President isn't advocate of mass protests
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WASHINGTON -- If there is any president who might sympathize with the thousands of protesters expected to flood Pittsburgh this week for the G-20 summit, it would be the one who used to be a community organizer.
But in an Oval Office interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Friday, President Barack Obama said he was not an advocate of mass protests, such as the ones planned for this week, while working in the South Side of Chicago in the 1980s.
"Probably not," Mr. Obama said when asked if he might have been in the streets with a sign in his younger days.
"I was always a big believer in -- when I was doing organizing before I went to law school -- that focusing on concrete, local, immediate issues that have an impact on people's lives is what really makes a difference; and that having protests about abstractions [such] as global capitalism or something, generally is not really going to make much of a difference."
The protesters -- and the potential for violence and disruption of the Group of 20 Summit -- have been a hot topic in Pittsburgh since May, when Mr. Obama selected the city to be the summit's host. The city plans to line up about 4,000 police officers, with significant help from surrounding jurisdictions, and 2,000 National Guard soldiers will be on call if protests spiral out of control during the summit.
Mr. Obama said demonstrations -- long a principal feature of any gathering of world leaders or central bankers -- are a sign of a healthy democracy, but he doesn't agree with many of the protesters' views. Mr. Obama urged dissatisfied workers to understand that globalization is inevitable.
"I think that's part of what makes America wonderful, is people have a lot of different opinions," Mr. Obama said.
"We've got a robust and sometimes contentious democracy, but if you think about what's happened to our economy -- there was a period of time in which heavy industry took a beating in this country and we didn't respond as quickly as we should have. And we then had the choice of trying to pretend that change wasn't coming and trying to close the world off from that change, and that's just not possible."
Though the protesters' topics range from war to global warming to anarchy, many are concerned about the economy and hold G-20 policies in part responsible for the global recession. The working class has been hit the hardest, they argue, but has not benefited from large bailouts.
Mr. Obama said the nations are doing their best to dig out of the recession, and if some of the protesters would give the plans a chance, they might approve.
"One of the things that we'll highlight at the G-20 -- and maybe the protesters are missing this -- is that I and other world leaders are very interested in making sure that the excesses of global finance are reined in," Mr. Obama said, "that we've got a regulatory framework and structure that assures you are not seeing the sorts of abuses that resulted in this most recent financial crisis that did create enormous hardship for Main Street."
First Published September 20, 2009 12:31 am