On Sept 20, The Toledo Blade published an article in which President Obama is quoted as saying, in reference to the G-20, “protests about abstractions [such] as global capitalism or something, generally, are not really going to make much of a difference." While I am not sure what the opposition to the G-20 accomplished last week in Pittsburgh, I found that many of the activists there were quite concrete about what they don’t like about the elite economic club.

(To express the details of what you do or don’t like about the G-20 and other global financial institutions or about the protests, contact the Columbus Free Press at truth@freepress.org or phone 614-202-0178 and your input will be added to this article).

On Sept 24, about 150 people gathered for the People’s Tribunal against the G-20 at the Emanuel Episcopal Church in an area of Pittsburgh called the North Side. This part of town was quiet with no more than the usual amount of police I have seen in various cities.

But on the other side of the Allegheny River, the National Guard and police, heavily patrolled downtown Pittsburgh and other parts of the city. Nearly 200 arrests were made. One documentary film-maker joked, "there are three cops for every protestor." Police used tear gas, pellet bags, stun grenades and sound cannons during some clashes in the streets.

Amidst the stained glass windows of the church and the vaulted ceiling of woodwork skillfully constructed in the 1890s, Alberto Arroyo of Red Mexicana de Accion Frente al Libre Comercio said the G-20 wants his people to produce crops used to fuel automobiles of wealthy nations, instead of using those crops to feed the people of his nation and other developing nations.

“They have taken away our right to be able to live in our own country and then say we are illegal when we are forced to emigrate.” He said the G-20 has developed free trade agreements that obligate poor countries' governments to place the interests of corporations over those of its people.

“The legislation in many of our countries is being changed so we don't have the right to protest all of this.” He said the assassination attempt on Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous head of state, is an example of corporate interests trumping the interests of people in developing nations.

Priva Hang 'andu of Jubilee Zambia, an organization which is part of an international campaign to cancel the foreign debt of the world’s poorest nations, said poor countries need to be part of the decision-making process.

She said the US has supported a repressive regime in the Congo. “The developed world must stop extracting resources from poor countries.” She said the G-20 must end its double standards, in terms of policies toward poor countries. She also said developed nations must stop subsidizing the agriculture of rich countries.

At a meeting a day before and in a different part of town, Nobel Laureate Economist Joseph Stiglitz spoke to a packed crowd at the Monumental Baptist Church. The meeting, which was in Pittsburgh's Hill District, was one of several which comprised the People’s Summit, as was the People's Tribunal mentioned above, where activists and others gathered in opposition to the policies of the G-20.

Before the meeting with Stiglitz began, journalists from France, Germany, and other countries milled about outside the church shooting video and photos and making other recordings as they watched and talked with some of the activists. I also encountered outside the church a national news crew from NBC and someone setting up for National Public Radio a phone call with one of the activists from the group, Bail Out the People.

Stiglitz said “the G-20 does not have a single nation from sub-Saharan Africa except South Africa.” He said it should, because the nations of Sub Sahara Africa differ significantly from South Africa.

Regarding the bailout of the banks Stiglitz said, “we didn’t focus on lending, we focused on gambling… What is the social or economic justification for that kind of system?” He repeated the idea often heard among progressives that our current economic system involves “socializing losses and privatizing gains.” He then said , “it’s not only a question of fairness, but also of efficiency, because it distorts incentives.”

Stiglitz said “our society has been characterized by increasing inequality…the average American was 4 percent worse off economically in 2008 than in 2000. We’ve said ‘don’t let it bother you that your income has gone down, consume as if it were going up.’”

Stiglitz had this bit of concrete criticism for the Obama administration.“The U.S. has said Europe needs to have ‘more flexible labor markets’. What that means is that (US policy makers think that) Europe needs to lower wages. Hearing that from a Democratic administration is discouraging.”

He also offered the following concrete criticism of global financial institutions: “our systems of measurement are very flawed. They don’t take into account environmental and social degradation…Our measurements gave us a very false view of how we were doing before the crisis.”

