March for jobs kicks off G-20 protests

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Led by banners and speakers blasting “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” from the back of a pickup truck, nearly 400 protesters chanted and sang as they marched from Monumental Baptist Church in the Hill District to Freedom Corner to demand jobs and to call attention to international monetary policies they say support banks but not people.

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ROLLING THUNDER— Anti-capitalist activists join job, peace and single-payer health insurance advocates in the initial protest march leading up to the Sept. 24-25 G-20 Leadership Summit at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Most of the marchers and organizers were from out of town, several staying in a tent city erected next to the church. And while the demand that government do more to create jobs was the main theme of those who spoke before and after the march, protesters also called for an end to global warming and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, housing for the homeless, single-payer health insurance and even the release of Mumia Abu Jamal.

Reverend Tom Smith, Monumental’s pastor, said he was pleased with the Sept. 20 turnout.

“The national organizers did a fantastic job,” he said. “I’m hoping more Pittsburghers will understand what’s going on and be more proactive about the inequities right here. Budget deficits, the city’s bond rating, they’re all functions of people being employed. I am also hoping our civil rights organizations get back to the matter at hand.”

Allegheny County Councilman Bill Robinson, the only local elected official who attended the rally and march, said even though there were few Pittsburghers in the crowd, the point was made.

“It doesn’t matter because the issue is the same. Finding jobs in Pittsburgh is the same as finding jobs in New York City, Dallas or New Orleans,” he said.

One Pittsburgher, Ken Miller, a long-time anti-sweatshop advocate, exhorted local people to join in the G-20 protests and welcome our out of town guests.

“What Tom Smith did, welcoming these people, is what the city and county should have done. Their negative response is an outrage,” he said. “We have rights and this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to exercise them in front of the whole world. We’re not going to have an opportunity like this again.”

Prior to the march Pete Shell from the Thomas Merton Center reminded the crowd to join the more than 66 different organizations that have already pledged to participate in a “People’s March” to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center to confront the assembled world leaders on the second day of the summit.

“This is critical,” he said. “The disastrous policies of the G-20 have led to the steel mills closing in the Mon Valley and an environmental crisis.”

Larry Holmes, from Bail Out The People, who helped organize the march, fired up the crowd, saying, “Hell no! We are tired of being poor. If the government won’t step up, they need to get stepped on. They say we’re in a recovery, but a jobless recovery is like a dead patient after a successful operation.”

Other speakers included Pam Africa from Philadelphia who demanded “an end to war” and freedom for Mumia, saying he was the first to tell “the truth” about 9/11, and Rev. Bruce Wright from Tampa, Fla., a founder of the Poor People’s Campaign who said, “We believe jobs and housing are basic human rights.”

But all was not togetherness once the crowd reached Freedom Corner. Both state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Lawrenceville, and Clarence Thomas, of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 in San Francisco, chastised President Obama for remarks in that morning’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in which he said he is not a fan of mass protests.

“What a miscalculation of his assent to the Senate and the presidency,” said Ferlo.

Thomas was more direct.

“You have offended all the oppressed in this country,” he said. “How in the hell can you say it’s a waste of time to mobilize in massive numbers?”

All those present pledged more massive numbers in upcoming rallies and marches coinciding with the two-day summit. As many as 5,000 protesters are expected in Pittsburgh for the summit’s start.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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