Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Activists, Big Business Converge on G20 Meet

By: Jeb Sprague
Inter Press Service
September 20, 2009



As media and government delegates prepare for the G20
Summit to be held Sep. 24-25 in Pittsburgh, local
business and activist groups are promoting clashing
visions of days to come.

Hit hard over the last quarter of the twentieth century
with a collapsing steel industry, recession and falling
population, Pittsburgh is still a decent place to live
- often highly rated because of low housing costs.

Also see below: World Bank, NGOs Exhort G20 Not to
Forget the Poorest

On one side, Pittsburgh government and business leaders
say they have reshaped the city to connect with
globalisation as a hi-tech, financial and medical
industry hub.

On the other side, labour, community, youth and
environmental groups are fighting for green jobs and
clean energy, while calling into question how
government and corporate leaders have dealt with the
global financial crisis and urban renewal.

The host of the summit is the Pittsburgh G20
Partnership, run out of the Allegheny County Conference
on Community Development, which according to its
executive vice president is "a sort of holding company"
for the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and
other regional business groups.

The group includes many of the largest business
interests active in the area. Public affairs
coordinator, Philip Cynar, explains, "Our group is made
up of corporations involved in advanced manufacturing,
financial services, healthcare, information technology,
and energy".

Bill Flanagan, executive vice president of corporate
relations for the group, says that Pittsburgh's
business leaders have learned to operate in a
globalised world, and the G20 summit provides a prime
opportunity for further insertion into the global

"We've learned capital tends to flow freely" so "we are
trying to put Pittsburgh on the map and attract global
investors," he told IPS.

Large business interests have been at the centre of
coordinating the summit. "We communicate on a daily
basis with the White House, the State Department and
the Secret Service, all in preparation for
communication operations and planning receptions at the
14 hotels where journalists and delegates will be
staying, the trappings for welcoming the world to the
region," Flanagan added.

Not far from the Regional Enterprise Tower, where
business groups promoting the summit operate, a peace
and justice coalition based out of Pittsburgh's Thomas
Merton Centre is organising for a people's march
against the G20, sending a very different message.

The umbrella coalition, including organised labour,
anti-war activists, and numerous environmentalist,
socialist, and grassroots organisations, levels steep
criticism at the G20 leaders and global capitalism,
most pointedly the effects on low-income and working-
class people by state policies meant to benefit
transnational corporations.

Melissa Minnich, communications director of the Thomas
Merton Centre, says, "The financial bailouts of the G20
governments are meant to benefit the largest
corporations. The people that end up paying are the
average citizens."

Dozens of other organisations are taking part, such as
the G-6 Billion with an inter-faith march, a march for
jobs in Pittsburgh's poor Hill district, and a people's
summit to call for economic and environmental justice.

Carl Davidson, a labour writer and organiser with the
local Beaver County Peace Links, observes that,
"Pittsburgh in particular has suffered from policies
advocated by the G20, hit hard by the job loss and
deindustrialisation in globalisation. People see these
world leaders and the global corporations they work
with as responsible."

David Hoskins, an organiser with Bail Out the People,
told IPS "We will have a march for jobs, calling for a
federal job programme like the New Deal era, on
Pittsburgh's Hill".

Pittsburgh business and government leaders, with a
successful downtown, have recast the city as a modern
centre for green-technology innovation.

But problems remain. Pennsylvania is the only state in
the U.S. without a budget. Unable to pay some of its
pensioners, the city of Pittsburgh has sold off parking
lots to raise money.

With ghost towns at the city's outskirts and many
communities suffering from environmental degradation,
local activists say development has been an
undemocratic process geared toward the beautiful

Melissa Minnich says poor communities have lost out.
She lives near "one green space that was slated to be
worked on". However, she explains, "We were told by the
contractors that city funds were rerouted to downtown
so construction could not begin."

With rich coal deposits in the south of Pittsburgh,
dirty mining techniques remain. Longwall mining,
cutting deep horizontal shafts, has caused sinkholes,
draining one lake on the outskirts of the city, as well
as forming huge coal piles that sit idle leaking
mercury into the Monogahela River.

There are dozens of large coal-fired electric power
generators, and one nuclear power plant, all along the
Ohio River stretching down to West Virginia, supplying
electricity to much of the east coast.

David Meieran, an organiser with the Three Rivers
Climate Convergence, a Pittsburgh-based environmental
group, says "It is absurd that Pittsburgh's chamber of
commerce and corporations like the PNC-bank are saying
they are green companies now just because they are
constructing these environmentally-friendly buildings."

He adds, "They still maintain sizable holdings in coal
companies that do mountaintop removal and longwall
mining, profiting off deaths and environmental

In 2008, according to the American Lung Association,
Pittsburgh ranked above all other U.S. cities in short-
term levels of particle pollution, "a deadly cocktail
of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and
aerosols that can spike dangerously for hours to weeks
on end".

The defence industry has a presence in Pittsburgh.
Carnegie Mellon University has a robotics institute
working closely with the U.S. Department of Defence.
Local universities are involved in healthcare research
and development tied to the private sector.

To defend the summit, Pittsburgh's mayor and city
council have amassed a force of four thousand police,
including many auxiliaries from the rural countryside.
Two thousand National Guard and an untold number of
secret service agents with hi-tech surveillance will be

Diane Richard, public information officer for the
Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, explains "There are
facilities in place to afford us leeway in how many
arrests we have to make". She acknowledged other
agencies would have horseback units present.

Much of the discussion within Pittsburgh's advertiser-
radio and newspapers has focused on financial costs of
hosting the summit and the inconvenience to downtown

One downtown resident told IPS that a big part of the
population in the city "is as old and conservative as
Miami, Florida, and they don't want to see any spray
paint or flag burning". He expects that the Pittsburgh
police will use harsh tactics against protesters.

It is believed tens of thousands of protesters from
Pittsburgh and around the country will gather. A mass
march will start on Sep. 25, at 12:00 P.M., on the
corner of 5th and Craft near Pittsburgh's college.

Reverend Thomas E. Smith, of the local Monumental
Church, has offered his lawn and parking lots to

He explains, "We are hosting a tent city that is
symbolic of the need for a fair and living wage, and
for a national and international workers' movement
similar to the poor peoples' campaign that Dr. Martin
Luther King was in the process of organizing prior to
being assassinated."

The G20 protesters face hurdles in getting their
message out to a wider audience. With official politics
in the United States channeled through a corporate
media and a powerful two-party monopoly, peace and
justice organizers say, the biggest challenge is just
for their message to be heard.

No comments: