My G20 by Jase Short - Part One
My G20: A Boot Stamping on a Human Face Forever
by Jase Short
We arrived at 5 AM in Pittsburgh on Thursday for the G20 protests; immediately, we were treated to the sight of National Guard troopers directing traffic around major bridges. After two hours sleep in a Catholic Church’s cafeteria (following a 11 hour drive), we got ready to go into the city. We gathered in Arsenal Park: our numbers seemed sparse at first (the media was everywhere however, one of my comrades was interviewed by the New York Times), but the student feeder march joined us after an hour of mulling about, swelling our ranks to over 1,000 (media reports say 2,000 plus). We were ready.
But the security services were ready as well. In the end, the 4,000 police and 2,000 National Guard (and countless smaller units of ATFE, FBI, etc.) proved to be too little and on Friday the city imported another 2,000 police from around the country.
The riot police blocked our exit from the park. So, being clever people who believe in reason, we simply turned the march around and walked out the other end of the park. Our march permit had been denied, but we only intended to march, which is completely legal. Americans DO in fact have the constitutional right of assembly.
The police felt differently: their orders were coming from the very top, and they do not like anti-capitalist protests as they have a nasty habit of accomplishing some goals (Seattle, Genoa, etc.). Remember the recent past, as recalled by Slavoj Zizek in his new book:
“In Washington in 2004, so many people demonstrated about the danger of a financial collapse that the police had to mobilize 8,000 additional local policemen and bring in a further 6,000 from Maryland and Virginia. What ensued was tear-gassing, clubbing, and mass arrests–so many that police had to use buses for transport. The message was loud and clear, and the police were used literally to stifle the truth.” (First As Tragedy, Then As Farce Zizek, p. 9)
We were met with an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC from here on) on which was mounted a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), a weapon which had hitherto only been used on Iraqis during the US occupation. It emits a high pitched sound which–if turned all the way up–can disperse a crowd quite rapidly, causing nausea, permanent ear damage, and more. Lucky for us it was on a low setting: those who were very close to it didn’t seem to notice.
“BY ORDER OF THE CITY OF PITTSBURGH CHIEF POLICE, I HEREBY DECLARE THIS AN UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLY…” the APC had a mechanical voice repeating these orders over and over again. At times, its sentences would be interrupted by an LRAD sound attack, often right before the words “serious injury.”
We darted into the alleyways, the black block (mostly anarchist affinity groups who wear black hoodies, black pants, etc. and carry out very low key civil disobedience of the more aggressive variety, they were quite tame here however) leading the way. We assembled on the street parallel to the original one, a residential area. One would think gassing a relatively poor neighborhood would not go over well, but the police did not seem to mind. Some black block folks attempted to heroically retaliate with a dumpster to the sound of many folks cheering them on.
We fled the gas, reassembling yet again and began a march down Liberty Avenue. I took my bandanna off too early, and so suffered quite a cough (I lamented that I was a smoker). We reassembled, intent on carrying out our peaceful demonstration against the crimes of the Group of 20. As we marched down Liberty, a black block member ran up to a Pinnacle National Bank branch, withdrew a hammer from his bag, and made quick work of the two ATMs and the window of the bank (the older security guard held out his hands in a vain gesture).
We screamed at this individual: virtually the whole march. I do not blame the entire black block for his actions, but certainly they did us no good, and were not representative of our intentions. What is the smashing of a bank window to the smashing of entire countries for the profit of a handful of banks? Nevertheless, it was bad for all of us, and very undemocratic. When I tried to yell at him, I choked on the tear gas residue built up in my throat, and quickly discovered that I am capable of producing projectile tears.
We continued the march down Liberty, blocking most of the traffic, but not for more than 15 minutes…we were headed downtown…
An ambulance was coming right at us. We parted to both sides of the street. I was part of a group of 7 individuals from Tennessee, and 5 of us were on one side of Liberty, 2 on the other. Before we could reassemble we discovered the ambulance was a dirty trick: one after another, civilian vans pulled up through the gap; heavily armed storm trooper-looking men with attack dogs jumped out of the vans and came right at us. Some started to run (me included) but someone shouted to stop, so I remembered: if we run, they will follow; we walked away, as if dispersing.
But we had Twitter on our phones…we were thinking collectively, constantly sharing information and supplies (water for example)…and our small party of 5 (quite concerned about the fate of the other 2) had a GPS. We got a Twitter message that demonstrators were regrouping at a public park (a different one than the one we had been to), so we told the scattered folks we ran into on the way, assembling a small group of about 20. Eventually we made it to the park, and two other marches (in the hundreds) joined up simultaneously, resulting in a collective cheer.
One thing was for sure: the police were making us learn how to rely on each other as a collective will and intellect; they should avoid that for their own sake.
We marched again. The APC was briefly held up by an older gentlemen, who (Tiananmen Square style) laid down in front of it. We made it to Liberty and Baum, only to be attacked by hordes of riot police bearing large wooden sticks (rather than the normal batons), some kind of new orange gas, the LRAD, flash bang grenades and shotguns loaded with bean bags (one young person went to the ER). Our small group was unwilling to face arrest–especially given that many were being prosecuted and because we didn’t know what happened to those the National Guard kidnapped in civilian cars–so we called it a day and had a much dinner. Twitter informed us our comrades–200 strong–continued the march, only to be cut down to 75–then surrounded.
(End of Part 1)