This is what PR catastrophes look like | Blogh

Friday, September 25, 2009

This is what PR catastrophes look like

Posted By on Fri, Sep 25, 2009 at 2:34 PM

Since Obama’s election, some of us have waited impatiently for a chance to bring opposition to global capitalism back into the public eye. On September 24 and 25, the G20 [is] convening in Pittsburgh ... This opportunity to connect the dots is being handed to anarchists on a platter-- the question is whether we have the numbers, networks, and momentum to take advantage of it...

Pittsburgh has a rich history of anarchist activity, extending back well into the 19th century ...

-- Crimethinc Internet posting


I just watched today's permitted G20 protest march -- actually, it was more like a carefully controlled cattle drive -- amble down the streets of Pittsburgh. It took awhile: Estimates of the march's size tend to be in the very low four digits, but the marchers weren't in much of a hurry. All around me, the crowd at the corner of Fifth and Smithfield watched politely. Socialists aroused no more interest, or even resentment, than the quiet Chinese women carrying banners extolling Falun Gong. Some protesters taunted cops ("You like you've been eating a lot of donuts"; "Do you beat your children with those batons?") but it just sounded desperate. The resentful, empty sarcasm of the side that knows it has been beaten.

Only one group of passers-by evoked any response from the crowd: the police trailing the last of the marchers. As law-enforcement went by -- on foot, horseback, or riding in vehicles -- the crowd cheered. 

"We love you!" shouted a woman standing nearby. 

So I'm kinda guessing the revolution may not begin here after all.

Sorry, Crimethinc and Co. Maybe you'll smash some more windows tonight to make yourself feel better, but even if you do ... you lost this one. 

I haven't blogged much today, in part because so little has been happening outside the convention center. As other media outlets have noted, threats to demonstrate at chain businesses around town simply haven't materialized.

I doubt anyone's getting complacent -- there was some discussion on the police scanner this morning about a robbery that took place late last night in the Hill District's old Fifth Avenue High School. (Apparently someone stole chains, locks, and a powerful saw "that can cut through anything.") But for the most part, the chatter on the scanner has been upbeat. As for the rest of us, we can't wait for this whole thing to just be over, and to get these goddamn agitators out of here. 

What's sort of ironic is that in the past couple days, I've met a few out-of-towners who seemed genuinely surprised by this. These were a somewhat older crowd, but they weren't people who came to Pittsburgh thinking it would be covered with layers of soot. No, these were people who kept current with their reading. They were people who believed the hype -- about our green buildings, about the bike trails, about our union history, and our status as a home for universities and medical research.

And from all that they assumed -- understandably, to some extent, but mistakenly -- that this stuff reflected a local political progressivism. That our environmental amenities reflected conscious preferences by those who live here. That our institutions of higher learning reflect a deep esteem for intellectuals. That we choose to vote Democratic in local elections.

In other words, they thought we were like Madison, Wisconsin. When the truth, of course, is that a sizable number of Pittsburghers oppose any ideology that makes it harder to find parking. 

I felt bad telling them it wasn't so. But I think there may be some big lessons emerging from Pittsburgh's stint as G-20 host.

First off, security might well be easier if future summits were held in smaller cities rather than cosmopolitan areas. True, those cities don't really have the security infrastructure for such events. But they don't have the protest infrastructure, either. In a small town, there are only so many spare couches for out-of-town anarchists to crash on.

And in a place like that, the advantage goes to the security forces. Why? Because: a) as we've seen, they have the resources to create an infrastructure out of nothing; and b) the indigenous population is tightly knit and predisposed to trust authority. (Clarification: At least in working-class neighborhoods where guys like Lawrenceville's Tony Ceoffe have sway.) No matter how many times authority screws it over. 

As for the second lesson: Seattle-type disruptive tactics are no longer effective. Yeah, the media fearmongering has been intense ... but Pittsburghers would have been wary and distrustful with far less encouragement. This isn't just about the media, or the police, or even with the local mindset. It's a lot about the demonstrations themselves. The hippy mass-march seems played out to be sure ... but this stuff is going on a decade old now.

I doubt it'll have any better results when the next G-20 takes place in Terre Haute.




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