Nine University students traveled to Pittsburgh last week to take part in demonstrations at the Group of Twenty (G-20) summit on Sept. 24 and 25. The demonstrations drew several thousand protestors, including anarchists, socialists, environmentalists, labor and anti-war activists.
The G-20 is composed of financial ministers and central bank governors from 20 of the world’s largest economies (19 countries plus the E.U.), who convene to discuss issues of international economic coordination. Wesleyan students brought food, chalk, and “blood money”—fake money covered in red paint—to the protests.
“Pretty much every issue that I’m concerned about was represented [at the demonstrations],” said Meggie McGuire ’12. “People were there from all around the world and all around the country with different causes and that was amazing to see.”
Some of the students have traveled together to similar events in the past, like protests last spring in Washington D.C. on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and expressed disappointment with their lack of organization and the disorganization that characterized some of the demonstrations.
“We learned how we want to go into future actions, with more of a plan, with an independent purpose, how we can better plug into different things,” McGuire said.
If there was a common underlying theme of the demonstrations, it could perhaps be summed up in a sign that read “People Over Profits.” Signs and banners expressed demands for immediate action to prevent climate change, anti-war and anti-nuclear weapon messages, support for single-payer universal healthcare, and criticisms of corporate greed, globalization, free trade, and capitalism in general.
With leaders from around the world, including President Barack Obama, on hand, security forces made their presence felt. Approximately 4,000 police officers, along with 2,000 National Guard troops, were mobilized for G-20 security, according to Time Magazine.
Several thousand people took to the streets on Friday for the permitted People’s March to the G-20.
“Formally speaking, [the police] didn’t interfere with the march at all,” said Nick Davenport ’10. “They stood on the side in very intimidating-looking lines with their shields and their really intense batons, tear gas, grenades, guns and stuff.”
Wearing matching uniforms and masks, carrying extensive riot control gear and moving in formation, most of the police officers appeared highly militarized. As protesters passed by, some chanted “You’re sexy, you’re cute, take off your riot suit,” or “This is what a police state looks like.”
During the march, people played drums and other instruments, danced with hula hoops, and carried Palestinian, Tibetan, U.S. and black anarchist flags, among others. At the rally points, many people covered the ground with chalk messages, while speakers and musicians communicated to the crowd.
“Capitalism and our focus on money and our obsession with analyzing our society based on profit leads to the hurt of the people, leads to death, leads to violence,” said Jacob Dinklage ’11.
On the University of Pittsburgh campus and nearby Forbes Avenue, intense conflict broke out between riot police and protesters employing black bloc demonstration tactics, which included overturning and lighting fire to dumpsters in intersections and smashing the windows of multi-national businesses.
“The full spectrum of actions were represented here and, since we were at most events, we got to look at the positives and negatives of all of them,” Dinklage said. “The protests could serve as protection for the other demonstrations to more dramatically express their views—one stopping the rate of destruction and one enhancing the rate of creation.”
Violent confrontations occurred at multiple demonstrations. During one, University of Pittsburg students uninvolved with protests were caught in the fray.
“Police attacks on UPitt students were widespread to the point where they were pepper spraying people coming out of bars,” Dinklage said. “There are many stories of passerby who were assaulted by police—rubber bullets, the whole deal, arrested.”
There were accounts of people not being allowed into their dorms, tear gas canisters being fired onto a dorm patio and police surrounding and arresting students who were attempting to leave and get out of the way.
“It was a weird dichotomy between them trying to disperse people and then stopping them from getting away,” Dinklage said. “It was absolutely insane.”