RTS on Baggot St. a great success

Motor cycle cop in Dublin IrelandSundays (Sept 22nd 2002) Reclaim the Streets was a great success. Over 1,000 people took part in the four-hour party. Despite attempts by the Gardai to whip up a panic because the organisers refused to meet with them in advance of the party the day was trouble free and very good humoured.

Planning for this RTS had been going on for months with a group of organisers meeting on a regular basis. In the weeks before the protests this involved a few meetings a week as all the different things that needed to be organised for the day were sorted out. Dozens of other people helped out by spreading word of the party and by attending the fundraiser; a few weeks back that paid for the equipment, used on the day.

Reclaim the Streets banner in Dublin
Pic: RTS banner in Baggot st

After the last Reclaim the Streets when the Gardai attacked party goers, arresting 24 and hospitalising others they were very much on the defensive. In the last weeks they were making increasing desperate attempts to contact the organisers and when these failed telling the papers that RTS would be responsible for any trouble on Sunday. Seeing as there was none this must tell us something about who was responsible for the trouble last time! The partygoers proved quite capable of looking after themselves and having a good time without the permission of the boys in blue.

music decks at RTS street party
Dancing in the streets at RTS in Dublin

Pic:The decks and dancing in the streets

Of course this is one of the central points of Reclaim the Streets. It is as much a statement about the freedom of people to organise themselves free from state control as it is one about traffic. As the leaflet distributed on the day said "RTS is not anti-car, we are anti-car culture". RTS parties are statements about the way the city and the street is viewed purely as a mechanism for allowing business to function and of extracting money or labour from the population. It's ironic how those attacking RTS echo this in complaining that the party might have delayed people getting to work!

There were several components to the RTS on the day. In the weeks beforehand a meeting point (top of Graton St./Stephens Green) had been advertised all across the city by posters and graffiti. In the days beforehand as the newspapers ran stories about RTS most also included the meeting up point. At the point on the day the organisers had divided the two sides of the road into a black group and a green group. This was to allow us to take different routes to the party point if needed. Leaflets were given out to people assembled at the top of the Green saying they should follow the flags that were the colour of the dot on the leaflet. They also gave a brief explanation of what RTS is and some legal advice. The back page had contact details for a range of campaigns people should be involved in.

Meanwhile a Critical Mass (cyclists) was in progress down at Heuston Station where they were demanding more bicycle parking spaces. This then made its way across town, also heading by its own route to the party point. Something like one hundred cyclists took part in this.

Critical Mass at Heuston station in Dublin
Pic: Critical Mass at Heuston station

As the Critical Mass was getting near the party point RTS organisers on it contacted another group actually at the party point whose responsibility it was to initially halt and divert the traffic so cars wouldn't get trapped in the middle of the party. They in turn contacted organisers at Stephens Green and told them to start heading towards the party point.

At Stephens Green we triggered air horns to tell people we were about to move off and people with RTS flags and banners moved out to the front of the crowd and started to lead it down towards the party point (at Baggot St.). Meanwhile the road blocking group waited for the lights to change and then put a row of traffic bollards and a diversion sign across the road diverting traffic out of the party area.

Baggot street
Pic:Crowd just after arriving in Baggot street

Critical Mass arrived just after this was happening swelling the number to over 100 at the blockade point and then a couple of minutes later the head of the march appeared coming from Stephens Green. As the march arrived the sound system was taken out of a nearby van and assembled in a lane way entrance facing onto Baggot St. Within a few minutes we had music blasting out and the party could begin.

Other people were reading to carry out other tasks which were fortunately not needed on the day. This included a legal group in case anyone was arrested and a medical group in case the police injured anyone. People also brought and distribute free food, groups and individuals distributed free literature.

Spacecraft who are putting on an Irish adaptation of Accidental Death of an Anarchist based on the police riot at the last RTS staged the first act of the play on the street. Elsewhere on the street there were jugglers, skateboards and the unavoidable drum players. The crowd was mostly young but also included a fair few older people, parents with young kids and even the parents of some of those taking part. People had travelled from all over the country including of course many of the 'direct action' activists so there were lots and lots of informal discussions going on up and down the street with various ideas for the future being floated.

Spacecraft do Accidental death of an anarchist by Fo
Pic: The play in Progress

The police just had to stand back and watched the day's proceedings although we did have to put up with a low flying helicopter over head all day. They had obviously been told to leave their batons at home and even the dismounted motorcycle cops replaced their helmets with soft caps. One of the more amusing things was the protracted political discussion that went on between one of the people they had battered at the last demonstration and the senior cop present. As this went on more and more cops were drawn in until he was addressing six or more of them.

Talking to the cops
Pic: Telling it like it was

One thing RTS had learned from the last time was that we needed to set an end time in advance of the event and a method of getting the participants dispersed to avoid the guards attacking the crown once the numbers dropped. So at 6pm the music was turned off and as the sound system was dismantled we marched back down to Stephens Green behind the RTS banner. Some people stayed behind with bin bags and tidied up any litter left behind.

Baggot st in Dublin at RTS
Pic: Marching back to Stephens Green

This RTS was a good success. Despite the scare stories being printed in the newspapers more people turned up then for the May 6th one. We demonstrated that, with police interference removed, we were quite capable of having a high spirited but trouble free day. The nature of the event allowed a lot of people to meet up with each other and exchange ideas, which will hopefully bare fruit in the future. Many of these discussions should continue at the Grassroots Gathering in Belfast at the end of October.

Baggot st RTS protest
Pic: Another view of the crowd in Baggot st

WORDS Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )


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