Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn
dachte

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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:

I first went to work, and spent an hour or two working. This makes me unsure if I should report taking the day off or not. I went down and caught the tail end of the demonstration of CTandT's new small electric cars. They're small, soundless, and cheapish ($7k new), but not fast enough for highway driving. I am very tempted (the no highway driving thing might be a deal-breaker for an otherwise sweet car - if they become available I'll need to thingk about it). Stats:

  • 40mph max speed (hence no highway)
  • 80mi per charge
  • estimated $7/month operating cost (I'm not sure how many miles this assumes)
Afterwards, I went to check the monstrosity next to the fence - some non-CMU people took the fence (and willingly paid a fine to do so) and built a bunch of chaotic structures in the area, relevant to the G20. There were all sorts of messages they attached to the jumble - my favourite was the oddball 「Metric System Now!」 on a fake chalkboard. There were also some posters by a christian group asking people to pray for the G20 nations - some of their concerns were valid, some felt a bit contrived, and some of them were for things I hope will never come to pass.

Progressing onto Flagstaff, the heads of state working lunch at Schenley was already done and the fences and stuff were being dismantled, leaving just the sad list of villages destroyed in the genocide in Darfur, each with its own freestanding poster. This was an effective (and sobering!) display.

Moving into Oalkand, I apparently missed the start of the big protest march, but did find a number of very heavily armoured police of all kinds spread all over the place, from Illinois state police to some city police from Alabama, university police from all over the place, etc. The university police of other universities were a bit more commonly deployed on CMU campus, I noticed - maybe this is because of the familiar environment-style, although I imagine many of the police here were fish far from their home pond. I was a bit surprised to see border patrol folk - that branch of the government is pretty much nonexistent around here. Police riot gear looks uncomfortable and heavy - even the less armoured police looked uncomfortable with their giant shinguards and belts, and the looks on their faces were markedly worse when they had to move around. A number of windows had been broken on local businesses, and others had taken the hint and blocked up their windows preemptively. Some enterprising businesses had people out front giving away free samples (Ritaのpumpkin ice cream - yum!). I got directions from a cop to where the protest started, briefly hopped on a bus until it became clear that its detours would not take me near I wanted, hopped off, and ran from Oakland into the Hill District where I finally caught the tail end of the protest and started to make my way forward. The armoured police vehicles were trailing the protest, blocking traffic, trying to get the rear of the people to hurry up so they could reopen roads, etc. There were media and ACLU observers all over the place, and police on special PortAuthority busses. I immediately noticed that there were two large groups trying to hijack the protests - Free Tibet folks (an issue where I don't have an opinion, but wish they had not been there) and Falun Gong (I have never met a sane person involved with them - they're as crazy as Scientologists and should be banned, although on the off chance their organs really are being harvested, that's an atrocity and should be stopped). POG was there, of course, and they had some fantastic outfits, displays, etc. There were also quakers, members of the various communist parties in the US, leftists, some centrists, a fair numbers of foreigners of various sorts, etc. The march was well-behaved, diverse, and about a third masked. Just like with CSFolk, there were a few people who were unfortunately protesting modern concerns with body image, meaning they had terrible body odour and a fair number of women had unshaved underarms (the former of which I think is terribly nasty in a general sense, the latter of which I just find highly distasteful in a more personal sense). As we passed some of the buildings, entering the downtown area, there were a few businessmen and officials sneering down from above. I was a bit surprised that the crowd kept growing - it's my experience that in a protest march, crowds slowly shrink as they move from their starting point, and instead people joined in from neighbourhoods as the march passed through. As we got near downtown, I spotted some Wobblies as well as some people from ARA (a direct action group that monitored and harassed/beat up/etc racists - my feelings have slowly grown more friendly to them over the years as my perspective has grown further from being recognisably American). The first stop for the march was near the courts downtown, where I was part of a privacy circle (first time!), some people from SDS spoke, a Mexican leftist political leader spoke (I was surprised that I could understand almost everything he said in spanish before the translation afterwards - I don't understand how my Spanish comprehension keeps getting better over the years when I don't actively use it), and I spotted a few CMUers (including a heavily braided Christian girl I really dislike - she spoke in favour of prudishness at a CMU community discussion on lewd films on campus a few years back). There were a few members of the Christian Left trying to reframe the issue with the G20 as Capitalism versus Christian compassion, which kind of pissed me off (but then, the left never has been easily unified except in opposition). There were also a few lost-looking Tea Party sorts, but they left the protest area after seeing enough signs hostile to lassiez-faire and greed. After the speeches finished and some slightly tense confrontations between some anarchists and the police didn't erupt into anything, we marched on, across a bridge and into a park area, which had been prepared for the terminus of the march - there were porta-pottys, food stands, and a stage with speakers set up. There were a few speakers, including Cindy Sheehan (who is pretty crazy - maybe she has a right to be given what she's suffered, but it doesn't diminish the fact), a famous protest musician from the 70s (whose name I have forgotten), and a few other speeches. PETA was there too, protesting seal harvesting by Canada with some performance art of a guy beating seals with a stick. Unfortunately, the Falun Gong and Free Tibet people were trying to steal the show here too, but people largely ignored them.

I didn't have a protest sign for the march as I don't strongly disapprove of the G20, although I did decide to make an "identity" sign, first using a sheet of lined paper with something makeshift, later spotting a discarded poster, borrowing a sharpie, and doing a hammer and sickle in the middle, a quote from Marx: 「From each according to their ability, To each according to their needs」, and a quote from Bakunin: 「No Gods No Masters」. It was a slight delight and guilty pleasure seeing the Falun Gong and Liberal Christians flinch. Overall, it was a nice big protest, I had some interesting conversations about communism by the handful of random libertarian (I am the only one who has read any philosophy and let me tell you about Ayn Rand) protestors, conversations about communist philosophy with two of the three(!) trotskyite communist parties that were there (having the right doctrine and excluding the wrong doctrine creates difficulties!), and discussions about socialist morals and ethics and gods with nominally christian leftists. I wish I had gotten to talking with the PETA folk - I rather like PETA, and their recent efforts to add a second, softer face to their ordinarily stern organisation is doing them a world of good. I also wish I had gotten to speak with some ALF/ELF folk, but I didn't spot any - I used to be lightly involved with an ALF group and it would've been great to have seen someone I knew.

Things wound down, and I hopped a 54C (with the most awesome bus driver I've ever seen in Pgh) back into Oakland, popped into work for an hour or so to figure out how to reconnect the serial console on Monday, went to India Garden for dinner, and failed to catch a bus back from there due to all the detours after a half-hour wait. I started to walk back to CMU but heard what sounded like live Radiohead from the Oakland pavilion (one of the best things the city's done recently is to provide this) - it was not in fact Radiohead, but it was a nice small band, the singer of which was a girl with a sad, weary, and southern voice. I failed to find anyone else in the crowd who I thought would enjoy my company, so I sat and listened alone for a few songs, then walked back to CMU and caught a bus from there back into SqHill, ending up at Té Café where Radiohead actually *was* playing, but where I put on earphones and listened to a better selection of Radiohead as I felt a migraine begin to form.

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.

Tags: politics
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