Free Speech in Pittsburgh: A Test

On September 24 and 25, 2009, the Group of 20 (G-20) will meet in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This meeting, billed as the Pittsburgh Summit, will feature some heads of state, finance ministers and central bank presidents from twenty-two of the world’s largest economies. One of the highlights of the event will be the presence of Barack Obama and his wife Michelle. The city of Pittsburgh has been working with the Secret Service and other law enforcement officials for several months around security issues. On the other side of the equation, a multitude of organizations have been organizing protest camps, a People’s Summit, direct actions and a protest march in opposition to the G-20 and many (if not all) of its plans to save the capitalist world.

According to its website, the Group of 20 was created in the late 1990s as a response to the financial crisis that hit the capitalist world during that period. It was convened under the notion that so-called emerging economies should be provided a greater say in the control of the capitalist world that was then dominated by the Group of 7 (G-7( which in turn is dominated by Washington and London.) In other words, the primary purpose of the G-20 is to coordinate plans among capitalist nations that will ensure the continued existence of capitalism and, more precisely, the continued domination of that system by Western economies, especially Washington. In the current economic climate, the G-20 sees its role as one that requires “send(ing) a strong signal that it is prepared to take whatever further actions are necessary to stabilise the financial system and to provide further macroeconomic support. At the same time, the G-20 must commit to maintaining open trade and investment, to avoid a retreat to protectionism, and direct necessary additional support to emerging markets and developing countries.” In short, the G-20 must do whatever it takes to keep the current system of free trade and financial speculation going, no matter what the cost to the working and poor people on the planet.

It is quite fitting that this summit is taking place in Pittsburgh. If there is one US city that epitomizes the failure of late-twentieth century capitalism to provide for its working people, then Pittsburgh certainly fits the bill. If there is one US city that demonstrates capitalism’s need to pursue cheap labor in order to maximize profits, Pittsburgh certainly fits the bill. If there is one US city that forecasts the future of regular people under the domain of capitalism’s latest stage–a stage that has taken decent-paying unionized jobs away and replaced them with lower paying service positions for those lucky enough to have another job, Pittsburgh fits the bill. Like Richard Fox, a resident and shop owner in Pittsburgh who supports the intention of many of the protests, wrote to me in an email: “When the steel industry died, easily 1/2 of the city’s population as well as huge numbers of citizens of small mill towns (remember “the deer hunter” settings?) simply picked up and left. South or southwest. In some ways, the city has never recovered from the loss. When I was growing up here, the mills stretched, literally, for miles on both sides of the Monongahela river. employing tens of thousands. Three shifts all day everyday. It was quite a sight. Chicago the city of the big shoulders, had nothing on us…. How do you re-build a local economy and infrastructure after that sort of disaster? It is appropriate to mention something about the development of Pittsburgh as an important center for medical arts and the computer/hi-tech industry, but that fact in no way refutes or undermines the argument that the city was devastated by the loss of tens of thousands of industrial jobs. The balance between blue collar and professional jobs has swung in favor of the latter with predictable results. ” Those predictable results Fox refers to include not only a disparity in income but also in education and other social factors.

As any astute working person can tell you, the fate of Pittsburgh is slowly becoming the fate of hundreds, if not thousands, of other towns and cities around the world. The total domination of the capitalist giants of Wall Street in collusion with the sycophantic politicians in Washington and other capitols has drained the financial life from municipalities and their citizens at an astonishingly rapid rate. Behind the statistics showing rising unemployment and mortgage foreclosures lies the breakup of families in the western nations, while in the developing nations, the most recent crisis of the capitalist system means an even further deepening of the health and other human crises already in existence. In another metaphor for the greater economic havoc wreaked upon the world’s working and poor, those good-paying union jobs at the steel mils also impacted the African-American community in Pittsburgh. Such jobs were held by black men and women, too. Not only did this create stability and hope in that community, it also ensured a cultural vibrancy. Since the removal of those jobs from Pittsburgh, it has arguably been the communities of color that have been hurt the most.

