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Thursday, August 20, 2009

If you outlaw protest, only outlaws will have protests

Posted By on Thu, Aug 20, 2009 at 12:50 PM

Just got back from a press conference at Point State Park, where a sizable group of lefties -- representing various causes ranging from labor to environmental to antiwar causes -- voiced concerns about the lead-up to the G-20 summit this September.

There will be daily-type coverage elsewhere. But a few points by way of summary: 

Much of this press conference was really directed at the press itself. Participants expressed concerns that reporters were not conversant with issues, and that too often, the media was "regurgitating talking points" from law-enforcement. David Meiran, a longtime local activist, decried what he called the "demonization of protest," and said that pre-emptive smear tactics directed at protesters were "pages from a playbook" often used in the run-up to global economic summits.

We've written about some of the fear-mongering coverage already, including a piece just this week. But as if to underscore activist fears, a reporter from KDKA Radio repeatedly asked about the danger posed by outsiders who might be coming to Pittsburgh intending to do harm. These questions met with some chuckles from the activists standing near me. 

Two local civil-rights attorneys, Jules Lobel and Vic Walczak, noted that the groups present at the press conference had all been going through the appropriate legal process of getting permits for their activities. "Don't hold all of these folks hostage because you've got a few people bent on creating problems," Walczak urged.

The problem, of course, is that so far, the city has not been particularly forthcoming about issuing permits for ANY kind of protest. This morning there was word that the mayor's office may allow a gathering sponsored by state Sen. Jim Ferlo in Point State Park -- to be held the day BEFORE the summit kicks off in earnest. But it was pretty clear that wasn't going to be good enough. 

Already, in fact, some activists are warning of a divide-and-conquer strategy. A local veteran protester, Albert Petrarca, recently sent out an e-mail warning

It's entirely possible that we are being set-up. It's not too hard to imagine an Emmanuel/Axelrod strategy in which they knowingly went into this environment with a first phase-----they(us) get nothing approach-----and then begin, in the second phase (beginning now)  to appear reasonable and compromising by doling out permits in a fashion that splits the unity mentioned above and, in a way, that they control who gets heard, for how long and from where. So, for instance, Jim Ferlo and the more establishment-type protesters will be accommodated first to peel them away from the united front.

I'd just add the following ... the folks actually at this press conference -- some of whom I've known for years -- are about as harmless as can be imagined. If the goal is to prevent out-of-control protests from doing damage, it makes sense to work with the people who are willing to play by the rules. Otherwise, you end up criminzalizing dissent, such that every dissenter must be a criminal. That seems like a guaranteed means of creating exactly the kind of bad behavior the authorities say they are afraid of. 

A natural question here is: so what? What difference does it make if these protesters get within 50 yards or 500, when the G-20 already knows what they think, and doesn't give a shit? To be honest, I'm prey to those thoughts myself. So it's a good thing that Al Hart, of the fiercely independent United Electrical workers union, was on hand.

To Hart, the dangerous message here is that by seizing control of Downtown, the G-20 is treating Pittsburgh the same way its policies treat the world. Whenever the world's financial panjandrums want to have a "festival of the powerful," he said, they just want to push the working people to the side -- including all those Downtown restaurant workers who will be taking a compulsory couple days off when the summit comes to town. 

Hart also said -- well, just listen for yourself. It's good stuff. 

 

 

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