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Afternoon Insight

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How successful was the July 25 "Marketplace of Ideas" in Market Square?

The collection of more than 30 social justice groups offering brochures, discussion and, in a few cases, games to passersby produced "a mixed bag," said one participant, Maurene Roberts of Bethel Park, outreach director for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). "There have been people who want to learn, whether they agree or not, and people who really don't want to hear a thing: 'Don't confuse me with the facts.' That's typical of an information festival."

Other groups were faring better. Forty minutes after the event opened, the Fair Housing Partnership was signing up its fifth housing discrimination tester -- people who help investigate complaints against landlords by posing as prospective tenants.

"For us this is quite a success," said FHP's managing attorney Lisa Paige, "especially when you consider it's the first time" for the event. But how many people show up for training after signing up? Program manager Mary Hamilton said she's seen as much as a 75-percent return from their table at certain events and as few as, well, none.

Nazeeh Al Othmany of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh's outreach committee, was using the event to try to dispel Islamic stereotypes, cajoling passersby to play "Islamic Jeopardy." A young boy rushed up, obviously eager to answer a question he'd missed earlier. The pilgrimage to Mecca: "Is it 'jihad?'" he said. "No, it starts with an 'h,'" Al Othmany answered patiently.

A woman stopped in front of the board and picked "Women in Islam" for 200. "They are considered to have heaven beneath their feet," Al Othmany read.

"Pregnant women?" came the guess.

"Close," Al Othmany said. "The woman closest to your heart."

"Mother," she guessed correctly. Then the boy appeared again. "Haj," he said in triumph.

Megan Rogers stood in front of a table bearing a filthy bottle topped by a filthier doll's head. Both had been found on Pittsburgh riversides by members of "The Tireless Project," a six-week-old cleanup project with a single pontoon boat and a dream.

"We've found 300 tires so far, a washing machine, hot water heaters -- all sort of debris," Rogers said. "We haul it out with manpower" -- volunteer manpower.

As if by magic, Oyster House kitchen employee James Liptak stopped by asking to volunteer. He needs to do a community service project, he said.

"I've been going to rivers for years, fishing," said Liptak, 21. In the West End, he added, "I've watched a lot of barges throw garbage off their boats. One time I caught a fish and it had a six-pack container wrapped in the fish." He has, he said, often cleaned the rivers of excess wood and garbage.

Is he a member of any of these groups? "Hell no. This is where I'm at." He pulled an ID on a chain around his neck from Renewal Pittsburgh, an organization that works with ex-prisoners.

While a 2004 Marketplace is already scheduled for May 1, organizer Chad Skaggs told the crowd, even before it started, that "It's disturbing that so many groups should have gotten here today, because it means & there is so much work to do."

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