It was held in a small, hot room packed with 60 or so activists and another 20 or so media persons. A vote was held at the top of the meeting as to whether or not to allow the media to remain the whole time. After some discussion, the press was granted full access by a 3-1 margin. Prior to the vote, I was informed that as a blogger I’d be fine either way.
This probably should go without saying, but let me make clear: I am not a “G-20 opponent”, and I’m not an opponent of capitalism. I’m glad the G-20 is coming to Pittsburgh, and I expect a lot to get accomplished here.
I am however a supporter of the Bill of Rights and of a broad and muscular interpretation of civil liberties. I plan on covering the G-20 which for me largely will mean reporting on and commenting upon the demonstrations surrounding it — and hopefully generating some dialogue between those folks and summit participants. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that if I see or learn of something most foul and atrocious, I’ll whip off my editorial hat and grab a sign — but I’m not expecting that.
The back of another shirt bore a quote from Karl Marx: The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.
It was clarified to me by a couple sources that these were hippees. Indeed, though a few were strident orators, they seemed to me like the gentlest bunch of protesters a city could ever hope for. There was no talk of “stopping” or “disrupting” the G-20 Summit, there was only talk of a “non-hostile, family-friendly environment”. They seek legal permits for protesting because “we care about our city and the integrity of our environment”
Not all protesters of the G-20 will be hippees. Supposedly there will also be anarchists. Their numbers, intentions, and relative seriousness is less well known. There is a feeling among the hippees that creating space and an infrastructure for civil protest — in the Golden Triangle, near the Convention Center — will lessen the volatility of the whole situation.
Several groups claimed that their own applications for permits were already formally rejected. Many more said they’ve received no response. One attorney in the room said the City is playing a “cat and mouse” game with the protesters, stringing them along and seeing how little they can offer.
In general, the sentiment in the room was that the City and Mayor Ravenstahl in particular would like to issue more permits and be more accommodating to protesters, but the mean old federal government and Secret Service isn’t allowing them to do so. One person suggested that maybe this isn’t the case — maybe the City administration has more to do with with crafting the policy which is aggravating them — but that person was harrumphed down.
One woman testified that Mayor Ravenstahl told her personally that he intends to issue permits for “two sites within shouting distance of the convention center,” though she noted with skepticism that the Allegheny River technically qualifies by that standard.
There was a misconception at first by many that City Council has something to do with anything regarding permit and public safety policies, although this notion was mostly corrected. One tactic the demonstrators said they definitely intend to employ is asking the Council to adopt a resolution that “supports [their] right to free speech in a place where we will be seen and heard,” and that “holds law enforcement accountable to a use of force policy to ensure that demonstrators are not abused.” A petition was passed around to set up a formal Public Hearing on the issue.
State Sen. Jim Ferlo received numerous plaudits from the assembled, including for an address to Netroots Nation imploring the bloggers to return to Pittsburgh for the G-20, when it will be under “martial law”.
The major issues seemed to be the denial of access to Point State Park, along with the fact that said park was to become a security staging area, or what many called a “military encampment”. A few noted that the Point was long ago the site of a fort which was utilized for the purposes of stripping native inhabitants of their land and rights. If there was any noteworthy consensus reached among the dissidents, it seemed to galvanize around Point State Park and the fact that, as a public park, it should be reserved for the public.
“Unacceptable!”, declared one young man, which drew cheers.
“If nothing else, I think we should fight for Point State Park just to keep the military out of it,” said another.
“Poets on the Loose” was the first group to declare that they will be operating without a permit near the entrance of Point State Park. From there on speakers with more frequency talked about the need to protest where they feel they have a right to protest, regardless of permits, or march where and when they feel they have a right to march — filling the prisons if necessary. “Power yields nothing without a demand,” they said several times.
One fellow in the back pointed out that the City, to his experience, historically has never issued permits for Point State Park — so perhaps the demonstrators shouldn’t feel personally slighted. “I think you’ve got to be realistic,” he said.
“NOOOOO!”, the room literally shouted at him.
Nonetheless, a few alternatives to Point State Park were mentioned and written on the chalk board: the North Shore, South Side Riverfront Park, a march from Freedom Corner to the Convention Center (or as close as they can get).
My favorite suggestion came from a soft-spoken woman in the front:
“Maybe I’m an idealist,” she said, “but I feel like we should be given a conference room right in the David Lawrence convention hall.”