Reclaiming the lanes
The mob gathered, converging on the start like athletes primed for the jump. A steady stream ebbed and flowed until a torrent surged through the streets of Newtown, an inner city pulse that radiated power and pride. Society tangled, artists, lawyers, goths and graff artists strode the streets together, old, young, straight, queer, dredlocked, shiny-haired, beery, organic – skeins of people woven together to form a web. In a rare display of critical mass the community flexed its muscle, forcing the drone of corporate and consumerist life to stop and watch.
The march snaked seductively up Enmore Road, breaking right towards the tiny lanes that form a lace–like pattern, the glistening marbled sheen within the flesh of the city. Created to provide access to the backyard dunny, the dank domain of the nightsoil collector, the lanes and alleys of the old city have long been hushed. They serve now as a striated parking lot running parallel to our choked streets with their clicking meters. But today the lanes are alive, bouncing to a beat all of their own. They pulse and writhe with emphatic joy, the corners packed with people. The pounding beats come from a tribe of wheelie bin mobile sound systems that take the party with them. An eclectic mash of music lends itself to a clanging sound clash but also speaks of the variety and breadth of the crowd. The Oils howl their political angst, the bass booms from a drum and bass rig and the disco kittens twirl and flirt around their yellow-topped, council branded deity.
The intersections are meeting places. Like ancient corroborees the people move in unison to a symphony of sound, kids wheel and shriek at knee height, the next generation absorbing all that is good about social protest and the power of critical mass. Strollers mass in armadas, their precious cargo peering out into the melee, absorbed, happy little faces wreathed in smiles.
Here in the guts of the city time slows perceptibly, yawning back to a time when vehicles were relegated, when our panicked, blurred lives were a stroll along a sun-drenched pavement, when police would smile indulgently as they held traffic back from the crowds. Ten years ago, when life was sundrenched and our greatest concern was which pub to hit at happy hour, Reclaim the Streets was an institution. It was a symbol of your angst and pride. And I am still proud of what we achieved in a social and political sphere. We fought, we saved and we changed minds. And then we slipped insouciantly into apathy, everyday concerns swelled, taking on a more menacing face and life started to spin past, too fast to stop and remember what it is that we believe in. Suddenly it’s all working to make the money to pay the man and the nuances of a more carefree life slip away. How did we get here? Back-to-back protests have to shout their message without us, their success metered by our absence. Our activism has had its claws removed, replaced by despair at the price of the power bill, exhaustion because the kids won’t sleep and frustration at the lack of exoticism in the everyday.
So Reclaim the Lanes was a balm to our harried souls, a street party dripping with soul. No activism required, just a stroll up the street with a mob of like-minded souls. Newtown and her faithful tribe flexed their tattooed limbs and the howl of joy still reverberates in the air.