There have been plenty of jokes about hippies this week; I’ve let a couple go myself. Sure, they’re funny, and it’s easy — like of like picking on that kid who looked so different in grade school.
But there seems to be a lot of genuine anger towards the protesters here for the G-20 Summit as well. I’ve seen people call them scumbags, dirtballs and worse. That’s disappointing, at least to me.
The protesters have a right to be here, and the points they support aren’t off base. Centralized power, in government, in business — or in both, as we’ll see here this week — is rarely a good idea. The 20 nations that will be represented in large part determine policy and practice for the entire planet, including an awful lot of people who have no voice in those decisions. I’m a relatively intelligent guy, and I have no illusions about why things work the way they do; I don’t think, however, we should be a problem with a group trying to focus attention on those who have no power whatsoever.
A bunch of folks from Greenpeace were just removed from the West End Bridge this morning after they hung a banner calling for reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Sure, they picked a pretty dramatic way to make their point, but really — who thinks trying to cut greenhouse gasses is a bad idea?
Dissent is good. Dissent is why this country exists. Dissent, for example, is why conservatives have been hosting their Tea Party tax protests since Obama took office. And dissent is why most of the protesters are in town this week.
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There is another side to this, though. The protesters visiting town have a responsibility, too.
You’ve all seen the list by now — targets for “actions” on Friday, pretty much all over the city. The cynical side of me thinks we can probably get by with one or two fewer Starbucks in Pittsburgh, but that’s still not the right way to go. If you damage a Starbucks store to the point where it has to close, you’ve hurt the corporation, which, I assume, is your goal. But you’ve also hurt the people working there, right? Students who need that minimum wage job to stay in school? Retirees supplementing their monthly checks? Aren’t these the people you’re supposed to be speaking for?
And what if this goes further? The main “action” of the week is supposed to be a march that starts Thursday at Arsenal Park in Lawrenceville and heads down Penn Avenue to the convention center. That route takes them right through the Strip, which isn’t exactly a corporate playground. Those are family-owned local businesses, many of which have been there for decades. If one of those is put out of business, we’re losing more than a store — a family will lose its livelihood; dozens of people — who don’t have anything to do with any of those corporations that have been targeted — will lose their jobs.
Most of the protesters aren’t about breaking windows or setting fires. They want to draw attention to themselves and their cause, as the Greenpeace folks did this morning. At worst, these people will cause a temporary inconvenience.
But just as the folks who attend the Tea Parties try to distance themselves from the assholes who show up to have their overt racism on display, there will be some people who come to town wanting to more than just tie up traffic. The responsibility of the protesters is to respect our town and its people. They need to understand that the few who showed up to break and burn stuff can’t be permitted to do so. They’re smart enough to know that most of us think of all the protesters as one homogenous mass, and if one window gets broken or if one business has to close, those who came to Pittsburgh with honorable intentions will have all their work undone in an instant.
I know I’m in a serious minority here, but I’ll support their right to be here, to march and even to disrupt traffic along the way. If they live up to their responsibilities, I’d even welcome them back.