10,000 Marchers Beat Back
By Carl Davidson
September 25, 2009
Nearly 10,000 protesters marched through the streets of
afternoon, delivering a powerful message for global
justice that was expressed with a brilliantly colored
display of unity, militancy and diversity.
Peace and justice groups demanded an end to wars and
occupations, trade union contingents demanded green
jobs and fair trade, women and people of color raised
the banners of equality and empowerment, and young
people called for a sustainable and liberated future in
a new world.
"Will we make any difference?" Rick Kimbrough asked me
a few hours earlier as we headed down a parkway heavily
secured with police cars at every exit on our way into
town. Kimbrough is an old high school friend, an
African American steelworker with 37 years in a huge
Beaver County mill that's now shutdown and gone, Jones
And Laughlin Steel. When I asked him to join me the day
before, he was fired up to go already, until he heard a
nephew had taken a bullet as a bystander in a senseless
street fight. When he heard his nephew would do OK, he
called back, ready to ride in with me and join the
United Steel Workers contingent in `the People's March'
at the close of the G20 sessions.
"We'll make SOME difference, but not nearly enough, and
not yet," was my reply. "These G20 people think they
can run the world as they please, but we have to show
them they can't, that there are limits, at least until
we can grow stronger, and turn things around
completely." I asked Rick if he had ever been to
something like this before. No, he'd been to political,
union and civil rights rallies, but this was different.
We turned to discussing the news from the previous day,
mainly about the efforts by anarchist youth, a thousand
or so of them, to stage actions on a variety of
targets, and march on the G20 without permits. They had
a number of skirmishes all day and into the night with
the highly militarized police, who made use of tear
gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. Some 82
protesters were arrested overall, and the day had seen
numerous smashed windows and trash cans sent rolling
into the streets.
Far worse, the
Sept 24, swept the university neighborhood streets,
and tear gas canisters. Students were trapped on
stairwells by riot police above and below and gassed.
Students were gassed in closed passages between
dormitories. They had committed no crime, no offense,
no discourtesy, no disrespect, but had simply been
walking to get a bite to eat, or to visit a friend, or
to study, or stand around in the cool night air and
talk with friends.
The media accounts had worried Rick's family about his
participation. In fact, a number of other
workers I had asked to take part flat out said "No!,'
they had no interest in playing tag with heavily armed
cops who were largely inexperienced--and my assertion
that today's march would likely be large and peaceful
didn't count for much. In fact, it was entirely
peaceful on this last day-no windows broken, and only one arrest.
"What's the deal with breaking windows? Don't they
realize that's just a big diversion that waters down
the message?" Rick asked about the previous night. I
tried to explain that anarchists didn't necessarily
share our message, and could be manipulated by police
and provocateurs. But young people had minds of their
own, often having to learn things the hard way. He
agreed, turning the talk back to his nephew, and
venting his anger against the criminal profiteers
selling guns to kids in his neighborhood. "I've seen
too much senseless street violence," he concluded,
"I've got no patience for it."
When we hit
to park downtown near the Steel Workers building, so we
would have the car nearby at the end of the march. Nice
idea, but no way it was going to happen. Every downtown
exit was blocked until
tried twice to double back, and were turned back by
police and blockaded streets.
Security was tough and serious. The militarized police,
more than 6000 of them brought in from across the
country, had shut down normal commerce and movement of
people in the city. The city was placed in a real, not
a virtual state of siege.
Finally, Randy Shannon from
across the river on the South Side, the closest spot he
could find. So we picked him up, and made our way to
head of the march.
As we neared the top of a steep block and reached the
staging area, Rick got a little wide-eyed at the first
thing we saw, a contingent of 200 Tibetans, some with
monk robes and beating drums, and all with red and
yellow flags and banners. So I gave him a quick crash
course in who's who-the Tibetans are protesting what
they see as a raw deal from
Buddhist culture, the young people dressed in black
with masks are mostly the anarchists we were taking
about, the people with checkered scarves and green,
black red and white flags are pro-Palestinian, the
women in shocking pink are Code Pink, a militant peace
group, and so on.
"This is wonderful, all kinds of people are here," was
Rick's conclusion. I suggested we look for union caps
and jackets, or people in fatigues with Army veteran's
stuff, and we'll find the folks we're looking for.
Right away, Carl Redwood Jr. from the battles in the
Hill District, a low-income African American
neighborhood, comes over to talk. I met him at a teach-
in two days before. We fill Rick in on the issues
around the new Penguin stadium and gentrification.
As we neared the front ranks, I spotted Michael
McPhearson, a national leader of Vets for Peace I knew
through United for Peace and Justice. When I introduce
Rick, it turns out Mike has folks in Aliquippa, so they
are quickly making connections.
