By By Stephen Cooney
Early in the morning of September 23 I packed my camera bag and boarded a plane to head home to the suburbs of Pittsburgh in order to photo document the Resistance to the G-20 conference that was happening on the banks of the Allegheny River in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Historically the summit has been a hot bed for violent resistance between the police and a variety of leftist groups.
Figuring that every media source around would be trying to get as close to the actual summit as possible, I picked up my press pass and headed to the headquarters of the major planning group for the “resistance” to the summit. After meeting with my sources and confirming the information that I had been given over the past three weeks I went home and prepared my equipment for the next two days, made a few phone calls and figured out my plan for the next day.
Expecting some sort of violent protest much like what occurred in Seattle in 1999 and London in 2008 I packed my bag in the morning and got ready to head to the city. Wanting to avoid any misjudgment by the police I made sure I avoided wearing black to not become a member of the autonomist “Black Bloc” that has become a staple of anarchist/leftist movements in protest. Hoping to make it through the weekend without getting bagged as a member of the protest instead of a journalist, this seemed like a good idea. I did one more equipment rundown, cameras, check, 20 GB of memory, check, extra lenses, lens clothes, batteries, paper with legal contact information in case I needed to be bailed out of jail, check, gas mask, to expensive, white bandana covered in vinegar—it helps deter tear gas according to a few of my contacts—check.
After wondering around the city for a few hours I made it to the park that had been advertised as the meeting place for the unpermitted march to the convention center. After about an hour of congregating and taking photos of the mass of protesters, I heard the rustling of riot cops and the whine of police sirens. Looking over the wall I saw a newly formed wall of riot police blocking the exit to the park. The whole area became very tense and the “Black Bloc” made its way towards the entrance. After a few minutes of chanting and posturing with the police I jumped the wall between the police and the protesters in order to get the best photos of the action. Shortly thereafter I realized that nothing was going to happen when the protesters turned and made their way to the back exit of the park.
Making my moves back to the front of the march I continued to follow the march down into the city. After walking three blocks in the wrong direction until a resident directed the crowd back in the right direction, the mass of people encountered another police wall. Finally, something was going to happen. Someone was going to stand up for what they were marching for and there would be a clash like the ones I watched on YouTube so many times. After a few LRAD blasts from the police speak and feeling like I was going to have my insides fall out I noticed something. I was closer to the police line than the protesters. They managed to maneuver through an alley and back down another street. Creative, but this cat and mouse game would last for two more hours before the crowd was finally disbursed. One rolled dumpster and few cans of OCD gas everything was back to normal and I was left to find a new back around the blocked off area to meet up with some colleagues. My walk home would almost triple the actual city distance that the protest had made it before being blocked and, more peacefully than expected, disbursed back to their headquarters or wherever they decided to linger. This would happen for the remainder of two more days. Lines of riot cops facing lines of protesters until one moved away and the march continued or disbanded until late Friday night that ended with 110 arrests that were a mixture of media personnel, protesters and college students caught in the middle.
After watching this for two days I was disheartened with what I have seen. I by no means was hoping for a violent protest and did not want to see the city I grew up in ravaged by protesters hoping to destroy anything in their path but I was hoping to see some kind of voice that stood for something. Yes, there was political activism and yes, there was a presence that wanted to stand up against the Summit but were they as willing as protesters in the past to accept the repercussions of their actions. After speaking with the members of some of the organizations they believed that the protest was a success but is turning away and avoiding a conflict when you are trying to make your message felt a success.
No one told Martin Luther King Jr. to be violent and he did not want to but if he had a destination he had to be physically forced to not make it there or when Malcom X said he was going to get his way “By Any Means Necessary” he meant it. Does our generation actually believe in what we are saying or do we only believe in it until it becomes too dangerous? Are we willing to have our thoughts heard by any means necessary? Or are we just looking to find the next fad and political activism seems as if it may be, hopefully I am wrong and I know there are people who really do believe in what they are saying but do too many of us join the crowd and force the real voices to avoid their own plans and actions?