Sunday, September 27, 2009

Steel City's `State of Siege' - Day Three

10,000 Marchers Beat Back


The Steel City's `State of Siege'


By Carl Davidson

Beaver County Blue

September 25, 2009


Nearly 10,000 protesters marched through the streets of

Pittsburgh on the last day of the G20 this Sept. 25

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 Pittsburgh riot police, on the night of

Sept 24, swept the university neighborhood streets,

downtown Oakland, clean of students with pepper spray

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 Beaver County

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 Pittsburgh, our attention turned to trying

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 Oakland, near the university. We

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 Beaver County's Progressive

Democrats of America got us on the cell phone. He's

across the river on the South Side, the closest spot he

could find. So we picked him up, and made our way to

Oakland, and luckily found a parking lot right near the

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 China threatening their

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 University of Pittsburgh student,

and was positioned with the Pittsburgh peace and

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

throughout day.


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

environmentalists, then Middle East peace militants.

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 City-County Building.


"We had this successful people's march today only

because we FOUGHT for it, every step of the way"

declared Peter Shell of the Thomas Merton Center's

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

occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gaza."


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 US Solidarity Economy

Network. He is author, along with Jerry Harris, of

'Cyberradicalism: A New Left for a Global Age.' If you

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