Page last updated at 01:50 GMT, Saturday, 26 September 2009 02:50 UK

Summit protesters lack focus

By Max Deveson
BBC News, Pittsburgh

Mike Ferner, President of Veterans for Peace, who was marching against the world's various military conflicts
The G20 summit attracted a wide variety of protesters

Are you a disgruntled steelworker? A member of China's Falun Gong sect, maybe? Perhaps you are an army veteran opposed to the war in Iraq? Or an anarchist intent on smashing the system?

If you fall into any of these categories, then Pittsburgh certainly had a protest march for you!

As is tradition at international summits, so too has it been the same in Pittsburgh, with thousands of people taking to the streets.

And - again true to traditional summit form- it was sometimes tough to discern much of a common thread uniting the protesters this year.

"We are here to add our voices to the thousands of citizens marching against the G20," said Mike Ferner, President of Veterans for Peace.

"The world that the G20 has given us is just one war after another," he added.

Other marchers were more focused on economic iniquities.

"I am marching against the spread of capitalism," said student Sam Jewler, after loosening his trademark anarchist black face-mask.

Student and G20 proteter, Sam Jewler
The way the police have acted shows just how much of a police state America has become
Sam Jewler,
student and G20 protester

"The system commodifies individuals. I'm interested in the way Native American communities organise themselves, without top-down, authoritarian leaders.

"The way the police have acted here really shows just how much of a police state America has become," he added.

The police - and the National Guard - were indeed a dominating presence on the streets in Pittsburgh.

Some wore futuristic body-armour, others carried guns capable of firing rubber bullets and tear-gas grenades.

Before the march began, they had festooned Pittsburgh's Fifth Avenue with police tape, on which was written - perhaps prematurely - "Crime Scene - Do Not Cross".


Yet it seems the police clairvoyants were clearly having an off-day.

Unlike Wednesday's demonstration, in which dozens of protesters were arrested and tear gas, smoke bombs and sonic weapons were used, Thursday's march was - in the words of President Obama - "very tranquil".

Nevertheless, the threat of violence permeated the air, especially when one particularly rowdy group of masked protesters (accompanied by an equally fearsome looking parade of black-clad police) marched down the street.

I got the impression that these protesters were using the march less as a forum for expressing their political beliefs, and more as an opportunity to engage in a much-loved pursuit.

Whether expressing passionate opinions or looking for a fight, the marchers - like their ideological opposites, the conservative Tea Partiers earlier this month - had a shopping-list of grievances that did not necessarily gel very well together.

And it was also hard to shake the feeling that few of the marchers' concerns had anything at all to do with what was being discussed a few blocks away, in the Pittsburgh Convention Centre.


President Obama, in his closing press conference, made the point that the protesters might have actually been rather pleased with some of the deals that the G20 leaders had reached.

"Ironically, if they had paid attention, they would have heard a strong recognition that it is important to make sure that the market is working for ordinary people… If they are actually interested, they should read the communique," President Obama said.

His tone was rather dismissive. In reality, some of the marchers may well take the time to read the leaders' closing statement.

But his remark laid bare the disconnection between the protesters on the street and the politicians in the hall.

The heads of government clearly feel like they are addressing the concerns of the public, while the marchers think they are being ignored.

Both sides are talking past one another.

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific