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Echoes of a bygone era

August 26, 2009

In late September, Pittsburgh will host a G20 summit to follow up on the April summit in London. The Pittsburgh police department is not messing around with this, as they have apparently requested 4,000 extra police officers from across the country to help keep control around this summit. To put that number in perspective, the entire Pittsburgh police force numbers less than 1,000.

Why the crazy paranoia? While Pittsburgh is obviously a blue-collar town with a strong labor tradition, it’s not like Seattle and located near a hotbed of radical/anarchist activity. Are the powers that be worried that the global economic meltdown is actually enraging people enough that a massive police presence will be needed to keep the peace?

The “protest culture” that the 1999 Seattle WTO Ministerial spawned has not had any relevance in the United States since 9/11 (the 2004 FTAA summit in Miami could have been a prominent exception, but it received scant national attention relative to the scale of the chaos actually happening on the ground). The organizing strategies behind the global justice movement changed to fit a new political reality. “Teamsters and turtles” wasn’t just a chant in the streets, it became a real, if usually uneasy, political coalition working against further expansion of the WTO and even more controversial bilateral and regional agreements.

But if people are really on the brink of taking the streets en masse once again, I can’t say I think this is a bad thing. I’ve long thought that there has been far too little outrage in the United States about the global economic crisis. I don’t expect Pittsburgh to be another Seattle in the sense of educating a whole new generation of activists (not even close), but any signs of life on the streets would be welcome.

(An interesting aside: according to that Times article linked above, Seattle’s chief of police during the 1999 protests regrets ordering the use of tear gas, saying it “set the tone of conflict for the rest of the week.”)

Flying Whale

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