After hoofing it in Pittsburgh for three days, these exhausted reporters (my sister and I) don't feel like writing a post. So we're just dumping our pictures and videos here for you to judge for yourselves. We're big proponents of independent thinking. :)
Obama arrives at the 911th Air Base in Pittsburgh at 3:26 pm. My brother, Wing Commander Colonel Gordon H. Elwell, and his wife Jane greet the President and Michelle. In case you're wondering: 1.) My brother didn't vote for Obama, and 2.) They are talking about football in this video.
The only kids in town.
A lovely ceremony on Pittsburgh's North Shore: President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea laid a wreath on the Korean War Memorial, as South Korean generals and diplomats and American vets joined together for the event. Edward E. Stevens, founder of the Korean War Veterans Association of Western Pennsylvania and orchestrator of the memorial, dedicated in 1999, organized this meeting and hovered all day to get it just right. He is the picture of dignity in the fourth photo. The head of state (and the closest we got to any dignitary) is seen with his head bowed next to Mr. Stevens in the picture just before that.
Police were everywhere. Their massive presence was indisputable, and Julie and I talked at length about the implications of such formidable force. They came in all forms--on bicycles created just for the G-20; on horses; on motorcycles; with dogs; in boats, cruisers, backhoes, buses, Humvees, jeeps, SUVs, and regular soccer-mom vans; and on foot. They came from Tuscon, Chicago, Tallahassee, Baltimore, New York, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and probably many more places. (They wore their own arm badges, and those are the cities we noticed.) As individuals, they were friendly and cooperative. (Well, except that one, and he knows who he is. I didn't know you can't cross a police line! But don't confuse him with that handsome officer in the second to last photo; we thought he had a movie-star quality about him.) But en masse they were intimidating. We didn't see any police brutality, but there is ample footage of some against the students on Thursday night and against the anarchist group (as they call themselves) east of town.
The excessive show of force had major drawbacks: 1.) It had a chilling effect on free speech and movement on the streets, 2.) It was extremely costly, and 3.) It was not a welcoming or friendly sight to the foreign dignitaries, whose impression of this militarized Pittsburgh does not match the reality of everyday life here. The balanced view, of course, takes into consideration the potential for chaos and harm when crowds gather, especially angry ones. That the protesters weren't angry--not a one that I could see--is important, but I suppose the city of Pittsburgh couldn't know that for sure in advance. I like to remind myself that individual cops are hard-working union members who risk their lives and work in the trenches. Still, there was a feeling of inevitability in the air that clashes would occur, simply because they were there. At several points they seemed bored, and at least a few kidded with us that they wished there was more "action." That's a dangerous recipe; it's remarkable there weren't more confrontations, given the number of police.
The protesters were delightful, earnest, and peaceful. We talked with and photographed many of them as they straggled back into town after marching around the streets and across one of the bridges into the North Shore area near Heinz Field (where the Steelers play). A notable exception to the general air of peace were the black-clad, kerchiefed anarchists, who, in response to my questions about their desire for autonomy and masking, freely acknowledged that they didn't want to be identified because of "all the damage" their group does, including throwing rocks at buildings to break windows and stealing from Wal-Mart. They insisted that property damage was a legitimate form of protest; then they added that they probably wouldn't blow up a "Mom and Pop" stand or anything as ambitious as the federal building in Oklahoma because there were too many people killed there. It occurred to Julie and me that this relatively small group--we saw perhaps thirty of them, but there may have been more--were the only people the police really needed to worry about, the only people whose intentions were not necessarily peaceful.
It seems clear to me that news stories and posts which emphasize confrontations between police and protesters are simply not an accurate portrayal of the G-20 this year. They were isolated in both time and space. But it's fair to suggest that dissent was squelched up front, that Pittsburgh looked like a police state and therefore probably kept people from coming out or voicing their views. I do wish more reporters tried harder to ask the protesters what they wanted, what they believed. I think they know that stories about conflict sell; stories with substance about alternative views do not.
We'll leave you with a beautiful picture of Pittsburgh at dusk. You can see the sun's rays on the buildings.
To see more of Julie's photo's, go to her Flickr page. We'll post video of protesters soon.