Thursday, October 8, 2009

Controlling public dissent and protest: The G20

For those of us interested in and supportive of public displays of dissent, the recent G20 meeting in Pittsburgh illustrated the extent to which police, security officials and governments are now willing to go to limit and isolate public displays of dissent and protest.  

A recent piece in the Nation titled Fortress Pittsburgh documents the ways that  police and public officials tried to limit and control the G20 protests. The Nation quotes one activist who said:
 "I'm afraid it seems that the police and the G-20 have learned everything since Seattle, and we've learned nothing . . . They have effectively made dissent impossible to be visible in this city, and they're willing to spend extraordinary amounts of money to do that." 
There are a couple of excellent pieces on the G20 protests on an intelligent blog titled Notes on Politics, Theory and Photography by Jim Johnson. Two pieces- titled Establishing Free Markets with Tear Gas and Reflections on G20 Protests discuss the ways that protests like the G20 and past protests (in Genoa) are presented in photographs and the popular press. This extract is from the piece titled Reflections on G20 Protests.  
The leaders who gathered in Pittsburgh for the G20 meetings this week have now dispersed triumphally. It is not at all clear that they accomplished much of substance. And, as I noted here, a massive number of police and military personnel protected them, at great expense, from anything resembling contact with dissenters. Next year, as I understand it, the Canadians will have a chance to place on display the sort of repressive apparatus that 'leaders' seem to demand these days. Of course, officials in Pittsburgh avoided the 'excesses' of Genoa - police rampages and dead protesters. But the sight of thousands of police decked out in high-tech riot gear in anticipation of violence makes the notion that we inhabit a democracy seem farcical. The task of the police apparently was to make sure that the protesters had no chance of getting anywhere near the leaders who were meeting to discuss political economic policy. According to a predictably gleeful report in The Daily News (New York) none of the protest marches got much closer than a half mile from where the summit was actually being held .
On a side note, in an interview before the G20 meetings this week, President Obama offered a piece of especially patronizing advice to the protesters - stay home.
I was always a big believer in - when I was doing organizing before I went to law school - that focusing on concrete, local, immediate issues that have an impact on people's lives is what really makes a difference and that having protests about abstractions [such] as global capitalism or something, generally, is not really going to make much of a difference."
 Does our good president really think that all those folks who were marching in Pittsburgh just come out every so often for a good shout? Does he think that they are not already engaged at home? Does he think they are waiting on he and his cronies to do something politically or socially progressive? Has he considered that - just possibly - working in one's community might prompt one to go out and join political protests? That perhaps the two might be related, because seeing how "global capitalism" works close to home makes "community organizers" angry at all of the ways in which unfettered free markets play havoc with people's lives? Can the president really be that dim?"

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