Protesters urged to be active, vigilant
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WASHINGTON -- A few heads turned with puzzled looks as the Canadian motorcade left the White House on Wednesday.
On the sidewalk, Aaron French, 20, wore a Bigfoot suit, a hockey jersey and an oversized mask of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Next to him, Oscar Ramirez, 24, was dressed as a milkshake of oil sands, which Canadians have been extracting as a domestic fuel source with detrimental effects on the environment in Alberta. A dozen more climate protesters sang a parody of "O Canada" and waved signs.
"He saw us," Julie Erickson, 23, said of Mr. Harper. "And I think our message is pretty clear."
The Washington-based climate activists, whose demonstration briefly derailed a Washington news conference by Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato on Sept. 9, are one of many groups that will be in Pittsburgh to protest the G-20.
There are 10 twentysomethings in the "climate action factory," sponsored by activist organization Avaaz.org, who made the trip over the past few days and are staying in McKees Rocks.
They plan to advocate for stronger climate change action by the G-20 in advance of the December climate summit in Copenhagen. Ms. Erickson said the group's aims are targeted, nonviolent protests. Like Wednesday's White House demonstration, they will seek to turn a few heads.
Ms. Erickson said they have a 7-foot-tall replica head of President Barack Obama and a mask of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In the past, she said, demonstrators have shown up at hearings on the climate change bill in the House of Representatives dressed in muscle suits to advocate a stronger bill.
At the Sept. 9 briefing by Mr. Onorato and Mr. Ravenstahl at the National Press Club, Ms. Erickson and a few of her cohorts held up banners protesting the city government's foot-dragging on granting protest permits and were thrown out of the building.
Ms. Erickson, whose interest in climate change was first piqued as a college freshman, stood by the small band of protesters Wednesday with a clipboard in hand to keep track of media outlets that stopped by. When energy flagged at one point -- without a camera trained on them -- Ms. Erickson exhorted the protesters to "keep going strong."
Then the chants resumed: "Harper got on the oil sands train. Canada's future down the drain."
Though there were a few gawkers, the group didn't draw nearly as much attention as the several hundred strong crowd a few yards away screaming for special immigration rights for Haitians.
"It's tough real estate here in front of the White House," Ms. Erickson said.
So, too, will Pittsburgh's real estate be packed with protesters of varying aims and tactics. The Avaaz group said it would try to blend in with other climate groups' activities, but there's room for deviation and individual expression also.
"We're going to come in with lots of energy and support the work they've already been doing," said Sarah Murphy, 24.
They kept up the energy Wednesday, even after Mr. Harper's motorcade left the White House. The group, which had been ushered across the street by police to make way for the motorcade, returned to the White House gate to chant and dance.
"The most important thing I can be doing right now," Ms. Erickson said, "is pressuring decision-makers."
First Published September 19, 2009 12:20 am