The Unemployed Life, Wanderlust

The story behind the Christmas Card

Every year, I send out a Christmas card. But I try and send something a little less like the traditional, boring here’s-my-baby/dog/family-for-your-enjoyment. Last year, I sent out a picture greeting card featuring an ex-marine waterboarding me. A few years before that, I sent out a photo and story about my night inside an inflatable newspaper costume. The year before that, well, let’s just say I have a lifetime ban from that coffeeshop. So, in keeping with my Gonzo tradition, here is the story behind the Christmas card:

So there I was – standing in front of a dozen Pennsylvania police officers in full riot gear, clubs and tear gas ready, with only a press pass to protect me. And even if that press pass was real, reporter credentials didn’t mean anything on the fortified streets of Pittsburgh.

Just minutes earlier, another phalanx of riot cops charged a group of protesters and bystanders a few blocks over. And that was just minutes after police rolled out L-RAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) — a crowd-control device strapped to a military truck that emits a piercing, debilitating tone. This was the first time such a device had been used in the United States.

Yep, the G20 Conference was underway and for the last six weeks, Pittsburgh city officials and the media had scared residents into allowing a small version of a police state right on the banks of the Allegheny River.

Behind the News, G20 Protests (2009), Wanderlust

Best of G20: The People’s March

On September 25, the last day of the G20 conference, several groups organized a “People’s March” from the University of Pittsburgh campus through downtown. Weeks ago, the city granted a permit for the march and accompanying rally, but that didn’t stop scores of riot cops from escorting the estimated 5,000 protesters through the city. At one point, the crowd stretched eight blocks long, the hodgepodge collection of activists chanting, beating drums and holding every manner of protest signage. Here’s the people that stood out:

G20 Protests (2009), Wanderlust

The Best of G20

The G20 is officially over.

All the delegates from various countries are gone. Last night, President Obama left for the airport via motorcade (and severely screwed up my exit of the city, I might add). And most protesters have left the couches and squat houses of Pittsburgh. Well, at least those that are not still in jail.

Everybody is calling the event a success:  President Obama, the other G20 members, the city of Pittsburgh, even the perpetually angry anarchists. I’m not so sure about “success,” but that’s for another blog post I’m working on.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of electricity where I was staying for the week, regular updates of the events surrounding the G20 were not possible. But I did attend numerous protests and meetings, some more successful than others.

To let my readers digest the myriad of groups and causes, I’ll post a guide of the most important, interesting or humorous aspects of the protests surrounding the G20. All of the photos and videos were shot by me unless otherwise noted.


Behind the News, G20 Protests (2009)

A guide to following the G20 if you’re not in Pittsburgh

Due to the limitations of my stay in Pittsburgh, and the annoying fact that my phone can’t even Tweet, this blog is not the best resource if you’re stuck at work in Tampa or Des Moines and want hour-by-hour protest action.

But even if I did have those capabilities, the only way to get a true picture of what’s happening on the ground in Pittsburgh is to read a variety of independent media. So, here’s what I’m looking at:

Pittsburgh IMC By incorporating Twitter feeds, video, audio and loads of photos, this local Independent Media Center is one of the best resources to catching some crazy anarchist protest or the latest arrests.

Mobile Broadcast News I met the guy running this site a few days ago and he’s one hard workin’ videographer. Check this site a few times a day for quality, edited video and interviews.

Pittsburgh City Paper‘s blog Although they don’t update often enough and sometimes over-snark, I usually enjoy the alt-weekly take on events — an equal skepticism of the G20 conference and the protesters, topped with a little humor and local advocacy.

Look hard and often!

G20 Protests (2009)

Biggest threat to the G20 so far? Volunteer chefs, of course!

This morning, as I took an ice cold shower in a house with no electricity — my G20 host fell on hard times recently — I thought to myself: “Gee, things could be worse. Sure, I’m sleeping on the floor in a dark house with no power, worrying if my car will be towed at any minute and apprehensive about how the police will see me (press or protester?) and how the protesters will treat me (press, undercover, not worthy, fellow brother?)  … But at least I’m not out there in a retrofitted school bus feeding hungry people.”

It’s true. So far, the main victims of police harassment in Pittsburgh are a motley group of activists dedicated to feeding hungry people. Actually, two groups of activists that feed hungry people.

Since last week, Pittsburgh police have harassed the Seeds of Peace Collective, a busload of activists who came to feed G20 protesters, and Everybody’s Kitchen, another group of volunteer chefs who help prepare food for the homeless and at disaster sites (i.e. Katrina). When I caught up with them yesterday, they had already moved to four different spots around Pittsburgh in six days.

On Friday, police illegally entered the Seeds of Peace bus while it was parked on a street in the city’s Oakland neighborhood. Then, they towed it. After gaining the permission of a local property owner, two groups parked their buses on a piece of land in another part of the city. On Sunday, the police raided that property, and although turned up nothing illegal, the city threatened the owner with a $1,000-a-day fine. They moved the next day, but while in route, police stopped the bus, searched and conducted “safety checks” and then issued two tickets, one for parking on the curb.

A day after moving to another piece of private property — an abandoned school lot — police once again showed up to evict the buses with the property owner. She had since reconsidered her offer. They moved once again where they are at now.

And all that is not counting the times police stopped group members while they walked through the neighborhood or the ridiculous parking violations.

With the help of the ACLU, Seeds of Peace filed a lawsuit, but Wednesday, a judge threw the case out. How long the buses will stay at their current location is anyone’s guess.

“I don’t feel like it’s the end of it,” one of the group members told the Pittsburgh City Paper. “It seems like they’re just waiting until they find some other way of harassing us.”

Check out these videos RE: the police harassment of the Seeds of Peace Collective:

G20 Protests (2009)

What is the G20 and why am I in Pittsburgh?

If you haven’t seen any news reports about the G20 conference in Pittsburgh yet, chances are by the end of the week you will.

On September 23-24, leaders from 20 of the world’s economic superpowers will meet to iron out world economic issues behind closed doors in Pittsburgh. According to reports, these leaders — including President Obama — plan to talk about oil prices, U.S. debt, world economic growth and restoring faith in the financial markets.

But on the streets, potentially thousands of protesters from across the country will descend on the conferences to disrupt what they see as the meeting of an undemocratic group of world elites intending on further manipulating the third world. The high unemployment rate is also high on the list of grievances. Based on past protests, these dissenters plan to march through the streets, block traffic and generally make themselves heard.

Since the press are not allowed in the actual G20 conference meetings, I’ve come to Pittsburgh to report on the latter group. For the next four or five days, I’ll follow the protesters, interview some, avoid heavy-handed police tactics and hopefully make sense of it all.

I have a little experience in this. In 1999-2000, when anti-globalization protests were all the rage, I traveled to a few cities rocked by such protests. This time, I plan to report on an important conference while documenting the protest movement surrounding it, because the national media refuses to tackle these hard subjects in favor of easy-to-explain soundbites. As past protests have shown, the only real coverage of these events comes from independent media.

It also helps that I”m an unemployed journalist.