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Groups organize alternative in Oakland to global economic summit

| Thursday, Aug. 27, 2009

They worry about the G-20 and, on the eve of the global economic summit, they're renting out Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland to talk about it.

They're campus radicals, a best-selling anti-war author, disenchanted politicos and people plain fed up with status quo in Washington.

Most fear the United States is bailing out banks and other multinational corporations at the expense of taxpayers, selling the nation to foreign financial interests, and betting our wealth on the whims of centralized bureaucracies divorced from accountability and democratic oversight.

Some, but hardly all, bemoan America's trillion-dollar wars overseas, the growth of an overseas U.S. "empire" and loss of civil liberties in a nation they believe increasingly resembles a "police state."

Unlike most demonstrators getting publicity in Pittsburgh, these citizens will don more wingtips than black anarchist masks. Instead of carrying placards, they typically prefer to converse about bringing back the gold standard.

They're conservatives, drawing from a diverse mix of Ron Paul revolutionaries, Blue Dog Democrats, Libertarians, Tea Party Republicans and other advocates of small government, and they're flocking to Oakland from 4-10 p.m. Sept. 22 to hold "Freedom Conference 2009" — what they term a "G-20 alternative."

The alternative, they say, is diminished world government, more transparency, a deeper consideration of free market solutions to global problems, and a louder voice for the billions of people affected by decisions world leaders make.

Freedom Conference seats retail for $25, and organizers are trying to recoup out-of-pocket costs by renting booths to likeminded conservatives who want to hawk books or ideas.

"It's a gathering of independent, liberty-minded people," said Tom Kawczynski, 28, a legal aide from Bellevue and president of the Republican Assembly of Metropolitan Pittsburgh.

"There's this perception that the G-20 is a free market, democratic gathering of nations. But when many people learn about what the G-20 leaders actually want to do, they're surprised," Kawczynski said. "We believe that instead of listening to what these leaders are saying, we should be asking whether many of our global problems could be addressed by grassroots solutions, including smaller government."

They would have held their confab during the G-20, scheduled to take place Sept. 24 and 25 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, but police told them conducting it earlier would help authorities. So they moved it forward, and the organizers remain unabashed fans of local law enforcement.

"We have a lot of veterans, police and firefighters as members," said Daria Cuda, 23, a Beechview marketing specialist for Hill District developers and an executive board member of Veterans and Patriots United, a group with more than 350 members.

"We believe that it's important for the nations of the G-20 to meet," Cuda said. "But we have concerns about how they meet. We believe that there should be transparency, that people should see how world leaders make decisions that affect billions of people. But increasingly, much of the business that they do is decided behind closed doors."

Instead of Cindy Sheehan, Hollywood celebrities or other stars in the constellation of the radical chic, the conference's conservative crusaders have wooed author Thomas E. Woods Jr. to hobnob with people Kawczynski calls "just ordinary people."

Woods, a resident scholar at Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Ala., recently authored "Meltdown," which proposes that federal bailouts make the economy worse. He wrote "We who dared to say no to war," a compilation of anti-war writings from 1812 to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Am I like the protesters on the left• Well, yes and no," Woods said. "Yes, in that I'm against what the G-20 nations are doing. No, because many of the protesters on the left believe we got into this financial mess by being too capitalistic. I'm the exact opposite of that.

"I think the real problem was that we weren't free-market enough, and that now the G-20 ministers are proposing ways to fix the system that are the wrong kinds of innovations. Many of the bailouts and other solutions are like putting Scotch tape on a house of cards."

To Woods, a better fix for worldwide financial woes would be "listening to what the presidents of the G-20 say, and then doing the exact opposite," such as scrapping the cap-and-trade system of seeking to reduce industrial pollution; reining in the "giant, unaccountable central banks"; and promoting capitalism over "one world, central bank."

Such ideas likely won't bring liberal demonstrators and other G-20 activists marching to Oakland for a group hug with Woods, but he thinks there's much to unite them against the summit.

"I won't kid myself about the two sides ending up on the same side of things," said Woods. "But I give a lot of talks in front of progressives. Afterward, they will come up to me and say, 'I don't necessarily share your prescriptions for mending things, but I think that your diagnosis of our problems is about right.' "

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