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Activism: Home Invasion

POG to protest home Robotics Center director

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Pittsburgh Organizing Group is renewing its protests against what organizers call "warfare robotics" by picketing the Wexford home of the director of Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center.

The Jan. 26 protest of NREC Director John Bares will be a "peaceful picket ... not combative or aggressive," POG organizer Mike Butler says. "We've been to NREC," he adds, referring to the March 2, 2007 protest in which he and 13 other POG members were arrested for chaining themselves in front of the Lawrenceville facility. Multiple charges filed against them were later dismissed in city court. "We've gone that route. We're trying something a little different."

Bares did not respond by deadline to e-mail and voice-mail requests for reaction. Nor did any other NREC official respond to a call.

According to a POG statement set for release at press time, "Our decision to protest another prominent, public CMU figure involved in war profiteering and warfare development is the result of NREC's recent $14 million contract to further develop 'Crusher,' a new generation of unmanned offensive ground weapons for the U.S. army. This further moves CMU towards not just research, but direct design and production of killing machines."

According to CMU press material, the 6.5-ton "'Crusher' ... [is] a unique unmanned ground vehicle that offers new strength, mobility and autonomy features for the Army's effort to keep its troops out of harm's way. ... Bares predicts that vehicles like Crusher will first be used in convoy or support roles, then tactical roles."

NREC has millions of dollars in other Department of Defense contracts, alongside contracts to develop robots for mining, agriculture and other applications.

POG says the group is also protesting at the home of an individual because that right has been questioned by local officials, especially following a protest staged at the church attended by Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato. Onorato drew fire from animal-rights activists after county officials exterminated geese in North Park.

While POG was not involved in the church protest, "We're trying to assert that ... we have the right to go to public figures' houses and protest their misdeeds," Butler says.

POG member Caroline Savery of Mount Washington says she and another POG member went to Bares' home on Jan. 16 "as a courtesy" to warn him about the upcoming picket -- and to make sure they had the right address. They say a woman in Bares' home accepted their pamphlet detailing their reasons for protesting, saying she would deliver it to Bares.

Savery says the group of 10-20 protesters "don't intend to engage in ... confrontation with people who live there" in the neighborhood, but asserts that "even in people's private lives they are accountable" for the work they do.

"I don't know if [Bares] is in an environment where he questions what he does very often," she adds. "We want to create that environment in public space."

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