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Activists gather in Pittsburgh in advance of G-20 summit

| Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009

Liberal, progressive and socialist activists, along with community leaders, began gathering in Pittsburgh today for a People's Summit ahead of next week's Group of 20 world economic summit.

The daylong gathering in Oakland included speeches and workshops on topics as diverse as universal health care and an end to war.

Democratic state Sen. Jim Ferlo of Pittsburgh, one of the summit's sponsors, railed against globalization, what activists call the myth of free market economics, and promoted health care as a "basic human civil right."

"I want to unite people in peaceful speech and peaceful discussion. I encourage each one of you to take to the streets this week," Ferlo said, referring to mass protests expected during the G-20 summit.

The speakers at the rally were diverse internationally, if not philosophically. They included Walden Bello, an antiglobalist professor at the University of the Philippines and represen tative in that country's Congress; James Quilligan, economic adviser to former President Jimmy Carter, former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and former French President Francois Mitterand; and Anna Pinto, program director of the Center for Organization, Research and Education in northeast India.

Generally, the speakers believe the G-20 controls the global economy on behalf of banks and transnational corporations, at the expense of most citizens.

"The G-20 as a mechanism to save globalization is doomed to fail," Bello said.

The G-20 leaders head nations that control about 85 percent of the world's money and are meeting to discuss initiatives they took to respond to the world economic crisis at their last meeting in London in April. The G-20 is made up of 19 member countries; the 20th member is the European Union, which rotates the council presidency. The G-20 was started in 1999.

The speakers criticized media coverage of the summit as focusing too much too much on the potential threat of violence by protesters and not enough on the economic harm they say the G-20 causes.

Quilligan mocked security preparations, including plans for more than 3,000 police officers downtown, as the "biggest mobilization of security in Pittsburgh history since the French and Indian War."

"The myth of the G-20 is that it is representing developing countries," Quilligan said.

Robert A. Enholm, executive vice president of Washington, D.C.-based Citizens for Global Solutions, said the G-20's existence proves the United Nations is failing to adequately address the interrelated concerns of the activists: energy, environment, employment and the economy.

"A G-20 is, in some respects, a statement of failure," Enholm said. "Isn't that a statement about the failure of the U.N.?"

Ashley Smith, of Burlington, Vt., attended the People's Summit and plans to speak at the Peoples' March to the G-20, a protest scheduled for Friday. An organizer for the International Socialist Organization, Smith was selling books and publications, including Karl Marx's "Capital" and the Socialist Worker newspaper.

He said many activists, though heartened by the election of Barack Obama as the nation's first black president, want to express their disappointed with his policies to date during the G-20 protests.

"He was elected with this huge expectation of change and this mandate of change and, so far, Obama has been delivering mainly to the corporate elites," Smith said. "It's been about helping Wall Street instead of Main Street."

The gathering in Pittsburgh's Oakland section, near the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Carlow University, is scheduled to resume Monday and Tuesday evenings.

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