Global Policy Forum

Be it G20 or G8, Activists Say Protests to Continue


By Mark Egan

September 25, 2009


The Group of 8 rich nations may have become the Group of 20 to be more inclusive of emerging economies, but activists vow to go on decrying capitalism no matter how many leaders attend the summits. At its summit here, the G20 said it will become the forum for global economic management, giving rising powers such as China more clout and including countries such as Mexico, Indonesia and South Africa who are not in the G8.

About 10,000 protesters marched against capitalism and the G20's summit agenda on Friday, in what organizers called the biggest protest in this western Pennsylvania city since Vietnam war demonstrations. Protests -- usually against some aspect of capitalism -- have often marked summits since trade talks in Seattle in 1999, when demonstrators ransacked the center of the city, targeting businesses seen as symbols of U.S. corporate power. Such summits are often held within a ring of security.

John Lipsky, the deputy managing director of the IMF, told Reuters Television, "This movement to the G20 and away from the G7 is recognizing economic realities. You can't talk about the global economy without having the major dynamic emerging economies at the table."

But the change from such summits just being for the G8 -- the world's seven richest nations (the United States, Britain, Germany, Japan, Canada, France, Italy) and Russia, failed to impress protesters on Pittsburgh's streets. "Our objective does not change whether there's 8 or 20 voices, we protest for the voices that are excluded," said Noah Williams, spokesman for the Pittsburgh G20 Resistance Project. "If there is 12 more it doesn't make that much of a difference. The homeless, the poor, the unemployed are the voices that don't make it in the summits no matter how many countries there are involved," he said.

Protesters in Pittsburgh said they would continue to protest at G20 meetings as long as reform of the global economy was needed. "Just increasing the number of countries that are members of an organization that wields so much power isn't sufficient to bring about the kind of reform needed," said Pittsburgh resident Adam Nation, 47, who said he lost his job as a laborer a year ago and has been unable to find work since.

John Kirton, director of the G20 Research Group at the University of Toronto, said he expects protests to remain a fixture at summits and that he considers them a valuable part of democracy. "We know from the history of the G8 that civil society has made a desirable difference in encouraging the leaders in going faster and further than they otherwise would have done, the classic case is debt relief for the poorest," Kirton said. Kirton said street protests at summits in the 1990s grew into the Jubilee 2000 movement which was eventually successful in getting the world's richest nations to forgive debts of the world's poorest nations.

Protesters on Friday held up signs such as "We Say No To Corporate Greed," and "G20 = Death by Capitalism" and chanted "Hey hey ho ho, corporate welfare has to go." They ranged from environmentalists, socialists, Palestinians and Tibetans to union workers.

Police and protesters skirmished on Thursday. Police used pepper gas, bean bag shots and batons to subdue protesters who smashed store windows at banks and other businesses. One sign at a protest on Thursday summed up the feeling of many protesters that is unlikely to change by making the G8 into the G20: "I'm mad as hell."


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