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G20 Media, Did the Cat Get Its Tongue?

News of the G20 Summit focused on Paris, Syria, and yes, cats. Where was the media on other issues?

Members of the Turkey Youth Union hold effigies of U.S. President Barack Obama during a protest in Antalya, Turkey, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.

Doesn’t the internet have enough cat videos? News of the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, which concluded earlier this week, focused predominantly on discussions of the terrorist attacks in Paris, the response of the G20 on Syria, and yes, cats.

I get it. From my hotel room in Antalya, Turkey, I also wept, messaged friends, and obsessively monitored the news following the attacks in Paris and Beirut, and then Syria, throughout the G20 summit. Although I was here in Antalya to engage with the voices of protest during the summit, and to monitor the G20’s actions, I couldn’t get these tragedies off of my mind.

"While the world mourned Paris, Beirut, and Syria during the summit, then laughed at the G20 cats, thousands of government representatives from 20 nations worked to deepen neoliberalism."

 So when stray cats wandered onto the stage while the press awaited Obama, Putin, Erdoğan, and other world leaders, it was a welcome chuckle during sad times. The news media laughed and I laughed too. Videos of these now-famous kitties have gone viral. There are stray cats everywhere in Antalya. They live in special shelters erected by townspeople and are fed regularly. The people here say that you can tell a good neighborhood by the fatness of the cats. And one thing’s for sure: This town does not have a mouse problem.

But the cats seem to have snatched more headlines than the actual decisions made at the G20.

While the world mourned Paris, Beirut, and Syria during the summit, then laughed at the G20 cats, thousands of government representatives from 20 nations worked to deepen neoliberalism. They made decisions on migration and tax avoidance, moved forward on infrastructure developments, and harshly rebuked nations for not funding the dubious International Monetary Fund (IMF). They also delayed any meaningful action on climate change.

Here are some items to take away from the G20 summit, besides cats.

Protesters Raised Their Voices Against the G20, Imperialism

Out in the streets, young Turkish activists marched against the G20, holding signs that called the G20 a “killer, colonist, imperialist” organization. Several organizations organized the protests in the streets Antalya. The Türkiye Gençlik Birliği(TGB), or Turkish Youth Party, held an orderly march which began with a rally of hundreds inside a fenced-off “protest zone.” When I entered this zone through a security gate, police checked not only my pockets but also carefully read each one of my signs to vet for content.

The group symbolically threw shoes at Obama’s effigy as an act of street theater, then marches as they held aloft posters of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. They marched with anti-US-imperialism signs, including a 15-foot-long banner that read, “Yankee Go Home!”

“For this protest, we are mostly focused on Obama and US imperialism. When we think of America, we think of blood and tears,” said Sinan Sungur, TGB Assistant General Secretary. Sungur mentioned the NATO military bases in Turkey, as well as US interference in the Middle East. “We follow Atatürk’s way in Turkey. The model is to open towards socialism. We take our power from the people.”

Also there protesting the G20 in the streets was another group, hundreds more marching without a permit and getting into scuffles with the police as they held banners that read, “G20 go away!” These were the Öğrenci Kolektifleri or Halkevleri, the Peoples Party. In total, 30 people in total were arrested from the Peoples Party. Four were arrested as they attempted to walk to the security barricades to deliver letters to President Obama and other leaders.

“Why do we protest the G20? The G20 is imperialistic,” said Kutay Merig, a university professor marching with the Peoples Party. He added that they also “make war and hunger, are anti-democratic, and serve the interests of rich people. Totally abolish imperialism.”

I’ve been personally present at five G20 Leaders Summits now, and this is the smallest crowd of protesters I’ve seen. This is no doubt because of the extreme censorship and repression here in Turkey against anyone critical of the dominant paradigm, the government’s repression of the Kurdish population, or Turkish President Erdoğan. I was told by many that it was illegal to protest, and told that even getting caught with a G20 protest sign by police might land me in jail. I took these words of caution seriously, as local police had prepared an additional detention center for the summit with space for 500 protesters. I didn’t want to occupy one of these 500 cells.

G20 Kicks the Can on Climate Change

On climate change, the G20’s actions were meager. The group reaffirmed its commitment to prior goals of staying under a global temperature rise of 2-degree-Celsius, and re-stated that each G20 country intends to fulfill promises made to reduce their carbon emissions as stated in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). They punted any meaningful action to the Paris climate summit, starting in Paris in late November.

The climate language was called “woolly and non-committal to say the least,” by Oscar Reyes, Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Leo Hickman, Editor and Director of Carbon Brief, called the G20’s treatment of climate a “bit of a nothing burger.” Steve Price-Thomas, Oxfam’s Deputy Advocacy and Campaigns Director, said “the only thing G20 leaders had to say on climate was ‘see you at the climate summit.’”

The G20’s inaction is a disappointment to many. These 20 nations emit about 75 percent of all carbon spewed annually. If climate change is truly the most dangerous threat to humanity at this moment, perhaps even more dangerous than ISIL, then why make it a side conversation and kick the can down the road? Following last year’s G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, the US and Japan had made a point to commit billions of dollars to the UN’s Green Climate Fund, to go toward climate adaptation and mitigation. So why no action now?

The G20 and the IMF Remain Buddies

The G20 reserved their strongest language to promote the interests of the IMF, saying in their communiqué that they “remain deeply disappointed” that countries are not contributing more funds to the IMF through fulfilling quotas. This leaves no doubt about the buddy-buddy relationship between the G20 and the IMF.

