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Showdown in September: The Battle Against the G20

November 10, 2009


The streets were alive with the sounds of collective rebellion: the sounds of shattering glass mixed with shouting, laughter, and cheer, echoing off the nearby buildings and filling the night air of the student neighborhood of Oakland in Pittsburgh.

Comrades gripped each others’ arms as they marched in the streets. The fire from burning dumpsters illuminated their faces, reflecting off their smiling eyes. At this moment, anything seemed possible. The energy was overpowering, as several hundred black clad figures controlled the streets…

The September mobilization against the annual meeting of the Group of 20 (G20) was the product of months of local and national organizing. For several days in the middle of September, hundreds and thousands of people from all walks of life converged on Pittsburgh to show strong opposition to the economic and social policies of the G20.

According to the website of the G20, the body was formed in 1999 to “…bring together systemically important industrialized and developing economies to discuss key issues in the global economy.” Far from being a benign forum for the ruling class, the G20 has become an organization that has further strengthened global capitalism’s hold over the world’s resources and markets.

The meeting of the G20 in Pittsburgh, amid a global economic crisis that has left thousands without homes and jobs, and decimated the economies of developing nations, presented anti-capitalists in the United States a unique opportunity to mobilize large demonstrations and resistance against capitalism that included the participation of a broad group of people.

The mobilization also offered a unique view of policing in the Obama era. Dozens of police departments coordinated to provide security for the event. Nearly 5,000 police officers and National Guard soldiers were mobilized to keep order in the city. Hundreds of prisoners were released from the Alleghany County Jail to make room for the expected arrests of demonstrators. Police units from as far away as Florida and Illinois were shipped in.

The coordination of police forces and the development of the security apparatus for the protests revealed much about how the protests were viewed as a threat to state and capitalist power.

The mobilization’s street actions started on September 24th with a march organized by local anarchists and anti-capitalists dubbed “The People’s Uprising.” The march would start in Arsenal Park in the Lawrenceville neighborhood and work its way toward the security perimeter established outside the convention center housing the G20 meetings. To the surprise of organizers and participants alike, over 1000 people converged on the park for the march. While falling short of numbers that could be expected during the height of the anti-globalization movement just 9 years ago, that an explicitly non-permitted and militantly anti-capitalist march could draw this many participants was surprising for most in attendance. Many had initially feared that the march wouldn’t be able to get out of the park, due to the overwhelming police presence. However, the march consumed the streets and headed off toward the security perimeter with much energy, militancy, and defiance.

Thus began three days of street fighting in Pittsburgh, pitting locals and out-of-town dissidents against police officers and National Guard from all over the country. A full report back of the all the different demonstrations and events could fill pages. Street fighting and actions took place at dozens of locations throughout the city, nearly 24 hours a day for three straight days. These included many actions and confrontations in the Oakland neighborhood, surrounding the University of Pittsburgh, and a large, permitted march of thousands on September 25th.

Tens of thousands of dollars of property damage was inflicted on businesses, banks, police stations, and others that supported and protected the G20 meetings and represented the interests of the capitalist classes. Hundreds of arrests and injuries occurred during the three days. And though the details and stories of these actions and their aftermath have been the focus of much writing over the last several weeks, what the mobilization says about the state of support for capitalism is far more compelling.

Thousands of people from many backgrounds, representing many different interests, mobilized to confront the G20 under a specifically anti-capitalist banner. Militants mobilized in much higher numbers than they have in half a decade or longer. However, even the more mainstream, permitted march and actions had concrete demands for the abolition of capitalism. For the first time in a long time, capitalism as an economic system was being publicly scrutinized and attacked by thousands in the streets.

Speakers, literature, and banners called for the end of capitalism, for the creation of a more equitable distribution of all real wealth. Many locals participated in these actions. And many students, not previously disposed to be against the G20, joined the demonstrations and organized their own after violent and indiscriminate police actions on the University of Pittsburgh campus. Many new radicals were created in the streets of Pittsburgh. And most of us who were already active in the movement left feeling exhilarated and strengthened, ready to carry on and continue the struggle already developing in our own communities.

Thousands of police officers couldn’t stop the militant responses in the streets. Even after hundreds of arrests and indiscriminate use of violence, the street actions continued. The threat to capitalist business as usual posed by hundreds of militants, backed by thousands of others, proved to be very real, indeed.

The aftermath and continued state repression against specific individuals who were active in supporting the mobilizations may be the most telling of how seriously the state is taking this mobilization. Two individuals from New York are facing state level charges for their alleged participation in a communications structure for the protests. Elliot Madison and Michael Wallschlaeger are accused of utilizing internet and cell phone technology and Twitter, a program that allows users to quickly disseminate text based information to people’s emails and cell phones, to communicate the actions and movements of the police during the demonstrations to protest participants. Prosecutors claim that this allowed for more criminal actions to take place in the streets and for people to avoid and outmaneuver the police.

What is even more alarming is the involvement of a federal grand jury. Although the links between the federal grand jury and the state level prosecution are unclear at this time, the grand jury investigation resulted in a raid on the Tortuga collective house, a residence that Madison and others share in New York City. Police and FBI agents seized many personal and shared belongings in the house. In what has become a theme in the arrests of radicals, literature, household tools, and even children’s toys are being labeled as evidence in the investigation.

Support for the Tortuga residents and the defendants themselves will prove critical in the ongoing conflict with capitalist powers in the country. It is far too early to know what a continued resistance in this country will look like. However, if we can gauge the success of our actions based on the level of seriousness with which the state is treating these prosecutions, then we at least have a clearer picture that the state views the September mobilizations as contributing to the strengthening of a broader anti-capitalist movement.

Let us never relent.

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