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.