Saturday, 26 September 2009

On the G20 summit in Pittsburgh

As with London in March, the G20 summit of this past week saw Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, utterly transform. Great masses of people took to the streets in opposition to not just the summit itself but to the destructive economic system that it represents.

Much has changed since the protests in London saw graffiti, broken glass, and the death of an innocent man at the hands of the police. A working class increasingly ready to take direct action against the vicious class war by the rich has established power on the back foot, their greater resort to repression and brutality a sign not of strength but of desperation. In Pittsburgh, this desperation showed itself in a level of repressive tactics utterly unseen in London.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Barry Weiss is typical of the mass media dismissal of the protesters. Quoting the most articulate capitalists and the least articulate anti-capitalists he can find, patronising the protesters as "earnest," and refusing to research the ideas he opposes any further than to insist it is "hard to say" what their message is, it reads more like a paltry attempt at disparaging sarcasm than serious journalism. Perhaps the only saving grace is more subtle than most with his use of the term "anarchists" to generate distrust and ridicule.

For coverage without patronisation, we have to turn to Billy Wharton in Dissident Voice;
Clashes between police and G20 protesters continue into the night in Pittsburgh. A cycle of dispersal and regroupment has been underway since early this afternoon. Police ramped up their aggressiveness after being overwhelmed early at Arsenal Park.
Schenley Park just outside of the University of Pittsburgh, was the scene of some of the most volatile interactions of the day. At first, student onlookers, seemingly not initially affiliated with the G20 protests, challenged riot police and were violently repulsed. Then, protesters massed in the park and marched on the police line. Tear gas was fired, but the wind was with the protesters and blew the gas back on the police themselves. Massive numbers of police then surrounded the park. The protest dwindled as young people, fatigued by a day of being chased by the police through streets of Pittsburgh, retreated in search of food and much needed rest.
There was property damage today, but it was either defensive or immediately quashed by the protesters themselves. A sound and gas attack by police resulted in the overturning of some dumpsters — a futile symbolic act of self-defense not the justification for repression that the mainstream media has reported. Rocks in BMW and Boston Chicken stores were the frustrated outcome of a crowd whose right to assemble had been forcefully revoked. A small band of protesters went further, by smashing ATMs, but they were quickly persuaded against continuing by march organizers themselves.
The police were everywhere. Pinning down protesters, creating confrontations and randomly stopping and searching. Cops came from Ohio, Florida and Arizona. If their numbers were not enough, they employed anti-protest technology. A Long Range Acoustic Device was employed to beam out high-volume sounds and Twitter-journalist visually identified a microwave heat machine which wasn’t used, but stood at the ready to repel demonstrators. Such tools of repression have no place inside a democratic society.
The protesters were brave, standing up against overwhelming repression, policing themselves and sending the message that capitalism has failed them and billions of others around the world. Equally encouraging were the actions of residents of Pittsburgh. Many extended solidarity to the protesters — opening their homes for relief, providing overnight housing free of charge and disregarding work rules to provide a tired demonstrator with a free glass of water or a seat to rest for a moment. Such acts of solidarity offer a basis to think about a different kind of society, one which moves beyond acoustic attacks and tear gas and towards democracy and freedom.
To back up Wharton's report, we have considerable footage of police brutality and intimidation tactics. Such as the use of unmuzzled dogs at the University of Pittsburgh and elsewhere as a form of coercion;

Or the use of tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesting students;

Clearly, then, the police in Pittsburgh are living up to the actios of the police in London. It is perhaps only through good fortune or good organisation on the part of the protesters that nobody died. This time.

Inside the summit, meanwhile, nothing has changed at all. According to the Guardian, Barack Obama hailed a "new era of engagement" under which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) "will regularly analyse whether the economic policies of G20 countries are consistent with "sustainable and balanced trajectories for the global economy"." Gordon brown echoed this sentiment by stating that "the old systems of economic co-operation are over," replaced by "a system that can prevent crises as well as deal with them when they occur."

We learn absolutely nothing new, then. In the wake of the London summit, the same paper told us of "the death of the "Washington Consensus" of financial market liberalisation, privatisation and unfettered capitalism promulgated by ... the IMF and the World Bank," because that same IMF will have a "stronger role" in doing what it already does. In London, "unfettered capitalism" "died" before being brought back to life in exactly the same form, only stronger. Just as in the wake of every great financial crises caused by those with capital, who bail themselves out whilst making the poor pick up the tab. All we have now are the specifics.

We can also discern, from both the disproportionate reaction to the protesters outside and from an increasing denial and rollback of workers' rights even though "the IMF is now predicting 3% growth worldwide next year," that the powerful are on the back foot. That those who suffer their successes are paying for their failures doesn't interest them in the slightest. But the possibility that the masses might finally rise up and say "enough" terrifies them.

Let them be scared. As long as people continue to organise and mobilise, to educate themselves and each other, and to stand up on principle against injustice, then the rebellion will grow. Long may it do so.