In the months prior to June 18 1999 -- the day on which Reclaim The Streets-style protests against the G8 Nations took place all over the world -- the Lower East Side Collective transformed its "Reclaim The Streets" subgrouping into an apparently autonomous group called "Reclaim The Streets." In so doing, the LESC completely falsified the meaning of Reclaim The Streets, which is an action taken by many autonomous groups working in tandem, and not a group or an organization that works monolithically or on a mass scale. This falsification clearly helps the LESC build its own "Collective," as was made crystal clear just a few hours after the Reclaim The Streets-style protest held in New York City on June 18 1999.
In a press release dated 11 pm, June 18, 1999, Steve Duncombe, a hierarch in both the LESC and in the so-called RTS group, wrote the following:
New York: 37 people--including 2 high schoolers--were arrested today, Friday, June 18th, in a non-violent street carnival organized to protest the annual meeting of the Group of Eight (G8) economic superpowers. For nearly 2 hours, 500 costume clad protesters took over the streets, tying up traffic in New York City's Financial District and rallying in front of the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street. Protesters danced to the pirate radio signal of 5000 watt mobile sound system. When the police seized the amplifier, the beat was carried on by portable radios and people drumming on 55 gallon steel drums. The first 5 people were arrested as they attempted to chain themselves together around a large sculpture of a globe. "Don't Let the G8 Decide Our Fate!" read the back of the t-shirts worn by those arrested around the globe. 32 others were arrested for blocking traffic while taking over the streets.
The protest party was organized by Reclaim the Streets/New York City, a local chapter of the international protest group Reclaim the Streets. It was part of a global day of protest against the G8 that included demonstrations in 41 countries in over 100 cities. In San Francisco more than 500 protesters took to the streets of their financial district, in Boston it was more than 100. In Washington DC, more than 600 protesters formed a human chain around the US Treasury Department. From London and other cities around the globe reports are rolling in of demonstrations with tens of thousands of partying, protesting, participants. June 18th was picked as an international day of protest because today the world's eight most powerful nations are meeting in Cologne, Germany to plan their vision of the world. Their plan puts the needs of multi-national corporations before those of people, the environment, and democratic governmental bodies.
RTS/NYC member Ariane Rhoden says: "It's ironic--No, make that tragic--that at the same time democracy is spreading all across the globe, we are seeing groups such as the G8 and the World Trade Organization, none of whom were elected and none of whom are accountable to regular citizens, dictating the shape and direction of our world." About the Reclaim the Streets party/protest Steve Simon says: "For at least a little while, the interchange of bodies gyrating in motion dominated the streets of the financial district where the commerce of greed and profit usually reign supreme."
What is Reclaim the Streets? Born in London in 1995, RTS is world-wide movement, with local branches throwing road parties as part protest against the corporatization of public space, part dancing example of what public space could be. RTS/NYC hosted our first action in October 1998 in the middle of Broadway at Astor place, shutting down the street with over 300 people dancing to a pirate radio broadcast dance beat. On April 11th, 1999 we did it again: throwing a "garden party" on Ave A in the East Village, taking over the streets with 30 ft high tripods, flower boxes, hundreds of costumed dancers, and, of course, a kicking mobile sound system to protest the City's impending sale and destruction of community gardens. Today we brought our party to the heart of global finance. Tomorrow.... [Emphasis added.]
Finding this press release to be full of the very same combination of misinformation and self-promotion that marked the LESC garden group's "WE WON" poster, Bill Brown issued the following short response.
This is getting really tiresome. "The protest party was organized by RTS NYC, AMONG OTHERS, including [only laziness, or a total lack of interest in anyone else but your own group, prevents you from filling this in]." The egocentrism of certain activists is appalling.
Duncombe's response to Bill was even shorter: "I agree. I think "tiresome" is the right word to describe this." Obviously unwilling to have his opinion -- or, if you will, his principled objection -- treated so slightly, Bill wrote back to Duncombe the following missive, which, of course, went unanswered. (As David Crane showed, you get one and only one response from the Borg.)
It occurred to me that your tone here might be sarcastic and not confidential, as I had originally assumed: what you find "tiresome" -- the "this" in your sentence -- is not the Lower East Side Collective's track-record of self-promotion and taking credit for the work of others, but the fact that *I* refuse to let such a track-record go unchallenged.
