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M41 Reclaim the Streets

urban75 report from the M41 Motorway Reclaim the Streets party, Shepherd's Bush, 8th June 1996

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M41 Motorway, London, 8th June 1996

The meet-up point was Liverpool Street station, and when we got there at midday there was already a good humoured crowd gathered in the sunshine, buzzing with anticipation, as a handful of baffled policemen did their best to look like they were in control of the situation.

A local newsagent did a roaring trade in ice creams and drinks in the blazing heat as we awaited instructions. A few moments later, a diminutive girl in a pixie dress came up to us and pushed a flyer in our hands containing the cryptic message telling us to 'follow the people with the pink ribbons'.

Seconds later a huge roar went up as the first of the ribbon holders was spotted heading into Liverpool Street tube station, quickly followed by the surging crowd.

The sound and spectacle of a multitude of drummers echoing down the tiled corridors and a kaleidoscopic range of hair and face colours proved a little too much for a party of Japanese tourists who stood by the escalators, jaws wide open in stunned amazement. This wasn't in the tourist book!


We caught the train to Shepherd's Bush and came out to see the entire roundabout completely gridlocked and the exit surrounded by police vans.

Some guy felt inspired to jump up and down on a traffic box stark naked, gesticulating wildly at the unamused massed ranks of officers. Unfortunately, further down the road some potential road ragers were frothing madly at the hold-up. I argued with some guy who was effin' and blindin' loudly from his huge shiny car.

After some debate he came up with the conclusion that he didn't mind if he was held up because of traffic, but being held up by *people* was an absolute outrage! Tosser.

The crowds continued to build to a soundtrack of drums and car horns (not all sympathetic) until we embarked on what could only be described as a military-esque pincer movement.

The mass split into two, one heading directly to the roundabout, the other slipping round the backstreets to meet up at the opposite entrance to the roundabout behind the police blockade.

Minutes earlier two cars had sealed off the slip road on to the M41 and the occupants had leapt out to build tripods on the road.


Thus the road was cut off from the North at the same time as the two crowds rejoined to seal off the South exit. Success! Instantly, the motorway was a car free zone, and workers set about transforming the landscape.

There was some considerable argy bargy as the police stopped a sound system being brought in over a ramp onto the motorway, but minutes later another sound system burst into life as huge banners were unfurled from lamp posts.

Within ten minutes the whole road was completely jammed with a 'large number of persons pursuing a common purpose', enjoying the space and freedom to dance to some of those darn 'repetitive beats' and take in the glorious sunshine.

Musicians, stalls, bands, street performers and sound systems were adding to the festival spirit, while kids played contentedly in the ton of sand that had been deposited in the road.

By the entrance some people had recreated a front room in the fast lane, relaxing on a selection of sofas, playing guitars and reading newspapers, while their dog slumbered contentedly on the rug. The turnout of 7,000 plus was amazing - as far as the eye could see there were people dancing on the road and crash barriers with DJs and sound systems doing it for love not lucre.

This was rave music as it should be heard - defiant, proud, full-on and communal - without a bomber jacketed doorman in sight!


Further down the road two twenty-five feet Marie Antoinettes were pushing up tight against the police lines whilst underneath their billowing skirts - unbeknown to officers standing inches away - power drills were busily breaking up the tarmac and devious types were getting ready to plant trees on the motorway. Wonderful.

Despite the vibe being very friendly and totally peaceful, a few of the police (as ever) did their best to get themselves a 'situation' or two, using the old tactics of intimidation and confrontation.

I went up with a small posse of 15 to help out the guys sat on the tripods, and we found ourselves in the ludicrous situation of being surrounded by over 90 (yes ninety!) officers - including several officers from an armed response unit with a helicopter hovering above!

Surely, they must have something better to do?!

Still, once again the Reclaim The Streets posse had outwitted and outfoxed the police and the huge turn out reflected the fast-growing concern for the city environment. The politicians may still be busy kow-towing to the motor industry and churning out excuses, but there's a lot of people out there who know something must be done - now!

Respect to all those that came out. See ya' at the next one.

Report by urban75 1996.
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