Remember, the IMF is the organization that has elicited riots and protests from everyday people in a variety of countries, due to their adherence to harsh neoliberal policies and austerity measures that make lives harder for their client states, but earn banks and corporations more in the long run. Earlier this year, the streets of Greece, Turkey’s next-door neighbor, were the site of intense protests of everyday people opposing a raft of IMF reforms, including an increase to the retirement age, pension pay cuts, a reduction of government assets, and cuts to public sector worker pay.

A mighty increase in funding to the IMF has been one of the G20’s most significant actions to date. In 2010, the G20 decided to implement a host of reforms to G20 financing, including changing their decision making balance, and doubling IMF funding levels. This gigantic swell of funding for the IMF was supposedly to increase the resilience of the economy.

Giant Infrastructure Project, A Big Deal

A $60 trillion infrastructure project spanning the 20 largest economies is a big deal. At the Turkey summit, the G20 advanced its commitment to this giant project and the creation of a Global Infrastructure Hub that will “unlock the ways and means for countries to better prepare, prioritize and finance infrastructure projects,” according to their communiqué. Of course, the funding for these projects will flow through the World Bank, infamous dam-building and coal-financing villain, and other Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs), who will no doubt get a cut of the cash.

Right now the prospects don’t look good that this project will move forward with environmental sustainability at the center. The project would expand and update roads, ports, railroads, energy infrastructure, and more. Though the G20’s summit of energy ministers articulated clearly that energy efficiency and even renewable energy remained a priority, the text on the infrastructure project scarcely makes a mention of sustainability at all. These huge construction projects promise to greatly increase global carbon emissions if done wrong.

In March, an open letter signed by economist Herman Daly, activist Vandana Shiva, former Green Party presidential candidate Winona LaDuke, Greenpeace USA director Annie Leonard, Earth First! co-founder Mike Roselle, and others urged the G20 to rethink the infrastructure project. The letter suggests that the G20 “discuss significant changes to the economic model,” educate themselves on planetary ecological boundaries, and shift toward ecologically sound infrastructure.

G20’s Priorities Are Economy, Not Terrorism

Sorry to let the cat out of the bag, but the final G20 communiqué does not actually have one mention of Syria or ISIL, and barely mentions terrorism. That’s because the true focus of the summit remains on economic issues.

The G20 is a forum of the “Group of 20” countries, the 20 most important economies in the world, meeting at least once per year. Together they constitute about 60 percent of the world’s population and emit the lion’s share of global carbon emissions. Since its beginnings as an emergency response to economic crises, the G20 meeting agendas have widened to encompass a variety of issues, such as anti-corruption practice, food policy, financial transaction tax, youth employment, and especially expansion of economic growth. But, despite communication that would suggest they are like a mini-UN, seeking to address the world’s humanitarian crises, their focus remains on economic issues.

The 20 countries invited to meetings are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The presidency and hosting of the forum rotates frequently between member countries. Smaller meetings between ministers and government officials are ongoing throughout the year, with leaders’ summits once or twice per year to include heads of state. Now that the G20 meetings in Antalya, Turkey, have concluded, the presidency moves to China, where the G20 Leaders Summit will be held in September, 2016. Germany will assume the presidency after China in 2017.

Neoliberalism and Imperialism All the Rage for Turkish Activists

"Here in Antalya, people are not too political," says Alberk Satori, 20, a self-described punk who grew up in neighboring Alanya, a quick seagull’s flight to the east along the Mediterranean coast from Antalya. Satori doesn’t believe in religion and doesn’t “have hope,” he says. He was not in the streets during the protests. Yet Satori, smoking a cigarette and drinking on the corner with friends, still says he opposes neoliberalism and imperialism.

Neoliberalism is a word that elicits fury for activists all over the world, including Latin American activists from Mexico to Chile who have had energetic street protests against “neoliberalismo.” In the United States, however, few could tell you what it means. It usually refers to a system of development policy based on trickle-down economics, lowering barriers to trade, eliminating government services, and reducing the role of government while strengthening corporations.

So neoliberalism equates to hyper-capitalist, free market economics. These are policies that have accompanied a global increase in inequality, environmental degradation, and climate change. As shown by the number of protests these policies have prompted, neoliberalism has not worked for many people.

If you speak one word to a Turkish activist, say “anti-emperyalizm,” or anti-imperialism. Neoliberalism is viewed as a form of economic imperialism by many here in Turkey, who see corporate-led policies as handing power to rich foreign nationals and other governments and exploiting the people. The word emperyalizm was in roughly half of all chants at the G20 summit protests.

Reporting in the Here and Meow

The G20 took a few steps that can be celebrated. They affirmed that they would widen acceptance of refugees and migrants, the tired and the weary. They also paid lip service to reducing inequality and including more women and youth in the workplace, though these may also be simply a new rhetoric twist behind old policies to “eliminate poverty” through more trickle-down economics. The group also advanced the OECD Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS), which will cut down on corporate tax avoidance, though more work is needed to truly reduce tax cheating. With this good news to report, why didn’t the news media faithfully get the word out?

Even if they wanted to keep the cats in the center of the story, there were plenty of bad metaphors to jump on. The G20’s statement on migrants is the cat’s pajamas? Their climate inaction makes it seem like they think they have nine lives? Their Global Infrastructure Hub project is what the cat dragged in? Eh?

So why has the news media been silent on this? Perhaps… the cat got its tongue?

Lacy MacAuley

Lacy MacAuley

Lacy MacAuley is a Washington-DC-based media activist and a member of the DC Antifascist Coalition.  Follow her on Twitter: @lacymacauley

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