This reality is repeated on a considerably larger scale throughout the world in the wake of the globalization of modern capital. Yet, the leaders of the capitalist world, as represented by the G-20 and other such organizations, prescribe more of the same. If it wasn’t clear before it should be now–these organizations are not interested in the welfare of those they consider their subjects. They exist only to ensure the continued existence of their profit making machine. Furthermore, they will do whatever it takes to ensure that that machine continues to run.

This is why it is necessary to protest the Pittsburgh Summit. The protests will begin several days before the summit itself. Much of the legal and organizing work for the week of protests is being coordinated by Pittsburgh’s Thomas Merton Center. According to a press release from the Center dated August 16, 2009, there will be a mass march on September 25, 2009 that is endorsed by all of the organizations planning to protest in Pittsburgh that week. As Jessica Banner of the Center’s Antiwar Committee eloquently stated: “Anyone who has lost a job, a home, a loved one to war, lost value to a retirement plan, gotten sick from environmental pollution, or lived without adequate healthcare, water, or food has been directly affected by policies set by the G20 and should join us on Sept. 25th.”

Several tent cities are being planned, among them a Music Camp beginning September 18th that will be situated at the South Side Riverfront Park near 18th Street and another encampment that will begin September 20th with a National March for Jobs on September 20th. This march and tent city is being facilitated by the Bail Out the People Movement (BOTM) and is but one part of the organization’s plans for the week. According to a spokesperson for the Pittsburgh branch of the BOTM, there is a struggle brewing over the permits which are being denied for sites in the downtown area. This is but one of the actions awaiting permits. According to the city of Pittsburgh, no permits have been issued yet because the city is waiting for the Secret Service to determine the so-called security perimeter it considers its right to impose whenever officials under Secret Service protection are present. Protest organizers have told the press that they hope they will get the necessary permits and continue to insure the public that there are no plans for violence among any of the protest groups.

There is also a women’s tent city being planned, a People’s Summit featuring speakers and debate regarding the nature of the G-20 and popular alternatives to these types of organizations, a direct action on the afternoon of the summit, a religious procession calling for social justice and a concert. Although the city continues to debate whether or not to grant these exercises in democracy permits, they have notified the public that there will be 4000 extra police on hand during the G-20 meeting. It seems that, once again, the state wants to portray ordinary citizens who are planning to peacefully assemble as potential criminals. We must not allow that to happen. If you can be in Pittsburgh while the capitalists are gathering hoping to determine the future according to their needs (which are not usually the same as ours), please be there. If you are a citizen who believes in the First Amendment, heed the suggestion of Anne Peterman of the Global Justice Ecology Project and call the White House to encourage Barack Obama to “tell the Secret Service to obey the Constitution and respect the First Amendment-protected rights of protesters.” (White House phone number is 202-456-1111). If you live or work in Pittsburgh, encourage the city council and other officials to grant the permits being requested. Most importantly, if you support the purpose of the protests let the organizers know, especially if you live in the Pittsburgh region. If you can afford the time, please attend.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Tripping Through the American Night, and the novels Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator's Tale. His third novel All the Sinners, Saints is a companion to the previous two and was published early in 2013. Read other articles by Ron.

5 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Wingnut said on August 28th, 2009 at 9:56am #

    Doesn’t “job” = joining the AmWay (American Way) pyramid scheme whose symbol is easily seen on the back of the USA dollar? Shouldn’t this author be pursuing the abolishing of capitalism-invented price tags, which causes “cost of living”, which in-turn, forces people to need “jobs” supporting the pyramid scheme/imperialism?

    Its pretty simple, friend. Want capitalism stopped? Then tell “the workers” to quit joining the thing via taking “jobs” aboard it. As soon as “workers” quit kissing the ass of the capitalism pyramid scheme by attaining “jobs”, capitalism/economies, and the rat-racing and pyramiding such things cause… will go away. “Workers” joining the thing… is what causes its continuance. Rid the world of the rationing blockades to survival goods called PRICE TAGS, and now you have no more “forced-to-join” (get a job aboard the imperialism, or starve). Get off the dependency on money and ownership. Get off the “juice”. Fix the parental policy reversal from share share share, to fight fight fight when the USA 18 year olds are shark-tanked into “out there”. Make it so that the 18 year olds can continue the share share share policy of their childhoods, right on through adulthood. Stop honoring “join or starve” (get a job or die) felony extortion, step one. Make it illegal… a good idea for felony extortion activities.

