Monday, September 28, 2009

Street Report from the G20

Published on Sunday, September 27, 2009 by

by Bill Quigley
The G20 in Pittsburgh showed us how pitifully fearful our leaders have become.

What no terrorist could do to us, our own leaders did.

Out of fear of the possibility of a terrorist attack, authorities militarize our towns, scare our people away, stop daily life and quash our constitutional rights.

For days, downtown Pittsburgh, home to the G20, was a turned into a militarized people-free ghost town. Sirens screamed day and night. Helicopters crisscrossed the skies. Gunboats sat in the rivers. The skies were defended by Air Force jets. Streets were barricaded by huge cement blocks and fencing. Bridges were closed with National Guard across the entrances. Public transportation was stopped downtown. Amtrak train service was suspended for days.

In many areas, there were armed police every 100 feet. Businesses closed. Schools closed. Tens of thousands were unable to work.

Four thousand police were on duty plus 2500 National Guard plus Coast Guard and Air Force and dozens of other security agencies. A thousand volunteers from other police forces were sworn in to help out.

Police were dressed in battle gear, bulky black ninja turtle outfits - helmets with clear visors, strapped on body armor, shin guards, big boots, batons, and long guns.

In addition to helicopters, the police had hundreds of cars and motorcycles , armored vehicles, monster trucks, small electric go-karts.

There were even passenger vans screaming through town so stuffed with heavily armed ninja turtles that the side and rear doors remained open.

No terrorists showed up at the G20.

Since no terrorists showed up, those in charge of the heavily armed security forces chose to deploy their forces around those who were protesting.

Not everyone is delighted that 20 countries control 80% of the world's resources. Several thousand of them chose to express their displeasure by protesting.

Unfortunately, the officials in charge thought that it was more important to create a militarized people-free zone around the G20 people than to allow freedom of speech, freedom of assembly or the freedom to protest.

It took a lawsuit by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU to get any major protest permitted anywhere near downtown Pittsburgh. Even then, the police "forgot" what was permitted and turned people away from areas of town. Hundreds of police also harassed a bus of people who were giving away free food - repeatedly detaining the bus and searching it and its passengers without warrants.

Then a group of young people decided that they did not need a permit to express their human and constitutional rights to freedom. They announced they were going to hold their own gathering at a city park and go down the deserted city streets to protest the G20. Maybe 200 of these young people were self-described anarchists, dressed in black, many with bandanas across their faces. The police warned everyone these people were very scary. My cab driver said the anarchist spokesperson looked like Harry Potter in a black hoodie. The anarchists were joined in the park by hundreds of other activists of all ages, ultimately one thousand strong, all insisting on exercising their right to protest.
This drove the authorities crazy.

Battle dressed ninja turtles showed up at the park and formed a line across one entrance. Helicopters buzzed overhead. Armored vehicles gathered.

The crowd surged out of the park and up a side street yelling, chanting, drumming, and holding signs. As they exited the park, everyone passed an ice cream truck that was playing "It's a small world after all." Indeed.

Any remaining doubts about the militarization of the police were dispelled shortly after the crowd left the park. A few blocks away the police unveiled their latest high tech anti-protestor toy. It was mounted on the back of a huge black truck. The Pittsburgh-Gazette described it as Long Range Acoustic Device designed to break up crowds with piercing noise. Similar devices have been used in Fallujah, Mosul and Basra Iraq. The police backed the truck up, told people not to go any further down the street and then blasted them with piercing noise.

The crowd then moved to other streets. Now they were being tracked by helicopters. The police repeatedly tried to block them from re-grouping ultimately firing tear gas into the crowd injuring hundreds including people in the residential neighborhood where the police decided to confront the marchers. I was treated to some of the tear gas myself and I found the Pittsburgh brand to be spiced with a hint of kelbasa. Fortunately I was handed some paper towels soaked in apple cider vinegar which helped fight the tears and cough a bit. Who would have thought?

After the large group broke and ran from the tear gas, smaller groups went into commercial neighborhoods and broke glass at a bank and a couple of other businesses. The police chased and the glass breakers ran. And the police chased and the people ran. For a few hours.

