September 26th, 2009

Semiformalishmaybe

G20

(Note: This entry was begun Friday evening, but was not finished or posted until Saturday to give me time to re-sync my gallery to include relevant photos as well as time to rest - odd references to "now" might not have been massaged into anything temporally coherent. Photos are still landing on my media webserver, so a followup post will include an URL once they're there and spidereyeballed)

I decided to go to the G20 protest afterall, even given my nuanced stance towards the protested subject overall (I oppose global capitalism, particularly the closer-to-lassiez-faire sort, and strongly dislike the IMF and World Bank, but think the G20 itself is possibly benign or at least not ill-intentioned (not that we will ever know, given the lack of published agendas/minutes)). I brought my camera, and took a number of nice photos. Overview of today that includes the protest and other things:

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For the whole event, I've been listening to police radio online - I wasn't aware it was legal to listen to it, but it's simple enough that maybe nobody enforces the prohibition anymore (if there was one).

I apparently missed the big, interesting nastiness in Oakland after the main protest - there was another march that went outside where the police wanted it to go, and they used pepper and tear gas and a new sonic weapon to disperse the crowd. Is this appropriate? First, we should examine the issue of permits and plans for marches - Is the state ability to require this in the public interest? I think the core reasons they might be able to argue that it is in a society that defaults to being libertine are:

  • Traffic - requiring registration allows for effective rerouting of traffic around affected areas
  • Police presence and neighbourhood knowledge - allowing police and residents to take appropriate precautions to prevent property damage (moving cars, getting stuff out of the way
  • Litter - ensuring adequate cleanup is done after an event
  • Liability - If an event gets way out of hand, those who registered it would act at least as a point of contact, possibly more
Are these good enough reasons to require registration? Should the state retain the ability to say no? I think the first two reasons are the strongest - at the very least it's not a great idea to have people march into a busy street and take it over on a whim, and things sometimes are broken by a crowd that feels the onus of personal responsibility lessened. All of this does add up to what constitutes a weak yes for me - that registration should be required, but it should not be a huge deal if it is not done and penalties and restraint should be light provided no violence or property damage is being done (iding people and issuing a single small fine for being present in such an assembly should be the most done in peacable but nonregistered assembly). Should the state retain the ability to say no or literally stop a march that is already ongoing? Only based on either strong security concerns, significant damage or violence, or if the group itself is prohibited (I am comfortable with an absolute prohibition on racist marches, e.g. Klan rallies, neo-facists, and the like). In the general case, permits should be easy to get, free-or-inexpensive, and should be a rubber stamp yes in the majority of cases. From what I understand, the Pittsburgh police have denied a number of reasonable permits for marches and gatherings, and that taints their restraint of this one. Were the tools used appropriate? I believe not - tear gas and sonic weapons on a nonviolent crowd are not appropriate, and in fact their demand for the march to disband was illegitimate. In the circumstances, direct action against the police would have been appropriate (regretful as that is - the actual police on the street were (probably) not involved in the poor decisions that would justify direct action). Such direct action should be limited to disarming and restraining the police involved and destruction of the sonic weapon and tear gas. Beyond being necessary for avoiding undue restraint of civil liberties, such actions should be considered less problematic because the individual police, like the military and others in hierarchial or non-hierarchial structures of humanity, have an obligation to the public good and should not be excused for their actions by the fact of those social structures. That said, this direct action should be highly functional rather than symbolic and emotionally charged - it differs from direct action against people and organisations that have deep human flaws and would have no place in the better world we would like to build. The moral failing of saying "I will do whatever is ordered from above" is a much smaller one (and categorically different) than many others that might drive us to conflict with people and organisations.

Obama commented on the protests suggesting that we might've been pleased at the results of the G20 meeting if we had bothered to pay attention. Perhaps that would be easier if the G20 were more of an open event - I may be tooting my own horn a bit in saying that I am both very liberal and pretty open-and-independent minded about these kinds of things, but it is hard not to be suspicious when a number of bankers and government types have a big summit with private agendas, private meetings, and it includes organisations like the IMF and World Bank for which we have legitimate loathing. If the G20 is not in fact an instrument promoting and protecting a lassiez-faire corporate capitalism, it is not easy for us to know and trust that. I am willing to assume that Obama believes he's serving the people, but consider him to be only moderately better than Tony Blair - leagues better than BushJr but still committed to a kinder version of an economic system that we hold to be ultimately bad for humanity. Obama's failure, in our eyes, is that he is not a socialist, even if he is full of good will and intelligence.

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