. They were mostly ignored, thus losing a chance to spread some information on a global scale. London RtS activists generally refused to give names or interviews, sign articles or have one person appear as a figure head. News media, just like the police or a historian, needs to attach a name to a statement. It authenticates it and qualifies its relevance to the subject. By then, most RtS activists had already been through their fifteen minutes, and no longer accepted to embody the message.

The film, which took 15 months to complete, set itself to be a vehicle for the emotions that could not be portrayed in any other media. By its very nature, film is probably the most subjective means of representation. The camera is never objective, yet documentary film has a formidable claim to reality. More importantly, it is the predominant tool for social control, and if succesfully subverted, it can provide support to a movement facing an almost uniformly hostile media.

Agustin G. de Quijano

Sydney RTS:

Berekeley RTS(US)

London RtS

Lancaster RTS (UK)