By day the police were menacing, but at night they lost their cool. Around a park by the University of Pittsburgh the ninja turtles pushed and shoved and beat and arrested not just protestors but people passing by. One young woman reported she and her friend watched Grey's Anatomy and were on their way back to their dorm when they were cornered by police. One was bruised by police baton and her friend was arrested. Police shot tear gas, pepper spray, smoke canisters, and rubber bullets. They pushed with big plastic shields and struck with batons.

The biggest march was Friday. Thousands of people from Pittsburgh and other places protested the G20. Since the court had ruled on this march, the police did not confront the marchers. Ninja turtled police showed up in formation sometimes and the helicopters hovered but no confrontations occurred.

Again Friday night, riot clad police fought with students outside of the University of Pittsburgh. To what end was just as unclear as the night before.

Ultimately about 200 were arrested, mostly in clashes with the police around the University.

The G20 leaders left by helicopter and limousine.

Pittsburgh now belongs again to the people of Pittsburgh. The cement barricades were removed, the fences were taken down, the bridges and roads were opened. The gunboats packed up and left. The police packed away their ninja turtle outfits and tear gas and rubber bullets. They don't look like military commandos anymore. No more gunboats on the river. No more sirens all the time. No more armored vehicles and ear splitting machines used in Iraq. On Monday the businesses will open and kids will have to go back to school. Civil society has returned.

It is now probably even safe to exercise constitutional rights in Pittsburgh once again.

The USA really showed those terrorists didn't we?

Bill is a human rights attorney and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. Bill and others at Loyola are helping the Catholic Legal Immigration Network represent dozens of mothers arrested in Laurel, Mississippi.

“Build Back Better,” Says Dr. Paul Farmer, UN Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti: Part I

By: Wadner

Since 1983, Dr. Paul Farmer has been working in the Cange locality of the Central department of Haiti. His organization Zanmi Lasante (Partners in Health) has won international recognition for its work. In August, former US President Bill Clinton, currently the UN Special Envoy for Haiti, appointed Farmer as his Deputy Special Envoy.

In early September, Farmer toured Haiti for the first time in his official capacity with the UN. The stated goal of the mission, whose motto is “build back better,” is to explore short and long term solutions to Haiti’s ongoing economic crisis. Haiti’s educational system, environmental problems and agricultural productivity were addressed in discussions with numerous sectors.

Farmer explained:

“We are not coming to dictate to people who have already been working in Haiti, but we can coordinate their work to make for better results. During my five days I met and listened to everybody, the President, the Prime Minister and other ministers in the government. And I met with the private sector, MINUSTAH, NGOs and the farmers.” Farmer stressed, “When I talk about the private sector, I don’t mean big business people only, but the ‘Madanm Sara’ [street merchants], the peasants who represent an incredible workforce for this country. We need to sustain them. And we also need to make sure that these people find capital to grow their crops and small businesses. And finally, their children should be able to go to school.”

However, Dr. Farmer noted, “This is not a political mission, but a mission to help people build back better Haiti. Haiti has its own potentialities and we can use them to develop Haiti.”

According to Dr. Farmer, the “build back better” mission is supposed to reinforce, not displace, government initiatives. He cited among other things the Hospital of Las Cahobas that was built as a joint venture between Zanmi Lasante and Ministry of Health under the former Aristide administration as an example of how NGOs can work constructively with the public sector.

“I thought I could serve people alone. But I realized that I was wrong because I can’t reach the population, but the government can,” said Dr. Farmer. Even the Preval administration has been critical of the way the bilateral donors have used NGOs to bypass (harsher critics would say –deliberately weaken) the public sector.

Dr. Farmer cautioned that the mission will not go on indefinitely, he said" It should not last long. But I can’t tell right now, and I am not the Special Envoy, but only the Deputy.”