Perhaps you feel it is tiresome, arrogant and counterproductive of a single person -- *any* single person -- to keep criticizing the actions of a whole "collective" of people. Perhaps you measure the success of a "movement" in strictly quantitative terms: the goal of the movement is to grow in numbers, to get "bodies" (in the words of fellow LESCer Brooke), to bring more and more people into the already-existing organization. In these terms, *any* individual who criticizes the organization is hurting the movement *itself.* Such an individual -- I am trying to sum up how various members of your clique have responded to principled and honest criticism in the past -- such an individual is best ignored. After all, it is *is* only a single individual, right? No harm done!
My objection to this view (which you might hold) is multi-faceted: 1). *any* group that cannot bear to hear, not to mention respond in a serious fashion, to the honest and principled criticisms of a veteran comrade cannot be "progressive" in any sense of the word; 2). the movement can be "measured" in other terms, it can be "measured" in qualitative terms, which means that large numbers of people can get involved BUT IN SEPARATE AND AUTONOMOUS GROUPS, which, of course, MUST BE GIVEN DUE CREDIT WHEN THE TIME COMES TO DO SO; 3). no organization, even the LESC, is identical with the movement it is a part of.
The press release you sent out on the RTS list serv at 11 pm Friday 18 June -- trying to beat everyone else in NY to the punch -- was a serious distortion of the facts, and NOT ONLY BECAUSE IT IGNORED EVERY OTHER GROUP INVOLVED AND ONLY FOCUSED ON YOUR OWN. Your press release also presumes to take credit for the organization of what in fact was a very *disorganized* protest, one that, moreover, WAS NOT A RECLAMATION OF THE STREET, BUT OF THE SIDEWALKS. The Londoners put us to shame, and everyone is hip to it but your self-satisfied clique.
And what is this bullshit about your little clique being a "local chapter" of the international organization known as RTS??? Your aren't such a "chapter," because their are no "chapters"! Typical fantasies of a hierarchy that DOESN'T exist! Ugh. Respond or not, whatever.
[In hindsight what stands out is the reference to the Reclaim The Streets protests that took place on 18 June 1999 in London, the city of its founding. These protests were "violent" (corporate property was attacked), and anarchists played a large and visible role. The same was true for the RTS protests in Eugene, Oregon. But the New York City protest, just like the prior Reclaim The Streets events, were non-violent and anarchists played a very small role, if any. Indeed, at the October 1998 RTS protest in New York, "violence" was actively discouraged; anarchists have been discouraged from attending RTS-NYC meetings. These facts indicate the backwardness of the New York City scene with respect to those in other activist cities. As the events in Seattle have shown, people like the Borg -- when confronted with "violence" -- quickly turn from backward to openly reactionary. For more on this, see "On the violence in Seattle," else in this issue.]
In a change from the pattern established by the LESC's garden group -- in which only one LESC member responded to criticisms leveled at "The Collective" as a whole -- a second person (someone other than the person "in charge" of the LESC subgrouping in question!) answered Bill's original statement concerning Reclaim The Streets. Someone named Taneshia Campbell wrote:
No group is perfect. Honestly, there are bigger issues to be concerned with right now than who an activist group remembered or forgot to thank. Honestly, I think that is the true pettiness in that piece. Instead of knocking them down for slight "problems," outreach support or something pos. for a change would be a good change in events. Hate to say it Not bored, but either say to RTS thank be and be upfront with it or get off your prejudge-mental high-horse. Best wishes either way Taneshia There's a moral in here but (fill in the space)
Finding this response to be virtually incomprehensible -- and typical of people who "have no ideology" --Bill ignored it.
But Bill has been unable ignore the effects that the LESC's relentless self-promotion has been having on the press coverage of the events in which the LESC and/or the so-called RTS group is involved. At the end of November 1999, The Village Voice published an article about the protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, an article in which the so-called Reclaim The Streets group was featured (on account of its anti-WTO protest in New York on 26 November 1999). Precisely because the author of this article didn't know anything about the history of Reclaim The Streets, and didn't try to educate herself on this score, she ended up repeating the LESC's self-interested account of RTS as if it were both factual and the only version of the facts. And so Bill felt compelled to write the following letter to the editor, which was published in the 14 December 1999 edition, minus the last sentence.
Re Lenora Todaro's "World Trade War": While it is true there is a group in New York that calls itself Reclaim The Streets, Reclaim the Streets is not "based in New York." Todaro refers to the New York group's Web site as if it were the Web site of this "network of activists," when it is one among many. Not a group of any kind, Reclaim the Streets is a sort of political street party that originated in England in the early Ô90s and has recently been adopted in New York. Reclaim the Streets is a verb, not a noun. The New York group that calls itself Reclaim The Streets is a group of skilled self-promoters.
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