Progressive groups organizing protests against the international G-20 summit here next month may finally be gaining some momentum -- now that they know how much the city wants to restrict their actions.
An Aug. 14 announcement that most of their protest permits had been denied brought television cameras to groups who'd previously attracted little attention. By Aug. 18, these groups -- from Code Pink to Iraq Veterans Against the War -- announced plans to ask Pittsburgh City Council for a resolution supporting their right to free speech "in a place where we will be seen and heard," according to a letter delivered to council. The groups asked for a second resolution that "holds law enforcement accountable to a use of force policy to ensure that demonstrators are not abused."
They also successfully petitioned council to hold a public hearing on free-speech rights during G-20. That hearing has not yet been scheduled, but activists may not wait to be heard.
Jules Lobel told the crowd Aug. 18 that they should hold a rally soon at the City-County Building "to show how peaceful we're going to be." Lobel is one of three local lawyers who may sue to gain overnight access to Point State Park for much of the G-20 week. The site could serve as a campground and a place for outreach. Lawyers may also sue to allow a Sept. 25 march closer to the summit's meeting site at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Lobel also proposed creating teach-ins on local college campuses, with lectures by activists.
By Aug. 21, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl seemingly reversed course, announcing that all groups' permits had been granted. But restrictions have already been added, and activists remain uncertain whether the Secret Service -- which has final say over security measures -- has approved anything, since the permits are not yet in writing.
Even the group whose permit was approved with the least restrictions remains uncertain how to proceed if other groups are ultimately denied or continue to object to restrictions. An all-day protest festival, championed by state Sen. Jim Ferlo, was approved for the front half of Point State Park on Sept. 23. Ferlo's event was to include such groups as United Steel Workers, the Blue Green Alliance and the Alliance for Climate Protection. Ferlo supports the other activist groups as well. But Mikhail Pappas, Ferlo's policy and projects liaison, says he is "not sure how this will play out yet."
"I know we're all united in defending each other's rights," adds Pete Shell, head of the Thomas Merton Center's Anti-War Committee, which is organizing the Sept. 25 march.
A suggestion to abandon Point State Park as a protest venue was booed by the crowd of 75 on Aug. 18. But while the anti-war group Code Pink hopes to erect a tent city in the park for educational events, they and other women's groups are pursuing permits at other locations as well. Another group, Three Rivers Climate Convergence, is still trying to use Point State Park on Sept. 20-25 for workshops and film screenings -- and as a place for out-of-town attendees to stay. But they too are searching for a private site to rent should they need one
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh G-20 Resistance Project -- which consists of local anarchists and others who plan to demonstrate without permits -- was the target of city-council bills introduced Aug. 24 at the mayor's behest. The proposed ordinances add criminal penalties for the use of masks during "unlawful activity." The bills would also prohibit devices, "noxious substances" or weapons that could be used to prevent police from dispersing a crowd. Local progressive groups plan to use the Aug. 28 hearing on these and other bills to press for fair treatment by police.
"What compromises are we willing to make?" with the G-20 leaders, organizer Albert Petrarca asked the crowd Aug. 18. "None. Zero. We've given them the world and they've screwed it up.
"We're not asking them for much" in wanting to protest, he concluded. "We are asking for what is ours."