Concerned that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl plans to turn Pittsburgh into a "veritable ghost town" during the Group of 20 economic summit, leaders of dozens of organizations gave the administration until Friday to approve protest permits or face a lawsuit.
"It's been our experience that unless we get firm commitments by cities that are hosting these events, they will simply delay, stall and confuse organizations as long as they can," said East Liberty resident Casey Capitolo of the Three Rivers Climate Convergence group, one of more than 30 local and national organizations represented at a strategy session Tuesday night at East Liberty Presbyterian Church.
"We're not just doing this for people who want to protest, but for store owners Downtown, bystanders in the Cultural District and everyone else who deserves to know now where they can go and what the city will allow them to do during the G-20," Capitolo said.
A trio of attorneys, including Witold "Vic" Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, informed the city Monday that delays by City Hall and the Secret Service in setting security perimeters around the David L. Lawrence Convention Center amounted to a tacit denial of marches and speeches planned Sept. 24-25.
The city conditionally has approved all protest permits, subject to security perimeters set by the Secret Service, city officials have said.
"I'm not going to argue with them in the newspapers, but a lot of the permits that were conditionally approved by the mayor, the end points were at the Convention Center. But we know that there's going to be a hard perimeter around the Convention Center by the Secret Service," said city spokeswoman Joanna Doven.
"The mayor has made it very clear that he encourages the expression of all First Amendment rights and that he will continue to work with protest groups to hear their concerns."
Protest organizers plan to attend a City Council hearing at 1:30 p.m. today to express their fears that city and federal agencies have proposed legislation designed to quash dissent during the summit.
To protest a proposed law banning the wearing of masks, Squirrel Hill activist David Meieran said he would don a black one when speaking to council.
"Our core message should be that Pittsburgh welcomes dissent, and dissent is not a crime," he said.
Being a resident of Pittsburgh, I can’t say that I am surprised by this latest development, however, it is still a little frustrating for a number of reasons. Pittsburgh is a city hanging by a thin sinewy thread. Its steel industry is all but gone. The “tech boom” that was supposed to save it didn’t really happen. The large medical industry in Pennsylvania has recently come under attack by Obama’s “final socialist solution”. In the end, there is very little holding this city together except an obsession with football. The announcement that the G20 Summit would be held here changed all that, at least in the minds of city officials and planners.
The very idea of the entire world watching Pittsburgh for two whole days has intoxicated them, and fantasies of Pittsburgh’s return to the glory years have clouded their judgment. They seem to even believe their own hype about Pittsburgh’s “economic, environmental and quality of life transformation.” Check out more of this nonsense here:
This is probably why the city has recently denied protest groups the permits necessary for them to “legally” march downtown, or to set up shop in Point Park, which is public property. The idea of mass dissent in the midst of their moment of glory surely does not sit well with them. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl claims that they are denying the authorization of permits to Point Park because it is to be used to house additional police officers and Federal Agents, and delaying permits for a downtown march because the Secret Service has yet to provide a security outline for the summit.
Many protest groups see this as a stalling tactic, and rightly so. Federal Agents have had plenty of time to provide a security plan for the event, and protest groups have used Point Park as a home base for years.
“We provided our permits to the city early, to give them plenty of time to look them over. I’m not willing to keep filling out this permit, then that permit, as they deny them. The Point belongs to the people. It does not belong to the G-20. Everyone knows that we’re a nonviolent group, so why are they trying to deny our right to assemble?” said Code Pink organizer Francine Porter.
“Point State Park was big enough and would’ve been a safe venue for everyone, the place where we could have a peaceable assembly during the G-20,” said State Senator Jim Ferlo who was also denied a permit. “What we’re seeing is the de facto declaration of martial law Downtown during the G-20, and the city seems to be categorically acquiescing to federal demands for that.”
It is obvious, at least to those of us in Pittsburgh, that the authorities have decided to make this event as difficult as possible for activists. But how far will they go? Pittsburgh Police have recently announced their visit to the Center for Domestic Preparedness, which is designed to train them in “law enforcement for crowd control and unlawful protest.” This also includes training from Combined Tactical Systems, a company specialized in equipment used in crowd control efforts.
Traditionally, protests that are undertaken without permits from the city tend to leave the door wide open for police brutality. Will the same thing happen September 24th and 25th in Pittsburgh? Hopefully not, but the city seem to be preparing diligently for the possibility, spending up to 10 Million for security provisions and 4000 extra police officers.
Another matter to consider is the state of the economy when the summit actually takes place. If the markets drop as they appear to be poised to do, and unemployment continues to spiral out of control, we could see a much more determined and angry form of activist at G20, as well as more violent police methods.
Also watch for announcements from BRIC countries this summit on the U.S. Dollar. A possible international switch away from the greenback and towards SDR’s is very likely before the year is out, which would mean disaster for the American economy.
Although the permit decisions by the city worry me, any way you slice it, this September will be interesting.