A look inside G20 Organizing on the ground

Posted September 1, 2009

Since the announcement several months ago that the G20 was coming to Pittsburgh, local activists have been busy organizing local opposition to not only the policies of the G20, but the very existence of an undemocratic organization that allows the rich and powerful to determine the future of billions of people around the world.

Over the last several weeks many those opposed to the G20 have been in a fight with the City of Pittsburgh and Federal Government over our fundamental right to dissent, with virtually every organization that has applied for permits being denied, delayed, and ignored. Even in instances were they city responds positively it has been with the caveat that any permits may be revoked without notice at any time.

One of the groups in this fight is The Peoples’ March Organizing Committee. The Peoples’ March will be a peaceful, and constitutionally protected (and most likely eventually permitted) demonstration that seeks to bring together all of the forces opposed to the policies of the G20, in a space that is open and welcoming to people from all walks of life. As a member of the Thomas Merton Center Antiwar Committee, I hope to bring call to end the US wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan to the Peoples’ March, and in doing so put pressure of the Obama administration and its international allies to bring the troops home now.

The Peoples’ March, through the Merton Center, has applied for a permit to hold several rallies and marches on the second day of the G20. To date the city has not officially issued or denied our permit application. They have however given us a letter of intend to issue permits for a rally in the Oakland Neighborhood, the major university center, with a march to downtown Pittsburgh and a subsequent rally at the City County Building (City Hall) along with a feeder march and rally in the Hill District, an African American Neighborhood next to downtown, to highlight the demands of Pittsburgh African American community. However, the city also informed us that they intend to deny all other requests to march closer to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center where the G20 will be meeting.

The Peoples’ March organizers are not the only groups having problems with permits, the city also sent letters of intent to deny to State Senator Ferlo’s effort to have rally and concert on Wednesday in a local park at the head waters of the Ohio river. (This may have now been approved, but I haven’t seen anything in writing.) Two other groups, the Three Rivers Climate Convergence and Women’s Tent City (a coalition of Code Pink, and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom) have also submitted permit applications to use the park for a variety of activities in the week before through the G20: a Climate camp and sustainability fair and a Women’s Tent City.

A religious centered group, the G 6 Billion, was verbally told that they would be denied a permit to hold a march and prayer meeting on the Sunday before the G-20 that would start on the North Side and end at the convention center, they have modified there plan at least three times in an attempt to get a permit including being allowed to march past the convention center to a church in downtown. So far have been told that would not be permitted because the security immediately around the convention center would be in place by September 19th.

This has provoked a large community response, and lots of good media coverage* around our rights to protest: this Tuesday the largest meeting I’ve been out around the G20 met and committed itself to resisting the assault on our right to protest. Today various groups met with lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights, ACLU, and the National Lawyers Guild. Jules Lobel of the CCR is currently preparing a brief that they intend to file in western district federal court in the coming weeks.

In response to our organizing the city has backed down to some degree with Luke Ravenstahl appearing in local media declaring that all permits would be issued, and that protestors would be allowed to reach locations that would put them within eye and ear shot of the convention center. Whether this is much more then empty rhetoric remains to be seen.

The Merton Center and other forces have arranged for a public hearing before city council, where a motion will be presented by one of our allies on council that will demand that the city respect the rights of protestors. However, the mayor has also proposed legislation that could curtail our ability to have large banners and puppets etc at the demo by banning PVC pipe, large pieces of wood, and other “dangerous” protest equipment in large sections of the city during the G20. The legislation also includes added penalties for those who break the law while wearing a mask during the G20.

Throughout this struggle the Peoples’ March organizing committee has continued to grow from a very small core entirely composed of members of the Thomas Merton Center Anti War Committee and has now reached a healthy level of 30 or so local activists, and over fifty endorsing organizations. However as is always the case money is in short supply.

Donations can be made to the Thomas Merton Center. Please Indicate “Peoples’ March.”

More information about the Peoples’ March can be found at www.pittsburghendthewar.org.

More information about G-20 activities in Pittsburgh can be found at http://www.g20media.org/.