Reclaim the Streets (RTS) began as creative activist group in London, but its tactics, blending party and protest, soon spread around the world. Merging the direct action of Britain’s anti-road building movement and the carnivalesque nature of the counter-cultural rave scene, RTS became a catalyst for the global anti-capitalist movements of the late 90s. RTS saw the streets as the urban equivalent of the commons. Proposal: the commons, in need of reclaiming from the enclosures of the car and commerce and transformed into truly public places to be enjoyed by all. RTS became most known for its street parties, which served not only as a protest vehicle against car culture but also as a prefigurative vision of what city streets could be in a system that prioritized people over profit and ecology over the economy.
The first street party took place in North London in May 1995. Using rave culture tactics, the location was kept secret until the last moment, and participants were led from a public meeting point through the subway to emerge at the party site before the police had time to gather forces. The event began with two cars crashing into each other. The drivers jumped out in theatrical road rage and began to destroy each other s vehicles with hammers. Meanwhile, 500 people emerged from the subway station into the traffic-free street that the crashed cars had blocked, and started the party, dancing, sharing free food and meeting new friends. From 1995-98, street parties evolved in complexity and scale as the RTS soon was spreading across the UK and the Western world. A global street party in seventy cities occurred in May 1998, coinciding with the G8 summit. A year later, a Carnival Against Capital on June 18th, coordinated by RTS and the People’s Global Action network, saw simultaneous actions in financial districts across the world, from Nigeria to Uruguay, Seoul to Melbourne, Belarus to Dhaka. Six months after that, a carnivalesque mass street action shut down the WTO in Seattle, an event that proved to be the coming-out party for the anti-globalization movement.