Try to influence the G-20's agenda ... or just kick it out of town? Local activists are united in opposing the international summit of top financial powers here Sept. 24-25, but at their first mass gathering they were still divided over goals and tactics. At the June 27 organizing meeting of dozens of activist groups, some were already announcing protest events.
The meeting was sponsored by the Thomas Merton Center, a local peace and social-justice organization whose Anti-War Committee hopes to hold a major permitted march on Sept. 25. The Pittsburgh G-20 Resistance Project, a collective of local anarchists and anti-authoritarians, is scheduling its own march for 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 24.
Protests are also being slated for the days leading up to the summit. National protest organizer David Meieran proposed a Mobilization for Climate Justice to coincide with G-20 and a coal conference coming Downtown Sept. 20-23. He hopes such a "sustainability encampment ... would model the change we want to see" in the world, from the use of bicycle transportation to using local, sustainable agriculture.
Merton board member Wanda Guthrie announced that Sept. 21 is tentatively set for a march of spiritual groups. "We'd like to call the G-20 to account for what they say and what they really do," she said. "We'd also like to emphasize the separation of corporation and state."
The G-20 summit will be held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, but since activists expect heavy security at the site, demonstrations may be held across the Allegheny River. The North Shore "may be the only place that the G-20 folks can see one of us," noted Barney Oursler of the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee. "We may be across the river, waving."
Resistance Project members have already begun building visibility for their cause. Members are going door-to-door with a pamphlet that contends the G-20 free-trade policies "require countries to open their markets to cheap imports," even as "local economies are steamrolled." The pamphlet also complains that when poorer countries need loans from the International Monetary Fund, they're often burdened by IMF rules that pull money from education and other social services in favor of things like road improvements. Such priorities benefit multinational corporations -- and thus G-20 countries -- more than locals, the Resistance says.
The Merton meeting included representatives of the ACLU and state Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Highland Park). Mikhail Pappas, policy and projects liaison in Ferlo's Pittsburgh office, said the senator will be the activists' "champion inside the government." Ferlo is "willing to attempt to create" negotiations with law enforcement to set ground rules -- something more traditional protest groups may desire. ACLU reps also announced legal observers and lawyers would be on hand for the event.
Marie Skoczylas of Pittsburgh Organizing Group, which has been leading local anti-war and other protests for years, announced tactical training sessions throughout the summer on everything from "Participating in a Mass Action 101" to the use of lockdown devices. The devices prevent or delay law enforcement attempts to move activists from a protest site.
"We will contest the G-20," asserted Harvey Holtz, an Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor helping to moderate the meeting. "In Seattle, they took down the meetings," he added, referring to the 1999 World Trade Organization summit that mass protests disrupted. "Can we do that here? If not, what do we do?"
In contrast, Casey Capitolo, who hopes to put a Pittsburgh labor-history display at the Merton Center in September, suggested "dialing down the combat against the G-20. They're the people who make war. We need to make peace and not divert energy" from vocally countering G-20 policies.
Several members of the Resistance Project advocated a different tack. "I'm not interested in negotiating with the G-20. I think that's pointless," said Alex Bradley, of POG. "So my goal is to disrupt the summit through a diversity of tactics."
Many at the meeting suggested trying to rally more Pittsburghers to protest G-20, or at least understand activists' grievances. Capitolo concluded that activists need "to interface with people, the people who are not here, the people who are not us ... the people who would normally be put off by everything we're doing."