Hundreds of demonstrators swarmed through the streets Tuesday night in an action they dubbed “Reclaim the Streets” – one part protest of International Monetary Fund and World Bank policies and the other part street party, said Joe Hill, an alias used by one of the organizers.
When demonstrators “seized” the intersection of Shattuck Avenue and Center Street, the party began in earnest. The crowd began dancing to hip hop music, thrusting their signs and banners into the air, calling for “people before profits” and also for bicycle friendly-streets.
With Center Street and Shattuck Avenue blocked off by groups of people and turned-over trash cans, an enormous fiesta ensued as hundreds danced, hoisted signs and climbed light posts.
“These are our streets and we’re taking them back,” yelled Carwil James of the Berkeley-based human rights group Project Underground. “We need revolutionary practices and this is a good one in our home city.”
At first it appeared as if the international day of action in solidarity with demonstrators in Prague against the IMF and World Bank would end with a party. But then the demonstrators mobilized and moved south on Shattuck Avenue. Someone broke windows at California Federal Bank at University and Shattuck avenues and someone hurled a burning carton at MacDonald’s Restaurant across the street – “targets of the anti-capitalist movement,” demonstrators said.
A person charged with both incidents was later arrested and charged with a felony, according to City Councilmember Kriss Worthington.
Demonstrators marched down to Old City Hall where the City Council was meeting and set small bonfires as they went.
Capt. Bobby Miller of the Berkeley Police stood outside City Hall as a swarm of marchers advanced down Center Street before making a right on Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
“We’re not going to do anything drastic,” Miller said, as the protesters lit six or seven large torches.
“We have our crowd management force in place. We’re just monitoring them, making sure that they don’t do anything illegal. We have a bicycle patrol and adequate numbers of officers on patrol. If it stays this way, it will end this way.”
Motorcycle and patrol vehicles, as well as officers on foot and bicycle followed the protesters as they worked their way along Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, east on University and finally south on Shattuck to their destination.
In the meantime, a critical mass of bicyclists rode from the BART station down Shattuck, then left on Ashby Avenue to Telegraph Avenue, then back down Bancroft Way and along Shattuck again to the rendezvous point at the intersection.
When the demonstrators passed Citibank at 2323 Shattuck Ave. two were seen breaking windows with sandwich boards.
“Citibank was targeted because it’s a symbol of global capitalism,” said Jonah Zern of Oakland.
Zern, who claimed to be an anarchist, said that “the most important thing is that people are taking action against a form of oppression.”
At Ellsworth Street and Channing Way, officers in riot gear sealed off the block to prevent the group from moving to Telegraph Avenue.
Shouts of “Victory” rained from the dwindling group after a tense standoff with over 20 police officers, who used batons to push the group back.
The group managed to move on and reassemble on Telegraph, where some of the protesters continued the party atmosphere playing “duck duck goose.”
For others, the protest was more serious.
“We have an international agenda as well as a local agenda,” Hill said.
The local agenda includes such issues as bicycle safety, the dependence of cars, evictions and rising rents and the prison/industrial complex.
The protesters say the IMF and the World Bank promote a new form of colonialism that permits the rich, industrialized nations to steal natural resources from the developing world while requiring third world governments to adopt policies friendly to transnational corporations, according to their flyer.
From a Bay Area perspective, housing and the gentrification of neighborhoods took center-stage.
“We feel that gentrification equals apartheid,” said Susan B. Rodriguez of Oakland. “We need to end the apartheid upon the people.”
Hill said the “Reclaim The Streets” approach started in England in 1995, as one part protest and the other part street party.
“Part of it is coming out of the bike movement, in protest of cars. Streets aren’t safe anymore for kids to play in.”
Hill added that the Berkeley RTS is one of many cells in solidarity of the protest in Prague.
Daily Planet reporter Josh Parr contributed to this story.