by Billy Wharton
After an evening of pitched street battles between protesters and police, things are relatively calm in Pittsburgh on day two of the G20. A mass “People’s March” touched off without a hitch and thousands are now in the streets in opposition to the G20. A section of the Free Tibet movement, monks clad in their now familiar orange robes, lead the march. A stop downtown allowed speakers to highlight the inequities of a capitalist system designed in large part by the G20 delegates.
Last night’s brutality is still on people’s minds. Stories were shared and photos have been swapped. All tell the tale of a severely uneven battle between largely student protesters and heavily armed aggressive police. Tear gas, rubber bullets and unmuzzled dogs are all reported to have been employed. A scandalous video which appeared this afternoon tells the story of a group of University of Pittsburgh students trapped in a stairwell by police and forced to inhale tear gas. One
student was bloodied by a rubber bullet. Another shows men in military outfits grabbing a young protester, stuffing him into an unmarked car and driving off. No discussion, no identification and no idea of the whereabouts of this person.
Little of this violent environment is evident in the march today. Organizers estimate a hardy turnout of more than 10,000 – the high end of their pre-march predictions. Highlights from the speakers podium include Peter Shell of the Thomas Merton Center who exposed the hypcrisy of the discussion going inside the walled-off Convention Center, “The G20 can’t solve the global economic crisis and climate crisis – they caused the crisis!” SDS speaker Kate Goff went further. “Now it is time,” she argued, “for a new system, a system that is run by us!”
Of course, there are still plenty of police to insure that Goff’s proposal isn’t enacted, at least not today. At some points police were two and three rows deep. Unlike yesterday, this crowd is simply too large to police aggressively. Police combed the edges – preventing people from entering or exiting and sending the general message that repression could be employed quickly if they saw fit. Anarchist youth have employed their best manners, limiting their hijinks to a male-on-male make-out session in front of some Christian fundamentalists.
So, on day two of the summit there been dissent from a broad section of protesters and limited clashes with the police. Organizers claim this event as the largest march in Pittsburgh since the 1970s. The clearest point brought home is that politics – debate, discussion and mobilization – can occur if the police are not intent on repression. Some serious accounting will have to be made for the multiple police riots which occurred yesterday. The First Amendment was suspended and replaced by political violence. Nothing remotely democratic about the actions of the military and police yesterday, but plenty of encouraging signs from today’s mass march.