  2. ron said on August 28th, 2009 at 10:13am #

    meanwhile, the rest of us have to feed our kids and give them a place to live, etc.

  3. sheilanagig said on August 28th, 2009 at 4:43pm #

    Good post. Has anyone thought of disabling the power grid?

  4. Jeff said on August 29th, 2009 at 7:54am #

    {Good post. Has anyone thought of disabling the power grid?}

    Something tells me that nature will take care of that!~

  5. Wingnut said on August 29th, 2009 at 8:32am #

    Valid point, Ron. Your use of “have to” is the key phrase. In a way, you must defend yourselves against the feared, attacking, cost of living. And if one were to reword “cost of living”, one COULD use “cost of remaining alive on the planet”. Its a fear. In a supposedly civilized nation (and maybe planet), a fear is in place… a fear for survival, and that is a leveraging tool. As far as i can tell, that is EXACTLY what “the mob” was doing to folks in Chicago… during the days of Elliot Ness. Pay-up or lose your wellbeing (home/healthcare/supplies). If my feebly knowledge serves me well, ANY “pay-up or else”… or ANY “do it or else”… including “do what I tell you or you’re fired/terminated”… is felony extortion. Its also forced religion in many ways. Join a competer’s church (capitalism), OR ELSE! Where is the freedom of choice to join a cooperator’s church? Sure, there’s the Amish, Quakers, Menonites, etc… but 18 year olds in those groups… get few toys and little selection in dating possibilities. Many parents don’t even teach their kids about the existence of cooperatives and communes. Almost all teaching, railroading, bandwagoning, traditioning, indoctrination, social-mores, co-condoning, media-hogfeed… is toward capitalism/business.

    The cost of living is, indeed, an ever-attacking “threat”, and needs to be fended-of by all means possible, including gouging/billing/timecarding others. Any invoicing, billing, timecarding… that that a person or their big/small business does… adds to the cost of living for others. I call it spirography. What goes around, comes around. With spirographs, there is/was always TWO ways to rotate the pen/gears, but no matter which way, the pen, eventually came back to its starting place. Let’s call one direction… BILLING or taking. Let’s call the other direction… LOVE or giving. When you “issue” love/giving, the pen circles and loops and cuircles and loops, and then the issued giving, comes back to you. Conversely, when you issue a billing/invoice/timecard, that billing is handed on and handed on, loop, loop, loop, until it, too, returns to its issuer. What goes around, comes around. Spirography. Hand-around love and giving, and it comes back. Hand around demandings, and they come back into your own mailbox. The more YOUR business raises its price tags, the more the companies who bill you, will raise their prices. This all happens, because the tip of each spirograph flower petal (each person on the planet)… is a loop, not a point. All things are handed-on… bills or love. Currently, the planet is in an all-one-direction spirography. Little movement in the “giving and love” direction, and much spirography-spin in the “billing and demanding” direction.

    What’s the answer to a self-feeding demand-o-thon sprirograph wheel? Same as always… a stick jammed in the spokes. We have to stop the runaway bill-a-thon, distrust-a-thon, spin-o-fear… before we can even consider how to get the spiro-wheels spinning in an all-giving, all-sharing commune-like direction. How do we jam a stick in the spokes? Laws. Fairness laws. Making monetary discrimination… a felony, should do it. Folks have to WANT that law, in order to get it. A Christian-ish uprising… demanding fairness laws and demanding the elimination of wellbeing rationing (monetary discrim)… is a good start. Too bad most powerful Christians… are capitalism buy-ins. Many are competers by day, cooperators by night. Two-sided folks indeed. Flip-floppers. Bad deal. I’m still studying the thing… I’ll try to report any Achilles heals I come across. In a way, the cost of living is a dragon, and more specifically, the fire from a dragon. This same dragon, will sell you thermal blankets to protect your from him… IF… you worship him and give some of your labor-earned dragonfeed, to it. Serve the dragon, and get some thermal blankets. Don’t serve the competer’s church, and you get burnt-up y “the cost of living”… which we made for ourselves.

    Erf, what a metaphor festival, huh? I wish I wrote better. I working on it. 🙂