Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

G20 Protest: 11

In Pittsburgh on September 30, 2009 at 2:14 pm

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One month ago, I sent an editorial to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, begging activists and police not to fight each other. “I have friends on both sides,” I wrote. “Ninety-nine percent of the people on the streets want a peaceful demonstration.”

The Post-Gazette didn’t respond to my submission. Not even a rejection letter. This is unusual for them, but the editors likely swamped these days. After 40-or-so rejected articles (this year alone), I didn’t give the editorial a second thought.

Just before I left the march, my friend L. throw a handful of paper-hearts in the air. They fell like rose-petals over the stone wall that stood between me and the marchers. I picked one up. It read: DO GOOD.

At that moment, I could sense danger coming. L. called me soonafter. Police were everywhere, she said. A godly voice had boomed from the sky, demanding that protesters vacate the premises. A small band of protesters pushed a dumpster into the police barricade, and soon the streets were choked with gas. A CNN reporter was blinded. Riot-police marched in formation.

Days later, I still wonder: What good was done here? What, in the end, even happened?


G20 Protest: 10

In Pittsburgh on September 30, 2009 at 1:59 pm

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A strange blend: Bike-cops rode alongside anarchists. Were these really mortal enemies? The police rode their mountain-bikes at a leisurely clip, and other bikers rode in front and behind them. Lawrenceville residents strolled through the glut of marchers or stood on porches, watching the crowd flow past. I couldn’t stay long, but I hoped that the march would remain so peaceful; the protester would end in orgies and love-ins; the police and anarchists would laugh together in the streets, wondering what the hooplah was all about, why anybody would be so concerned.

Fifteen minutes later, tear-gas canisters rained from the sky.

By then, I had biked my way to Shadyside.

G20 Protest: 9

In Uncategorized on September 30, 2009 at 1:50 pm

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As the marchers moved in a single stream through Lawrenceville’s narrow streets, small bands of activists jogged along the sidelines. They huffed up grassy hills and rounded chain-link fences. They disappeared into alleys and emerged behind houses. This behavior made me anxious. Until now, I had feared the police — their technology, their discipline, their omnipotent power. Until now, I had feared getting arrested for merely being present; spending nights in jail because I’d wanted to snap some pictures.

But paranoia goes both ways. How far would the anarchists go to prove their point? Should I still expect broken windows? Or fires? Or pipe-bombs? Taking side-routes wasn’t the practice of public marchers but the tactic of secret violence. Or maybe they just wanted to cut to the head of the line. As tension thickened, I was caught in waves of panic. Surely 400 civilians, mashed together in a narrow street, were a sensible target. If someone, anyone, wanted to send a violent message to the world, surely there was no better time or place; not with the 20 most powerful nations staying in hotels only three miles away.

G20 Protest: 8

In Pittsburgh on September 30, 2009 at 1:38 pm

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The police stood in a loose rank along the perimeter of the park. Their numbers were few, and they looked casual, even bored. Theories abounded: The police would arrest us now. They wouldn’t let us leave the park. They were biding their time. They would tear-gas us at any moment…

But nobody really knew. Except for the police, of course. The protest route had been published in the newspaper. Organizers had been vocal about their plans. The police had enjoyed days of planning and strategy. No matter how clever the protesters fancied themselves, law enforcement called the shots.

G20 Protest: 7

In Pittsburgh on September 30, 2009 at 1:30 pm

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This was not a licensed protest. Organizers wanted pure, civil disobedience. A chance for everyone to wave signs and express outrage. But not everyone sees the same horizon. An older man screamed at an anti-abortion protester, spitting his rage. The duel was hardy even: The older man bore wide eyes and curled lips, but his voice was drowned out by the protester’s megaphone. I never saw the face of the protester, but he shared his banner with another protester — a young man, skinny and blond. His head was capped with a tri-quarter hat. Their sign read GOD BLESS AMERICA.

This was not a widespread sentiment.

G-20 Protest: 6

In Pittsburgh on September 25, 2009 at 5:38 am

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If an army could charge in slow-motion; if a wave could hesitate to break; if lava could restrain its flow; if sunlight could drift toward the Earth; if gravity had a lazy day; if flames could freeze above a campfire; these things would look like the movement of the G-20 protest. The march was lugubrious but determined. Face forward. One foot in front of the other. What happens, happens, but there’s no hurry to find it.

G-20 Protest: 5

In Pittsburgh on September 25, 2009 at 5:32 am

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The crowd swirled into an eddy of heads and drab clothing. Flags jutted out of the mass. Signs bobbed. Tentacles of humanity slid along the chain-link fence, along the stone walls, down the sidewalk, up the street; the stretched and unfurled, curled and bled. But the crowd’s heart throbbed with chants and movement.

I couldn’t see how they communicated, but it reminded me of my friend Matt, a research physician, who once described “brain clouds.” In nature, we see countless examples of smaller organisms operating with perfect synchronicity, forming patterned movement — clusters of birds or schools of fish. The brain operates in a similar way, with millions of individual neurons operating together.

Now, without leader or direction, I saw a brain-cloud in action: The activists poured out the gate, up the steep street toward Bloomfield. The protesters were on the march.

G-20 Protest: 4

In Pittsburgh on September 25, 2009 at 5:24 am

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The anarchist worldview is simple: Corporations are evil. Governments are backward. States are unnecessary. If people returned to a tribal life, where barter and good-will reigned, people would regain their purity.

The archists’ enemy is a leviathan, and their crusade is dreamy. They know this. So anarchists adopt a kind of gallows humor; their outfits and demeanors can be playful, circus-like. As we flow through the crowd, and the crowd moves tidally across the park, hoping to flow through the main gate in a mass-march, a brass band plays. The seal springs to life. The reverand calls out, his arms spread. Activists clap in rhythm. Carnival masks slide over faces. If the atmosphere wasn’t so tense with potential danger, I’d think we were leaving a concert.

G-20 Protest: 3

In Pittsburgh on September 25, 2009 at 5:15 am

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Among the true anarchists, a new fashion had surfaced: All-black cotton outfits and face-masks. Balaclavas and bandanas covered faces, leaving only a slit for angry eyes. Later, someone explained that these might be for resisting tear-gas; someone else compared the fashion to Hezbollah mujahedeen — a comparison tinged with disgust. However the trend started, whatever its benefits, the look is militant and frightening. The radicals of the 1960’s look quaint by comparison; these people mean business, and they don’t care that their humanity is obscured by fabric.

As the riot police circled the park, their eyes hidden by helmets and plastic face-shields, I chilled at the sight of these two batallions — furious soldiers, eager for battle, armored in anonymity. In the war of rhetoric, the street-battles are fought by the faceless.

G-20 Protest: 2

In Pittsburgh on September 25, 2009 at 5:04 am

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The atmosphere was surreal: packs of friends sat around park benches, while ACLU members in special T-shirts threaded through the crowd, handing out flyers with emergency contact numbers — legal hotlines, in case we were arrested. As anti-corporate signs waved, a cluster of anti-abortion protesters stood grimly by the side, manning blown-up photographs of mangled fetuses. No two missions seemed to match.

The most mystifying sign of all: “Abort Babies/Not Wars.”