G-20 opponents mapping strategy of protests, lawsuits
August 19, 2009 4:00 AM
Michael Henninger / Post-Gazette
Jules Lobel, a University of Pittsburgh professor and vice president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, speaks at East Liberty Presbyterian Church during the meeting held by various groups looking to protest the upcoming G-20 summit.
By Dennis B. Roddy Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A coalition of groups opposed to the G-20 met last night to plan what appears to be shaping up as a 21st-century battle for Fort Pitt -- saying the city has blocked plans to protest.
Some hinted at civil disobedience, others at civil litigation.
"I've always had it in the back of my mind about civil disobedience and being arrested," said Kathy Cunningham, a Sharpsburg woman who said she has long experience marching in the streets, but none to date waiting in a jail cell.
The dilemma over when, where and how to take to the streets, emerged, protest leaders said, after the city failed to approve a series of permits sought by a range of groups.
Code Pink and several other groups sought a permit for a tent city at Point State Park and say they were turned down because the police and Secret Service want to use it as a staging area during the Sept. 24-25 meetings.
A spokeswoman for the city law department said that several permits are still under consideration and that none has been rejected outright. Several speakers last night insisted that their permit applications had been either rejected or stonewalled.
Yvonne Hilton, an attorney with the city's law department, said earlier this week that one permit has been approved in part, but that final approval on any spaces in the city would depend on the Secret Service.
The G-20 meeting, a gathering of heads of state and finance ministers of major industrialized and emerging countries, has been declared a special national security event, placing the federal government in charge of final security preparations.
Last night's meeting, held in a sweltering second-floor room at East Liberty Presbyterian Church, focused on how to secure Point State Park. Protest leaders noted the park, site of the former Fort Pitt, is far from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the location of the meeting.
"Point State Park is perfectly reasonable," said Jules Lobel, a University of Pittsburgh law professor. "We shouldn't get shunted to some backwater."
The problem, according to the city, is that Point State Park is already spoken for. The city of Pittsburgh filed an application Aug. 5 to reserve the former site as a staging area.
"We march and demonstrate no matter what," said Ginny Hidebrand, a dog groomer from Point Breeze and volunteer at the Center for Constitutional Rights. "Permit or no permit, we have to peacefully defend our First Amendment guarantees."
By mid-meeting, no concrete decisions had been made, other than to press City Council for a hearing on the permits.
Some, such as Albert Petrarca, a Highland Park resident active with the Palestine Solidarity Committee, suggested a two-track struggle: litigate for the permits and, if it becomes necessary, plan for mass arrests.
"It seems to me the only thing they're going to listen to is the threat of non-violent civil disobedience," Mr. Petrarca said. "We should be filling these jails. We should be filling them willingly; we should be filling them joyfully."