G-20 protests mild by comparison

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Given the visions of protesters being beaten after charging police lines at the G-20 in London earlier this year and the chaos in Seattle when the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting was met with an estimated 75,000 protesters, the protests for the G-20 Leadership Summit in Pittsburgh were far less damaging.

According to Pittsburgh police, there were a total of 190 arrests. Of these, 14 were Greenpeace activists who hung global warming banners from the West End and Fort Pitt bridges the day before the Sept. 24-25 summit. Another nine were arrested on the 24th for attempting to march from Oakland to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center via Bloomfield and the Strip District. Another 25 were arrested in Oakland as a result of that and of a confrontation with police near Phipps Conservatory, where heads of state and their spouses gathered for a dinner.

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CHIEFS—Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper and assistant chief Maurita Bryant greet national guard leaders outside the county building before protesters arrived.

Several of the protesters near Phipps came from a permitted rally at Flagstaff Hill, only a few hundred yards away, but confrontations did not escalate until some of those who had been tear-gassed earlier in Bloomfield arrived. Police moved the crowd with gas, rubber bullets and nightsticks, in what most of the students said was an overreaction.

Save for one of two arrests Downtown on the 25th, the remainder were again in Oakland near the Cathedral of Learning. Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said a crowd of approximately 700 was given multiple warnings to disperse, but did not comply. Of those arrested, the bulk were White and in their teens or early 20s. Only four Asians and three African-Americans were arrested. The oldest was 59 and the youngest 17.

Those protesting Downtown, however, were generally peaceful. On Liberty Avenue a small group of Ethiopians gathered to protest against their Prime Minster Mele Se Zenawi, who they said should be in jail, not at the G-20 meeting.

“He is a murderer,” said one, who identified himself only as “T,” a student from Ohio. “He has been killing people for 18 years.”

And in what may have been the greatest example of democracy displayed throughout the two-day event, on Smithfield Street—two blocks away—a second small group of Ethiopians, who support Zenawi, were calling for closer ties with the G-20 nations.

“The prime minister is a man of peace and development, and a friend to America,” said Kebede Yimam. “We hope he raises African issues of poverty, development and aid.”

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POLICE BLOCKADE—Police in riot gear block off 32nd Street and Liberty Avenue so protesters could not pass.

The largest demonstration of all, the People’s March, organized by the Thomas Merton Center, was also peaceful. That, said organizers, was by design.

The march, which began in Oakland, stopped for a rally in front of the City-County Building on Grant Street and then continued to the North Side for a second rally, was comprised of about 2,500 people representing more than 70 different groups, some from as far away as California and Vancouver, Canada.

Among these were environmentalists, advocates for the homeless and poor, Tibetans calling for an end to Chinese occupation, anti-war protesters, pro-government health care activists, union activists, and several communist and socialist organizations.

“We’re not here to be confrontational, we’re here to have our voices heard,” said Pete Shell of the Merton Center. “We’re not violent but we’re not going to be silent. We fought for this (rally) and we got it.”

Speakers included Larry Holmes from Bail Out The People, who with Rev. Tom Smith of Monumental Baptist Church, had organized a tent city in the Hill District and led a march to Freedom Corner a week earlier.

He thanked Rev. Smith and chastised the bail out of banks instead of people who are losing their jobs and homes.

“They don’t represent the people, you do,” he told the crowd. “Up in that convention room, they should be worried, very worried.”

The bulk of the speeches, whether by Bill Packer of the Merton Center’s anti-war committee or Kate Goth of the re-formed Students for a Democratic Society, or by Mexican labor activist Benedicto Martinez, were decidedly anti-capitalist, as were banners which read, “Capitalism: you’re the problem, we are the solution,” “Capitalism doesn’t work,” or “Socialism is the answer,” and the repeated chants of “They took our money, we want it back,” and “The G-20 loves poor people—they’ve made so many.”

All the while, more than 100 National Guard troops, 200 police in riot gear, 20 horse-mounted state troopers and barricades all along the marchers route made sure things remained nonviolent.

Packer highlighted the security presence as a symbol of repression.

“They’ve militarized and occupied our city. Now we know what it must be like to live in Iraq or Afghanistan,” he said. “Remember two things, the first is we’re going to get our asses kicked. The second is we’re going to win.”

Afterwards, they passed buckets through the crowd because, as Packer said, “Revolutions cost money.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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