Father Fritz Lafontant, the Pastor of the Episcopal church of Saint Sauveur established in 1962 in the village of Cange, where Zanmi Lasante has its headquarters, said during a mass: 

"We are happy to see Dr. Polo [Farmer] here today, as we know he always brings good friends for us here in Cange, and also for Haiti. We hope this mission will help him to do more for Haiti." 
Guy Bastien, a farmer in the commune of La Croix-des-Bouquets, said during Farmer's visit: "We need help to grow our plants. If they want to help us, here is our pump, we need a bigger one to pump more water in order to water more farms. The more farms we can water, the more crops we will harvest." 

Natacha, one of Dr. Paul Farmer's team members, said: " I am happy because for the first time I see a mission focusing on the Haitian middle class, and meeting directly with ‘moun en deyo yo’ (the outside people). These are the people who are struggling to educate their children, and they are the motor of this country. This class has been left outside Haiti's decision making for too long. It's time to get these people in. " 

"We are not looking for charity, but for help. We have land and good people here, we can feed our people," said a member of SONAPA (National Society for Agricultural Production). 

Some argue that political reforms are crucial to any success. Many demand the return of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide to Haiti (from exile in South Africa) and would regard it as a powerful signal that political reform is finally taking place in Haiti. Moreover, the release of all political prisoners and the inclusion of party Fanmi Lavalas in the electoral process would be also a powerful signal that the political and social rights of people is being respected.


Coming up Part II: the realizations, the response to how long this special mission will last, and people’s views about Dr. Farmer and former President Clinton’s involvement in this mission.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pittsburgh: Activists, Big Business Converge on G20 Summit

Inter Press Service
By Jeb Sprague

PITTSBURGH, Sep 20 (IPS) - 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.

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 market.

"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 downtown.

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 devastation."

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 present.

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 dwellers.

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 protestors.

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 organising 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 organisers say, the biggest challenge is just for their message to be heard.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Haiti: SOS Education in Cap Haitian

by Darren Ell
Some of the more than 50 children who finished school last year thanks for the Shada School Fund

Help Send 50 Youth Leaders to School in Haiti

The option of free primary schooling is something that most of us take for granted. This is not so in Haiti where free schooling is non-existent and public schools are inaccessible to the majority of students. Today 85% of Haitian schools are private and costs per student per year range from $10 at state schools to $400 in private schools. In addition to enrollment costs children are required to buy all of their own books and uniforms. For families with an annual income of $1000 who often have many children, school costs are prohibitive. Parents are forced to choose which of their children will attend school.

Kids often stop and start their education for financial reasons, repeat classes and often just plain drop out. Only 67% of Haitian children finish primary school and most never finish high school.

SOIL is an organization based in Cap Haitien Haiti that works on transforming wastes into resources through technology and empowerment projects, including ecological sanitation and garbage transformation contests. For the past 3 years SOIL has worked closely with the community of Shada, an urban area on the outskirts of Cap Haitien where 40,000 people live in a labyrinth of houses without a single road. Shada is one of the poorest communities in Haiti.

In 2007 SOIL did a photo empowerment project in Shada where 18 youth were asked to take pictures of things they liked and did not like about their community. After the photo project the group began meeting on a regular basis and began to call themselves UJDS (Youth fort the development of Shada). The group has since grown to over 100 children, who have worked with SOIL to build and manage the first public composting toilet in Shada, help run a weekly clinic, and develop a community center where kids take sewing classes and practice singing and dancing.

In 2008 several of our visitors were particularly moved by the fact that many of the kids in the youth group were not going to school and they decided to work together to raise the funds for 50 kids from the group to attend school in 2008-9. The program was a great success with 10 of the participants finishing in the top 5% of their class.

Unfortunately this year the original supporters of the project have been unable to raise the $3500 necessary to send all 50 of the kids back to school this year and with school starting September 14 it is unclear whether many of the kids from last year’s program will be able to attend the first trimester.

We are sending out an urgent call for funds to get this group of dedicated students through the coming year. The average cost per student in the program is $70 for the year, less than .20 cents per day. Please help support a student in Shada and be a part of the change that UJDS is making in their community.


124 Church Rd.
Sherburne, NY 13460

All donations should indicate that they are for the Shada school fund and checks can be made out to SOIL.

For more information, contact Sasha Kramer: