While sunbathers looked on, a crowd of between 75 and 100 people heard poets and speakers lambaste the ongoing occupation of Iraq while decrying government cutbacks at home. Transit activist Stephen Donahue argued that the "shadow side of this war" is that it takes money from helping poor and working-class citizens here while doing nothing to help Iraqis. "Bush isn't waging this war on behalf of anyone who rides the bus," said Donahue. "At least the fascist dictator of Italy made the buses run on time." Other speakers linked the Iraqi conflict to the travails of the Palestinians, and to concerns about U.S. imperialism.
The prevailing sentiment was to bring the troops home, as attested by signs urging "U.S./U.K. out of Iraq NOW" and members of the Pittsburgh Organizing Group telling the crowd that occupation is "more than a police state," it is a "continuation of war" that "perpetuates the authoritarian and patriarchal status of the United States."
But not everyone agreed that withdrawal was the right, or moral, course of action. Labor lawyer and activist Dan Kovalik counseled the crowd, "We have torn that country apart, and now we have to rebuild it." Urging a continued commitment to Iraq is "difficult for peace activists to do, but we have to do that." (Later, Kovalik acknowledged that staying in Iraq was a "very complicated" issue, but though he opposed the war from the outset, "The U.S. does have a responsibility to stay and repair the damage.")
The rally concluded and POG led an unpermitted march out of the park, after members pointed out the undercover police in attendance and observed that "You know things are bad when the police are staging their own direct action." (In recent weeks police officers and other city workers have responded to layoffs by storming the City-County Building.) On the top of Flagstaff Hill, four officers climbed languidly into their cruisers and followed behind.
According to police spokesperson Tammy Ewin, one marcher was arrested in Oakland: Joseph Reichenbacher, on charges of obstructing highways and passageways, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief. Police say he was blocking traffic in Oakland and continued to do so after four warnings; the latter two charges resulted, Ewin says, when Reichenbacher tried to kick his way out of a police wagon before being put into a cruiser.
Reichenbacher, who was arrested on some of the same charges during a 2001 May Day celebration in Market Square and received probation last year, was not immediately available for comment. Marchers have posted varying reports on the Pittsburgh Independent Media Center Web site (www.indypgh.org/).