There were two groupings up front. Randy had connected
with his daughter, a
and was positioned with the
justice coalition people. Rick and I were with the Iraq
Vets Against the War group along side them. Aaron
Hughes, an IVAW national leader, came up to greet us.
He and Rick were soon talking about post traumatic
stress and it impact on communities when soldiers
return. "I still haven't spotted the Steel Workers," I
told him, "but let's just stay here until we do."
Suddenly the march moved out, and we're in the front
ranks, about four rows back. It's a long walk, more
than a mile, but fortunately, almost all of it is
downhill. After we've gone twenty blocks or and are on
a little rise, I walked backwards and looked for the
end. I couldn't see it; we were still filling the
streets. It meant we were somewhere between 5000 and
10,000, and we could declare a victory for the day.
Progressive activists had beaten back attempts at
Rick picked up on all the rhythmic chanting. "The
people, united, will never be defeated!" seemed to suit
him best, while "This is what democracy looks like!"
was my favorite for the day. As we come in sight of the
Hill District, I'm informed that a feeder march of the
residents numbering about 500 has merged with us, as
have a number of other groupings with feeder marches
Eventually we decide to stand to the side and wait for
the USW contingent to show up. This meant we got a
terrific review of the march's composition: large
banners from the Green party went by, followed by a
huge HR 676 Single Payer health care contingent, then
several hundred young anarchists in black with black
flags, the Gay and Lesbian people, more
Finally we spotted the large blue USW flags, with
dozens of people in union T-Shirts, perhaps 50 in all.
I waved to Maria Somma, a Steel Worker organizer.
Interestingly, the front banner is featuring the rights
of immigrant workers. Plenty of `Good Jobs, Green Jobs'
placards are also visible. We fell in at the back of
the contingent, carrying our own placard with a picture
of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a demand for jobs.
The taller downtown buildings provided and excellent
echo chamber for our chants and drum beats, so spirits
were high as we turned the corner to the rally
scheduled at an open plaza near the
"We had this successful people's march today only
because we FOUGHT for it, every step of the way"
declared Peter Shell of the
Antiwar Committee from the platform. He delivered a
powerful indictment of the federal and city tactics
designed to disorganize the protestors and dampen the
turnout. "Look at all these militarized police brought
in here from everywhere. They have taught us an
important lesson, even if in a small way, about what
it's like to live under and occupation, and why we have
to increase out efforts this fall to end the
Lisa Jordan of the USW Education Dept spoke for the
steelworkers. "The G20 is undemocratic and
unrepresentative," she stated. "They only speak for the
CEOs; there is no voice for the workers." She pledged
the solidarity of the USW with all the ongoing fights
for global and social justice.
We listened to a few more speeches, but the crowd was
breaking up. One contingent would go on to the East
Side within a few blocks of the convention center,
where the G20 was wrapping up, and thus technically
getting within `sight and sound' of the gathering. It
was a thin concession to what was really needed.
Rick had a bum leg, injured years back in the J&L tin
mill when a sheet of metal sliced a tendon, and it was
giving out on him. Given the restrictive logistics, we
called it a day. Getting to a bus to get back to our
car was hard enough-we had to pass through three
barriers of hundreds of police, including a long line
of German shepherd police dogs that looked forlorn
behind their uncomfortable muzzles. The bus quickly
filled, and in twenty minutes, we were back at the car
and headed home.
Since the G20 bigwigs were also headed toward the
airport, which is located near the border of Beaver
County, security was even more intense on the highway
on the way back. "It's all overkill," said Rick. "They
just want to use us for practice. We're just a training
exercise for them, and it'll be turned against us even
more somewhere down the line."
As I dropped him off at home, I reminded him to check
the news. "The cameras all loved your picket sign; you
may get your fifteen minutes of fame, and can brag to
your grandkids." When I got home and turned on the
news, however, reality sunk in. There were a few brief
snippets about our huge march today, followed by great
detail about how many windows and storefronts had been
smashed the night before, complete with charts and maps
of targeted areas, and lots of footage of broken glass,
with kids in black masks, while cops do their best to
round them up or disperse them.
Randy Shannon called to check in, making sure we made
it back OK. "In that state of siege," he summed up,
"the march today was a shining example of the courage
and determination of those of us who understand the
need to fight for the First Amendment."
But on the wider messages, if we're ever to get beyond
preaching to the choir of the militant minority, and
instead break through to the progressive majority,
we're going to have to find the ways and the forces to
do things differently.
Carl Davidson is a writer for Beaver County Blue, and a
long-time organizer going back to the 1960s New Left.
Today he is a national co-chair of the Committees of
Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and a
national board member of the
Network. He is author, along with Jerry Harris, of
'Cyberradicalism: A New Left for a Global Age.' If you
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