The Body Electric-Bodies as Weapons: When the G20 Comes to Your Hometown

Thomas Page McBee
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You know what? I get it. The G20 is a symbol of everything that's wrong with globalized capitalism. Protesting their gatherings makes a lot of sense to me. This year the G20 is in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and we are once again awash in apocalyptic images of police-state riot gear and angry college kids in bandanas getting arrested.

But this year is different for me, at least. This year, the G20 isn't happening on the other side of the world: it's happening in my quiet, industrial hometown, where raucous whole-city events always involve a winning sports team and a celebration. Pittsburgh is a city rooted in the sort of pride that blooms most in insular, isolated mid-size cities with long, storied histories; a one-for-all, all-for-one sort of mentality. With this in mind, I have watched the updated Facebook status feeds of locals that I know: anxious, angry, and largely confused by the actions of all parties. Why is the G20 occupying their city? Why are the protestors throwing bricks through their restaurant windows? 

As usual, I remain most interested in the protestors and here's why: I do get it. I get how frustrating it is to feel so small in the face of so much that is wrong, to only have your body and your hands as weapons, and to know that they are nothing next to a smart bomb. I get the rage about all that is wrong with the world, and I get the urge to do something about it.

But I don't get this:


This is Pamela's diner; a Pittsburgh institution with five locations. Pamela's is where my high school girlfriend and I had our first date. It's where you go for a hungover breakfast on a Sunday morning. It is not a symbol of greed any more than any small business; and it's certainly not Bank of America. So why did protestors break its windows yesterday? Because anger without direction in a protest ceases to be about the symbols. Because violence, perpetrated by a government or an individual, brings out the worst aspects of humanity.

Pamela's reopened for business today. Nobody has been killed in Pittsburgh, and the leaders meet on--likely ignoring all the fuss outside. Ironically, the whole situation has become virtually institutionalized at this point, like a grand political theater: the police in their outfits and with their rubber bullets and sound guns, showing the world how easily they are set off against the citizens they are supposed to serve; and the protestors, with their half-covered faces, on their stomachs in the road, handcuffs contorting their bodies in righteous rage.

The leaders lead, safely cocooned. The people of Pittsburgh get their coffees and orange juices and head off to work, a little bewildered maybe. The owners of Pamela's stay up all night and clean their restaurant so as to reopen it on time. How does that protestor feel, I wonder?

Is there any other way? I wonder that, too.

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5 Comments Have Been Posted

Thanks for posting this. The

Thanks for posting this. The thing is, we do need anger and we do need protests, but we need directed anger. We need educated protests. One of the protesting groups yesterday was a group of anarchists... that philosophy irritates me to no end because, really? Anarchy? Anarchy is no more realistically possible than utopia or pigs flying. Anarchy, in reality, would lead to mob rule, followed by some kind of make-shift government which is a lot like regular government but even more likely to be rife with corruption. I feel like these protesters aren't even operating in the realm of reality. They aren't helping anything, that's for sure. The fact is, the world is what it is, and we have to work with it. We have to shape the material we've got, and yelling at it and breaking windows doesn't help.

First, why should a

First, why should a political belief by judged by whether or not it's "possible?" Some would say that a world without patriarchy or heterosexism or racism is "impossible."

Second, for 98% of humyn history (everything prior to 10,000 years ago), humyns lived in nomadic band-level societies that were without law or leaders...implicit anarchism. Hunter-gatherer cultures that exist today are the same way. Not only is anarchy possible, but a majority of humyn existence was lived in an anarchistic state. If you consider the wide array of humyn societies that have existed, those with domination structures like the state are the minority. If anything, humyns are naturally inclined toward egalitarian social relations and are moved away from this by being socialized into a hierarchical society.

And why is it "for sure" that these demonstrators aren't changing anything? Mass demonstrations and property destruction have been an important part of every movement for social change from labor to wimmin's liberation to anti-racism. That doesn't mean we shouldn't think critically about such tactics, but universally dismissing them as "not helping" is limiting and absolutist.


Couldn't have said it better myself.

There is the idea that the

There is the idea that the bigger a society gets, the less avoidable it is for a state to form, for the society to stratify and for there to be a hierarchy. I would say the egalitarian, hierarchy-less systems are only possible in small-scale societies.

it only takes one...

I totally agree...but people (and especially the media) will understandably latch onto this, forgetting that 99% of people involved in the protest would never support it.

Remember, it only takes one person to foolishly do something like this...And it could certainly have been a will-soon-be-regretting it 15-year-old, full of angst for any number of reasons.

Or even an government provocateur (while certainly there has been concerted attacks on banks and big businesses from protesters, damage to local businesses by such provocateurs has been documented at other protests in the US in the last few years).

I guess my point is that while it is awful that this happened, I think the extraordinary repression and direct physical violence visited about people raising the voices against the g20 is a far worse (but if of course DOES NOT excuse the window breaking and the hardship Pamela's folks have surely endured).

Both are wrong. I'm just saying the damage should be kept in context that there are 100s of people -- who would never support that window having been broken -- who have been physically abused by the police and had their 1st amendment rights sorely violated. That to me is the bigger story here.

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