Revolution #179, October 11, 2009
Letter from a Reader
Confronting the G-20 in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. September 24-25. For months ahead of time a vast array of repressive state machinery was put into place to ensure that the G-20 Summit, comprised of representatives from 20 of the world’s largest economies, would be prepared for the thousands of people who came to protest. A lot was at stake. As one young person said, capturing the sentiment of many, “I’m here because I think the G-20 is part of an organization among others that leads to the subjugation of people all over the world…We need to stand up and say that we’re going to put an end to all this…”
This is a world of enormous inequalities: the rich countries have 20 percent of the world’s people but 80 percent of its gross domestic product (or income), while the 20 percent living in the poorest countries have 3 percent of world income. This is a world that is stalked by disease, malnutrition, and life-destroying poverty: some 2.6 billion people, about 40 percent of the world’s population, live on less than $2 a day.
Over $19 million was spent on protecting the G-20 Summit, to ensure that the nightmare of the G-8 in Seattle or London (when the meetings were disrupted) would never happen again. But the demonstrators, and especially the youth, were not cowed or threatened—this was a moment in history that demanded determined resistance. The whole world was watching.
The G-20 “welcoming committee” was aptly described by Bill Quigley in his Smirking Chimp Blog:
“For days, downtown Pittsburgh, home to the G20, was turned into a militarized people-free ghost town. Sirens screamed day and night. Helicopters crisscrossed the skies. Gunboats sat in the rivers. The skies were defended by Air Force jets. Streets were barricaded by huge cement blocks and fencing.
“Bridges were closed with National Guard across the entrances. Public transportation was stopped downtown. Amtrak train service was suspended for days. In many areas, there were armed police every 100 feet. Businesses closed. Schools closed. Tens of thousands were unable to work. Four thousand police were on duty plus 2500 National Guard plus Coast Guard and Air Force and dozens of other security agencies. A thousand volunteers from other police forces were sworn in to help out.
“Police were dressed in battle gear, bulky black ninja turtle outfits—helmets with clear visors, strapped on body armor, shin guards, big boots, batons, and long guns. In addition to helicopters, the police had hundreds of cars and motorcycles, armored vehicles, monster trucks, small electric go-karts. There were even passenger vans screaming through town so stuffed with heavily armed ninja turtles that the side and rear doors remained open.”
The New York Times reported that “More than 30 officers in riot gear holding semi-automatic weapons stormed a building where members of the group Seeds for Peace were preparing food for a demonstration on Monday.” (Seeds for Peace provided medical support and food for protestors.)
On Wednesday, the day before the summit was to open, diplomats were greeted by Greenpeace activists who hung a giant color banner reading “Danger: Climate Destruction Ahead, Reduce CO2 Emissions Now” on the West End bridge. Fourteen people were arrested. This front page news opened up the next two days of activities.
Students and those in their 20’s had been coming in from around the country to hook up with people in Pittsburgh. On Thursday afternoon resistance kicked into high gear. The Pittsburgh G-20 Resistance Project hosted an unpermitted march from Arsenal Park on the G-20. After a short rally of mainly young people, around 1,000 people took off for the downtown summit. They knew that a massive show of force would be unleashed against them with arrest, injury or worse. This defiant crowd came with their homemade signs and banners stating “G-20=Death by Capitalism,” “No Hope in Capitalism,” “Capitalism is in Crisis,” and “No Bailout for Capitalism.”
Many in the crowd wanted to directly confront the concentration of international capitalist economic and political power directly in the streets. One young woman protestor dressed in black emphatically stated, “This is what I live for.” They were sickened by the continued horrors brought down by capitalism upon billions of people and how it destroys people’s lives. There was a sense that this was a moment in history where people needed to take the opportunity to challenge the G-20.
Within a very short period of time the march was told not to go forward, then attacked by police, using tear gas and high frequency sound devices against the protestors. City officials stated that this was the first time the sound cannon had been used on protestors within the United States. Similar devices have been used in Fallujah, Mosul and Basra, Iraq. With tear gas spreading through the area, the march dispersed into various decentralized actions.
Once dispersed, actions were held throughout the city as the police in full riot gear sought to shut down any resistance to the summit. But the protestors were determined and actions continued throughout the day and into the evening and the next day. The police kicked in the doors of their communications centers and took all their equipment. This still didn’t stop people as they texted messages to everyone they could off reports from the police radio.
Hundreds of police officers in full riot gear, with SWAT and other vehicles, swarmed around and onto the University of Pittsburgh campus and the nearby area, assailing about 400 protestors and students who live on, or just happened to be on campus. One McCain supporter said it was the first time he was afraid of his own government. There were reports of tear gas, pepper spray and people being beaten. An estimated 110-plus protestors were arrested after hundreds of police arrived and dispersed the crowd with a show of force and clouds of OC gas. Many are still facing charges and are calling for support.
Friday was the mass march. Organizers had waged a lengthy legal battle just to get a permit to march in the streets. It brought out approximately 4,500 people from various human rights groups, unions, anti-war activists, environmentalists, anarchists, students and revolutionary communists. The state of siege was still in effect as lines of SWAT teams and bus loads of ninja cops lined the march. As the march snaked through the city, hundreds and hundreds of people lined up behind the pigs, some taking literature and others joining in. A group of students from Pitt, who joined the contingent on the spot, carried the banner “Capitalism is a Failure, Revolution is the Solution.” Revolution newspaper got into people’s hands along with the Message and Call from the RCP, “The Revolution We Need… The Leadership We Have.” Pluggers for the online Revolution Talk by Bob Avakian were distributed.
Through the course of the few days we spent in Pittsburgh and in the midst of these actions, there was debate and struggle over what direction the world needed to go in. Many youth came to Pittsburgh with conceptions that the problem was the “20 men” meeting at the G20 making decisions for everyone. Or that with enough pressure, this system could be changed to put people ahead of profit. As people took to the streets, and discussed politics during lulls in the action, people got exposed to a more radical critique and solution—that this is “a system of capitalism-imperialism,” as the Message and Call from the RCP says, “driven by the relentless chase for profit.” And that “This system needs to be swept aside…its crimes against humanity stopped cold…its institutions dismantled, and replaced by ones that empower people to build a new society free of exploitation and oppression.”
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