Wednesday, September 09, 2009
By Daniel Malloy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

WASHINGTON -- Pittsburgh's leaders came to the nation's capital this morning to sell the national press on the city's turnaround, but in what could be foreshadowing for the upcoming G20 summit, protesters got in the way.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and County Executive Dan Onorato gave their pitch about Pittsburgh's post-steel revival: building around the universities with technology, creating green jobs and developing a public-private partnership, the latter highlighted by Dennis Yablonsky of the Allegheny Conference.

But as Mr. Ravenstahl delivered opening remarks to about 30 reporters and photographers, a trio of gagged protesters spread a banner behind him that read: "Why is the greenest city silencing green voices?" They were ordered out by Catherine DeLoughry, head of communications for the Allegheny Conference, and escorted from the National Press Club building.

Several minutes later, two more youths unfurled a similar banner and were, again, escorted from the building. According to Morgan Goodwin, 25, an organizer who works with the protesters, the group is trying to call attention to climate policy and is upset that the city has been slow to grant protest permits. Mr. Goodwin said the climate change activists sponsored by Avaaz.org, a global activist Web site.

The demonstrations briefly derailed Mr. Ravenstahl, but he pressed on and noted that his office granted eight protest permits, and the ones that are still in limbo must be reconciled with the Secret Service perimeter around the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Mr. Ravenstahl said that next week he will announce sites within sight and sound of the convention center that will be available for protest.

Mr. Goodwin said he and his climate change crew from Avaaz plan to march from Oakland to Downtown as part of the Thomas Merton Center protest, but city officials have not approved the group's request to march to 10th and Liberty avenues.

Mr. Onorato, meanwhile, tried to return the focus to the region's economic success.

"Too bad our friends had to leave, because we have a lot of green jobs in southwestern Pennsylvania," Mr. Onorato said.

Once the floor was opened up for questions from reporters -- including representatives from major newspapers, wire services and television stations -- many queries focused on the city's plans for the protesters.

Afterward, Mr. Ravenstahl said he was pleased with the chance to sell the media on Pittsburgh and looked forward to continuing it during the week of the summit, scheduled for Sept. 24-25. And how the city treats its in-town and visiting protesters will have a major impact on its post-summit profile.

"It is a concern of ours that the activity, protests, et cetera will outshine or overshadow the good story of Pittsburgh, but all we can do is continue to tell it and all we can do is make sure that those protesters are given the ability to have their First Amendment rights heard," the mayor said.

"If we give them that opportunity, if we treat them respectfully, if we provide permits for them, I think they will have a good, positive experience in Pittsburgh, and that will only enhance our ability to get that positive story out."

Daniel Malloy can be reached at dmalloy@post-gazette.com or 202-445-9980. Follow him on Twitter at PG_in_DC.
First published on September 9, 2009 at 12:32 pm

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WPXI is reporting that a "Why Pittsburgh?" event held at the National Press Club by Pittsburgh mayor, Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County executive, Dan Onorato took a backseat to a banner unfurled by an organization called AVAAZ. The banner read, " Why is the greenest city silencing green voices?"

The banner was a reference to officials with the City of Pittsburgh who are seeking to pass new laws to restrict dissent and green technologies,such as composting toilets, while pretending to issue permits without the blessing of the Secret Service, who are the lead ringmasters of the upcoming G-20 circus and have the final say. The City insists that they are issuing protest permits, but with full knowledge that the Secret Service will deny the permits, at that point it will be do late to apply for permits or to mount a legal challenge. Summit protests may be novel to Lukey and Onorato, but they insult the intelligence of people who realize that this is how the game is played.

The following press statement has been issued on behalf of the particpants in this action:

Why is the “Greenest City” Silencing Green Voices? Activists Call for Free Speech and Climate Progress at the G20

Washington, DC — Environmental advocates hoping to influence G20 climate commitments are surprised to find that Pittsburgh is showcasing its green recovery while stalling permits and planning for a major crackdown on free speech activities during the summit. To show their frustration, they twice held up banners and were subsequently escorted out during a briefing on Pittsburgh and the G20 at the National Press Club this morning. The banners read “Why is the greenest city silencing green voices?”

The Pittsburgh meeting is the G20 leaders’ last chance to make progress on climate change policy before the expected deal at the UN talks in Copenhagen this December. President Obama has asked finance ministers to bring climate finance proposals, but negotiations are gridlocked. The stakes are high, and climate advocates intend to be part of the conversation by encouraging the G20 to be ambitious in creating a just and sustainable future.

And yet, the efforts of climate activists have thus far been thwarted and their first amendment rights denied along with other groups organizing free speech activities in Pittsburgh. Many groups, including the Three Rivers Climate Convergence and the Thomas Merton Center for Peace and Social Justice are still awaiting permits to hold peaceful marches and demonstrations.

While city officials and the secret secret service have failed to grant permits, the Pittsburgh City Council is considering legislation that would criminalize costumes, props, and signs and authorize police to arrest protesters based on suspected “intent” to disobey police orders. Parts of downtown will be heavily militarized under the $18 million security plan, severely limiting those hoping to have their voices heard.

“I find it ironic that peaceful climate activists working to influence the international climate agenda would be denied free speech in a city trying to tout it’s environmental credentials,” says Julie Erickson, a climate change fellow with Avaaz.org, “Pittsburgh isn’t quite as ‘green’ a city as officials claim.”

Pittsburgh is not only failing to encourage good environmental decisions at the international level during the G20. The city’s own air quality has repeatedly ranked worst in the nation and southwestern Pennsylvania is also home to dirty coal mining operations that destroy homes, pollute water sources, and fracture communities.

As G20 leaders prepare for the Pittsburgh summit, Climate activists and other organizers remain intent on making their voices heard. “We’ve got to show the G20 that it’s time for a global climate treaty that puts people’s needs over corporations’ profits.” says Morgan Goodwin, another organizer with Avaaz.org. “We are focused on making clear our demand for a global economy that is sustainable for all people and the planet; we just wish that Pittsburgh city officials were more on our side.”

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