Pittsburgh encore

This is a republication of a post that was first published on 9.24.2009. The text had been corrupted, though.

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As my trip to "dahntahn" Pittsburgh yesterday (9.23) made plain, the G-20 Summit has already worked a kind of bad magic on the everyday political and social life of the city of Pittsburgh.

I say this because it was not at all hard to find evidence supporting my belief that a kind of frenzy drives the local political culture more than a reasoned appreciation for the political, social and cultural predicaments of the moment. Fear — and thus hatred — pervades the city. This is unsurprising since a paranoid ranting has dominated talk radio for weeks along with the local news more recently. The streets were not empty, of course. They were only "not themselves," different in a way that pointed to the G-20 Summit and the political situation surrounding it.

The immediate cause:

"The Anarchists are coming, the Anarchists are coming…."

The anarchists are fearful because they are willing to contend in a direct and forceful way with the militarized and well-armed security forces in the city. Their tactic: Civil disobedience.

In other words, the federal government and its local adjuncts are seeking to suppress much of the politics that will originate from below when that politics fails to affirm in a decisive and direct way the despotic powers of the state and, to be sure, the anti-democratic features specific to the American form of governance. The suppression combines the law (rule by law) with force and violence (rule by law realized by a militarized police). The upshot: Something akin to a local state of siege had appeared as the Summit neared. Pittsburgh epitomizes police state American. Thus:

"The streets of Pittsburgh are secure and will remain so during the Summit. The dignitaries visiting the city for the event will not be molested in any way by the black flag folk especially or by any other movement that chooses to protest the event, the participants and their doings. Nor, for that matter, will they endure a confrontation with the indigent living under the city's many bridges or the famished scrounging for food, for they have been cleansed. Humanity will be disciplined so that unaccountable power might thrive."

As it turned out, the forces of 'order' and fear achieved their goal: Pittsburgh looked as though it were preparing to weather a Category Four political hurricane. Businesses were securing their windows. The police patrolled the streets on foot, singly and in large groups, on motorcycles, bikes and riding in other vehicles. Some of the sidewalks near the Convention Center were enclosed in long but narrow steel cages, creating pedestrian bottlenecks intended, one would guess, to pacify the crowds moving toward the Convention Center and its precious occupants. In short, Pittsburgh looked to be a social and political wasteland in the making, and has remained so today as I write this article.

This debacle — and it was a debacle — received a mixed reception from the locals. I often overhead some of them — "Yinzers" — complaining about the protesters who allegedly were "ruining the Summit for the City," were in need of "a full-time job," a bath, more variety in their diet, better manners, good clothes, etc. It seems the protesters needed, if one were to believe their critics, a whole new identity and way of life, an identity and life that conforms to the expectations the critics have for themselves, their kind and for all 'real' Americans. The protesters ought to become "one of us," so to speak. Apparently, Pittsburgh's anti-protester protesters believed the normalization of the event necessarily meant the complete pacification and integration of the city and, by extension, the people who will host and participate in it. Pacification in this case means the elimination of an opposition politics.

What the protest critics neglected to mention was the purpose animating these protests: To secure a higher quality of life in the present and the future for those who need it the most. Nor did they consider the issues the G-20 countries would discuss while convening in Pittsburgh or, for that matter, the situation that they and everyone else confronts today. They treated these as irrelevant. They were beside the point, it seems, because their presence could only undermine the spectacle of the event and the security of the city.

In short, the critics of the protesters had erased the political essence of the event which would have scared the Hell out of them had they taken seriously this essence along with the issues history has made relevant today.

But, they could instead obsess about the spectacle at hand: A spectacle composed of despotic and unaccountable power doing as it pleases, of armed forces crossing the streets of their hometown, of political liberties breached and undermined, of a garrison state as it appears to those subject to it.

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