He said that GDP is not, per se, a good measure for economic health. He also asked, “how do we make sure our financial institutions do what they should do such as (making available) private loans to small businesses?”

Stiglitz was not the only speaker at this People’s Summit event, though his presence would explain, at least partly, why journalists from around the world came to this church. I didn’t notice any international reporters, or any reporters for that matter, at the People’s Tribunal, an event that had no high profile writers, scholars or other personalities that would draw people who are not part of the activist community.

John Nichols of the Nation Magazine hosted the meeting with Stiglitz at the Monumental Baptist Church. Nichols stood by on the small stage, his arms folded tightly against his chest, and beaming proudly at the Nobel Laureate economist and at the crowd packed into the church.

After Stiglitz left to catch a flight, Emira Woods of the Institute for Policy Studies and a member of the Network Council of Jubilee USA spoke to the crowd inside the church. “ We have to create a space for voices often marginalized by the big 20.”

Woods said the world faces a triple crisis: Climate Change, resource depletion, and financial turmoil. She also said that “too often it’s women and children who are paying the price for these disastrous economic policies.” Jubilee USA and other organizations say the world’s poorest people are bearing the brunt of the global economic crisis that decision-makers in rich countries have caused.

Woods said, “there are 192 countries that demand a vote. The G-20 is better than the G-8, but when that small inner circle gets together, it has benefited the rich, the very few. Wealth has been concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.” Woods said one of the goals of a grass-roots movement in opposition to the G-20 involves “expanding what we call the ‘policy space.’”

She also said “these international financial institutions were created 60 years ago when many of the countries in Latin America and Africa were not independent. These institutions put profit first and say ‘we’ll worry about the climate and people later.’”

On Sept 22, Jubilee USA Network released a progress report on the G-20 which states: “Perhaps most troubling, nearly all the resources committed by the G-20 to low income countries are in the form of new loans, potentially pouring fuel onto already existing pressures towards re-indebtedness for the poorest countries due to declines in export income and remittance levels. New loans will only increase these countries’ indebtedness and lead to a resurgent debt crisis, where countries will have to prioritize debt repayment over essential services to their populations.” http://www.jubileeusa.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Resources/G20/G20Falling...

Woods told the crowd at the church, “we need to have real debt cancellation, not the G-20 meeting a couple of months later to institute new debt.”

Carl Redwood Jr., an activist in Pittsburgh who works with the Hill District Consensus Group said “ the G-20 tries to get regulation out of the way. This results in lower paying jobs with less benefits, gentrification, and huge subsidies for business.”

Tammy Bang Luu, who works with the Labor Community Strategy Center and Bus Rider’s Union in Los Angeles and who is also co-host of Voices From The Frontlines Radio on KPFK, Los Angeles, said “US policy has got to change” whether the issue at hand is lowering the number of people imprisoned for “crimes of poverty” or addressing gentrification, or having a single- payer healthcare system.

Luu also said the federal government’s transportation funding should change so that 80 percent of it is spent on alternative transportation and only 20 percent on automobile-centric transportation, instead of the reverse which is what we have now.

Leo W. Gerard, president of United Steelworkers International, joked with the crowd, saying that he would tone down his speech out of respect for being in a church. He said “We bail out the bond holders, the richest citizens, then we’re told we don’t have money for healthcare, education, and public services. The money is there. It’s just going to the wrong people. What we see now is the failed philosophy of trickle down economics. My message is this: it didn’t work then and it won’t work at the G-20.”

Gerard called for creating 'green jobs.' “Instead of bailing out banks, we can retrofit every government building in America and we’d create jobs,” He said the US has hollowed out its industrial economy, and he asked, “where will our kids get their jobs?”

Gerard, whose union has been working with the Sierra Club in the Blue-Green Alliance, also said, “because of our global trading system, the largest producers of wind turbines and solar panels aren’t in America.” But he said “Chinese workers that aren’t allowed to join a union aren’t the enemy. I’m not against the people of India or China. The problem is the global system that pits worker against worker and nation against nation.”