After more than two years and dozens of pickets, Pittsburgh Organizing Group will announce Aug. 8 what POG calls its most ambitious protest effort yet: a 26-day camp-out and fast in front of Oakland's main military recruiting station, on Forbes Avenue.
Mike Butler, 21, of Bloomfield, says he will undertake a water-only fast on the sidewalk from Sept. 4 through Sept. 30. The goal, he says, is "to put pressure on the people who are running the country, both in government and out" -- including Congressional representatives who say they want to end the war in Iraq, "but don't take firm steps to do so."
POG is calling for immediate troop withdrawals from Iraq and an end to military recruiting in Pittsburgh. The "End War Fast" encampment, for which POG is seeking city permits, like the fast itself, "will put a spotlight politically and morally ... on this symbol of militarism, this thing that continues the war in our community," Butler says. "A lot of other tactics just can't focus that kind of attention either on the recruiting center or the war in general."
Alex Bradley, a long-time organizer for the five-year-old anarchist group, says Butler will be joined by increasing numbers of protesters, campers and fast participants as September progresses. At the end, he says, "[T]here will be dozens of people camped out and fasting around the clock."
Sgt. 1st Class Scott Cassidy, the recruiting station's commander, had no comment on the planned protests. Dale Terry, chief of advertising and public affairs in the Pittsburgh recruiting battalion, says, "We have a wonderful Army doing a lot of things to keep the nation safe." And since "the freedoms we have are due to that protection," he says, trying to hinder recruiting hinders the nation. Write your Congressional representative instead, he suggests.
But reaching Congress is exactly POG's intent, says Bradley. The fast will be just one of a series of nationwide radical protests during September. Other more conventional demonstrations will range from a Sept. 7 rally in San Francisco to several Sept. 15 marches and other actions in Washington, D.C. September is a time for national focus because war opponents suspect that President George W. Bush will once again try to link the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to the invasion of Iraq, and because on Sept. 15, Gen. David Petraeus is due to report to Congress on war progress. Another war-funding bill is also due for debate, and Bradley says there is a chance of forcing more Republicans to distance themselves from Bush prior to the 2008 election cycle.
Bradley says that other groups will join POG to demonstrate during a month-long slate of events, to be announced at www.organizepittsburgh.org/fast. The protest will kick off with a community dinner and rally, and will include everything from a candlelight procession on Sept. 11 to rallies and renewed pickets. Biographies of fasters will be featured on the Web site as well.
Butler, a POG member and organizer for a year, was arrested March 2 along with 13 other POG members; at a protest in front of a Carnegie Mellon University robot-development facility in Lawrenceville that is fueled by Department of Defense contracts.
"Fasting has been used historically by various kinds of activists to raise pressure on the powers that be and reclaim power in their own lives," Butler says. "For us, this is a good time for the tactic that we don't usually see rolled out in Pittsburgh on this scale."
Currently temping at the Thomas Merton Center, a social-justice organization in Garfield, Butler has no health insurance, and has never undertaken a political fast -- or any fast of more than 36 hours. At 5-foot-10 and about 180 pounds, he says he is aware of the health risks this form of protest can pose. "I'm in a position in terms of where I am in life and just my physical health where I am capable of doing this."