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G20Photos: Protesters near Rostock, Germany blockade a road leading to a meeting of the G-8, the world’s eight richest countries, in 2007 (left); While tear gas flies, police in Miami prepare to fire rubber bullets at peaceful demonstrators during a protest against the FTAA in 2003 (right).  Photos: Langelle/GJEP


G-20 Protests in Pittsburgh: Will Demonstrators’ Rights be Protected or Violently Attacked?

Does the Obama Administration Believe in the First Amendment?

Weeks before President Obama welcomes leaders of the world’s 20 richest countries, his Secret Service (SS), is shutting down avenues for nonviolent dissent in the G-20’s host city, Pittsburgh.

Perhaps Obama has forgotten that it was nonviolent protests led by Dr. Martin Luther King and others that helped pave the way for him to become President.

In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s one issue that could no longer go un-addressed was segregation.  Today a most pressing issue is climate change.  Just as Birmingham was the epicenter of everything wrong with segregation, captured in the media as fire hoses and police dogs turned on civil rights activists, Pittsburgh is preparing to be the epicenter of everything wrong with climate policy in the U.S. and more: the criminalization of public participation through the rejection of permits to protest climate change or anything else.

The exclusion of the public (including those already being impacted by climate change) from participation in the international climate decision-making process is exactly the reason why massive protests are planned at the UN Climate Conference this December in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Which Way for Pittsburgh?

In Miami in 2003, protest against the Free Trade Area of the Americas was outlawed and demonstrators subjected to extreme police violence (see photo above right).  Retired unionists, steelworkers, students and others were shot with rubber bullets, bludgeoned with batons and tear gassed for attempting to utilize their First Amendment rights.  I was there.  I saw it.

At the 2007 G-8 meetings near Rostock, Germany (formerly in Eastern Germany), on the other hand, protesters successfully shut down roads and railroad tracks leading to the G-8 meetings without violent reprisals by the police (see photo above left).  If such tolerance of free speech and protest is possible in a former East Bloc country, why is it not possible in the supposedly democratic and free United States?

Fortunately, the G-20 meetings have not yet happened.  There is still time to influence the outcome. Pittsburgh does not have to follow the violent and repressive Miami model.

Perhaps phone calls to Obama will encourage him to tell the Secret Service to obey the Constitution and respect the First Amendment-protected rights of protesters.  The White House can be reached at 202-456-1111.

Anne Petermann
Executive Director
Global Justice Ecology Project
Hinesburg, VT

Global Justice Ecology Project’s photo of the month combines photography and environmental advocacy with the belief that the right image has the ability to inspire and bring about change in the world. We use photographs to reach communities and the progressive public with ecological and social justice issues. It has been our experience that images are critical to reach beyond words to give people the ability to see and decide for themselves what the issues are and what is at stake.

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