Monday, September 28, 2009

The Tyranny of Protest and Climate Change Pragmatism

At last week's G-20 Summit, the city of Pittsburgh created a security perimeter and sanctioned protest areas in an effort to balance security concerns with first amendment rights to free speech.

The protests started well before the G-20 summit began, on Wednesday September 9, Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl was already being besieged by irate protestors. Although the G-20 summit inconvenienced Pittsburgh businesses, commuters, and residents, the loudest and most persistent complaints came from protesters. When confronted by laws, some protest groups challenged through the courts, when this failed they denied the court's legitimacy. While some protest groups were threatening to sue the city because of delays in the issuance of permits, CodePink, one of the G-20 activist groups, was interpreting Pittsburgh's camping restrictions as an infringement on free speech.

Protestors had been planning to wreak havoc on Pittsburgh businesses for some time. Leading up to the summit an online map of "targets" was produced by the G-20 Resistance Project showing the location of all area Starbucks stores. Tactics like this drove patrons away from Pittsburgh businesses, according to Robert Arnoni, president and CEO of Specialized Security Response Inc, "fear of protests like those that rocked April’s G-20 in London and fear of the unknown are all fueling the momentum to stay away."

These concerns forced many businesses to take expensive precautions against protestor violence. Targets like FirstEnergy Corp.’s Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station felt compelled to take unspecified “extra steps” for the G-20, spokesman Todd Schneider said. With security measures in place to protect key infrastructure, cyber security firm Solutionary was guarding computer networks for more than a dozen area companies from vandals or “hacktivists.”

Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper had nearly 900 officers and an additional 3,100 extra police officers helping with security. However, despite the large police presence, pepper spray, "beanbags," and sound cannons, anti-G20 protestors succeeded in rampaging through the center of Pittsburgh assaulting police and smashing shops. Rioting continued through the evening rush hour as masked protesters armed themselves with stones, bricks and bottles and hurled them at police and local businesses.

Some of the protesters assembled in Pittsburgh were clearly seeking a confrontation with police. In one incident, several hundred protesters clashed with Police after they ignored repeated warnings to stop their unsanctioned march. Apparently these protesters do not recognize the validity of city permits nor did they acknowledge the right of police to declare an unlawful assembly. In another incident riot officers intervened after about 1,000 protestors, led by hardliners wearing masks and helmets, began another unsanctioned march towards the conference venue.

The anarchist march that started in a park in the working class Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville, was led by a banner reading "No Hope in Capitalism." The organizers of this march did not have a city permit and ignored police orders to disperse. As reported by Time, during the three-hour trek protesters pushed Dumpsters downhill toward law enforcement, smashed the windows of a Boston Market and Mini car dealership, along with 17 banks and other businesses. As the pepper spray cannons began unloading on the unruly crowd, one of the protestors was heard shouting, "Let's make them use all that shit!"

Police Cmdr. Kathy Degler said the protestor's plan was to "cause widespread, sporadic problems in very different places throughout the city to sort of draw out our police resources."

The irony is that while protestors complain about the police presence they fail to acknowledge that it is their anti-capitalist violence that has forced summit organisers to increase security. Protestors sometimes speak about the need for cooperation, however, their violence and criminality is antithetical to that end. The drive towards COP 15 does not benefit from the association between climate change activism and bloody riots. Green has come of age, the movement must dissociate itself from its adolescent tendencies or risk alienating the vast majority.

Most appear to see the value of the G20 meetings, as reported in the Pittsburgh Grassroots Examiner even Pittsburgh's labor unions signed on to the G-20 Partnership.

The anarchist's disdain for the G-20 has some unlikely allies. The conservative Heritage Foundation is one of a small number of groups that share the anarchist's desire to do away with the G-20. Conservative writer James M. Roberts makes the case for ending the G20 in an article entitled "Pittsburgh Should Be the Last G-20 Summit,"

In mood, G-20 protests are not all that different from conservative "tea-parties." Although the anarchists and the conservatives may not agree on economic policy, they are very much alike when it comes to their love of protest and support for revolution.

A quick review of the signs that protestors were carrying at the G20 reveals a similar tone to the kind of vitriol that is passing for commentary in the US health care debate. The extreme left destroys businesses and the right undermines important legislation and threatens that the next time its followers march on Washington they will bring guns.

The similarities between anarchists advocating for the environment and the conservatives advocating for their own self-interest does nothing to garner public sympathy for an international agreement on climate change.

Rabid protests from anarchists and conservatives are impediments to a more sustainable future and in the current context of economic and environmental crises, this abuse of the first amendment is entirely inexcusable.

Related Articles
G20 Protestors Dilute Green Message
Global Cooperation Ahead of COP 15
Climate Change Optimism
Steven Chu: The Fierce Urgency of Now
Action on Climate Change
COP 15: Positioning Your Business
COP 15: Implications for Business
COP 15: Timetable for Action on Climate Change
Environmental Politics
The State of Climate Change Negotiations
Pittsburgh's Green Economy on Display for the G20 Summit
G20 and Developing World Disagree on Climate Change
G20 Lays the Foundation for a Better World
G8's More Aggressive GHG Targets
United Nations Climate Change Conference
IMF Reforms

1 comment:

mc said...

You are generalizing the desires and objectives of a large group of protesters based on the actions of a very small minority.
There were definitely people out there to cause violence, but that was only in isolated areas. There use of police force can be justified.
But the police were brutally violent to entirely innocent people (UPitt, CMC students and passers by), who were far away from where the things you were talking about occurred.
The police raided the UPitt campus in an uncalled for show of strength.
Of course there are always two sides to every argument, but I Strongly encourage you to get all your facts before you go posting blogs.