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This Day in Resistance History: 1998 Reclaim the Streets Global Day of Action

May 16, 2012

On May 16, 1998 people all across the globe took to the streets, not just to protest, but to reclaim the streets.

The Reclaim the Streets (RTS) movement has been around since at least 1991, but by 1998 it had become a global forum of direct action.

The original Reclaim the Streets action was a way for people to reclaim streets from cars and other fossil fuel-based vehicles. People were becoming more aware of how deadly car culture had become and they wanted to resist the power that cars have in our communities by taking over busy roads and intersections to say, “the streets belong to people, not cars.”

By 1998, the Reclaim the Streets actions had evolved to include more than just resistance to cars, but as a way of protesting corporate globalization and capitalism. The hyper-commercialism of public space and the privatization of public space was alienating to a growing number of people, so the reclaiming of public space, like streets, was one way for people to say that “global capital does not rule us!

Since 1998, people have used a reclaim the streets tactic as a way to draw attention to other forms of ecological destruction, to protest war, racism, police brutality, violence against women, hate crimes against members of the LGBTQ community and discrimination directed at immigrants.

In fact, people began to use road intersections to talk about and creatively dramatize the intersectional nature of justice issues. People began to do street theater to draw attention to how ecological destruction disproportionately impacts women or to show how economic gentrification impacts communities of color and queer youth.

However, beyond using the streets as a forum to protest or dramatize an injustice, the Reclaim the Streets Movement has also been about the social and cultural importance of play and spontaneous celebration. For many people who have participated in a Reclaim the Streets action it has been exhilarating to just be able to be in the street without worrying about being hit by a car, to just dance, beat on a drum or embrace other humans who want to reclaim their humanity by reclaiming a road, a parking lot or street intersection.

How wonderful it is to see people talking in the streets, to see bicyclists, people on stilts, people in drag, people juggling, children using chalk to make images on the pavement, with music and dancing setting the tone for the action.

In 1998, over a million people took part in the Reclaim the Streets Global Day of Action. People took over streets in London, the Netherlands, Prague and Berkley, where 700 people reclaimed the streets.

On this day is resistance history, let us not only remember these kinds of actions……let’s continue to engage in them wherever we are!

The following video is from the 1998 Reclaim the Streets Action in London.

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