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.

* * *

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.


  1. I may not necessarily agree with their motives or methods, but you’re right: protesters *do* have a right to do what they do. That’s one of the upsides of a mostly-free society. I just wish your average protester would A) act responsibly, and B) be proactive the other 364 days of the year. You can make a bigger difference by helping those who need it rather than destroying what you disagree with.


  2. I actually mostly agree with you. I welcome protests and peaceful demonstration, but in my head the line gets drawn at the point where the protesters begin to negatively impact other people. For example, the Greenpeace demonstration negatively impacted a major thoroughfare and had the potential to more than just be inconvenient. Protesters can’t control whether someone will need to be rushed to a hospital and then be delayed because of traffic tie-ups, for example.


  3. I don’t think you’re necessarily in the minority at all (or, if you are, I’m in it with you and a few other like-minded people). I think your point is very well made, and NUANCED. That’s what’s missing in a lot of media coverage: nuance. A protester has every right to his/her protest, but many of these legitimate protesters are being lumped in with the a-holes who have come to cause property damage and destruction. Those a-holes are the minority, but they are also the squeakiest wheels.

    I think the idea of dissent and protest being legitimate may have disappeared (for many people) with the Towers. People who disagreed with the government were labeled, during the last administration, as un-American and even traitors. We’ve lost sight that it is exactly that ability to have our say — without causing damage or bloodshed — that is so very American.

    I’m sure I could go on, but I probably shouldn’t. I agree with you, though. I mean, to sum up.

    sorry for the minor rant.



  4. Amen.

    The right to protest is important. I accept the inconvenience present by protesting parties, and welcome them to Pittsburgh. I want to hear what people have to say. What I don’t like is worrying about my personal safety, and the safety of our city. Here’s hoping everyone – protesters and city protectors – acts responsibly.


  5. I’m fine with the organized rallies and marches, but stunts like this West End Bridge fiasco put others (like the medical personnel and police) in danger, and only anger the people trying to get from point A to point B. It doesn’t help garner support for your cause.


    1. I am glad you wrote this – I for one, believe in (peaceful) protest, and have participated in it myself. Over the years, it has brought about good – if not in policy change directly, then in bringing issues to the forefront.

      I really hope that it stays peaceful, but sadly many people protest simply for the sake of protest and violence and destruction, which is sad. And it accomplishes nothing – or even worse – sets back the cause.

      And also – I’m getting awfully damned tired of all the dirty, stinky hippie jokes.


  6. BB and Ryan: Did the Greenpeace event tie up traffic any worse than a Steelers’ Monday night game would have?


    1. Valid point, but the Steelers traffic doesn’t typically require a Coast Guard and heavy emergency response in order to make sure that the people causing the traffic jam don’t do something stupid like drown themselves.


  7. Great post. I too believe protesters have a right to be here. I can’t imagine not having the freedom of speech. My only concern is the “unknown”. What’s REALLY going to happen tomorrow and Friday. I love this city and I just don’t want it to be destroyed.


  8. I fully support the First Amendment to the US Constitution as it is written. Unfortunately we will see in the not too distant future that the right of the people to peacefully assemble will probably not occur, at least not peacefully. If it does, it will be a rarity relative to recent G20 events. This area doesn’t do protests well, we never even had a very strong antiwar movement although it was present. Bill Ayers’ crew tried to blow up the Gulf building once in 1974 but we tend to keep it close to home around here. I have to take off work on Friday because a family business has been targeted. The windows are boarded up, but again we don’t take too kindly to out of town folks in some cases funded by some anti-capitalist people coming to our town and zeroing in on our stuff! Of course there are some grass roots people who believe the planet is doomed and corporations, profit and being the baddest dude on the block is evil and wrong. Some of us don’t and have no time for anarchy or anarchists. That absolutely doesn’t mean that I feel they don’t have a right to protest, not at all, but I believe if they cross the line they will find the true Pittsburgh spirit, a work ethic and self determination that you probably won’t find in London or Seattle. I’m not taking off work Friday to watch some entertaining malcontents who can afford to take a week off of whatever they do and perform for some camera’s, I’m going to defend my family’s hard work. Great post, but I had to throw that out there. Incidentally if this goes bad or above the ability of the state (PA) to handle it, well let’s just say Uncle Sugar is in the house, and that Mr. Onorato I do not appreciate.


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