Surrounded by portraits of famous intersectional activists and posters quoting their hopes for the future, community members gathered Saturday for the Pittsburgh Fight Back 101 Workshop and Community Meeting.
More than 100 new and experienced activists participated in interactive workshops and collaborative discussions focused on the current state of Pittsburgh’s intersectional political movements. The meeting took place from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Pittsburgh United office near the North Shore. Organization leaders were joined by other coalition groups like onePA, the Education Rights Network and Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania.
Organizers kicked off the meeting with an overview of Pittsburgh’s history in activism, commending the Jan. 21 intersectional march and other recent protests while urging newcomers to seek out the causes that have meaning to them.
“We want to act on people’s needs to feel empowered,” Kai Pang, a Pittsburgh United organizer. Speakers handed out flyers detailing dates of upcoming events and elections and need-to-know terms such as “nonblack person of color” and “trans exclusionary radical feminism.”
Membership and donation forms for the participating organizations were available as well as a petition to the Board of Directors for the Pittsburgh Public Schools to prohibit the use of exclusionary discipline for students in grade five or below.
After organizers spoke and answered audience questions, the attendees broke into four workshop groups ranging from 10 to 30 people to discuss social and political issues affecting Pittsburgh.
Felicia Williams, an education consultant for onePA, encouraged everyone to remember the efforts of the people memorialized on posters hanging around the room. Among them were visionary transgender rights activist Leslie Feinberg, civil rights organizer Ella Baker and journalist and Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkol Karman.
“They were there and did it before us,” Williams said. “We’re all in it together now.”
Attendees shared their ideas, channeling their energy into brainstorming activities and covering empty whiteboards and posters with their personal struggles and hopes for the future, such as affordable housing and ending mass incarceration. Alice Thompson of Highland Park said this interactivity gave the event a strong sense of community.
“The way it was organized is important, teaching us how to resist in the best way as opposed to fulfilling our own sense of ego,” Thompson said.
Organizers at the event said the key to a successful resistance effort is to raise the voices of those most affected by issues, as well as gaining millennials’ support and energy.
Abigail Sanders, a volunteer coordinator for Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, led a workshop on how to actively fight for women’s reproductive rights and shared flyers with information on local abortion clinics.
“You need to know what to do when reproductive health is taken away from communities,” Sanders said, providing the workshop group with contact information for politicians that support women’s reproductive rights.
Another workshop, hosted by members of the Our Water Campaign, interested Planned Parenthood volunteer Roxana Gilani, who attended the presentation to get answers about recent reports of lead in several communities’ water systems.
Organizers Glenn Grayson and Aly Shaw addressed concerns about the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s slow response to the lead reports. They also introduced their new campaign to improve the water situation in Pittsburgh.
“We have three main goals: the remediation of lead in our water, the anti-privatization of water management and to keep water affordable,” Shaw said.
As part of their workshop, Shaw and Grayson provided maps of lead testing results for Pittsburgh neighborhoods and shared a powerpoint detailing the similarities between Pittsburgh and Flint, Michigan, both of whom have been under the management of Veolia — a French transnational water management company. In Flint, the company’s cost cutting measures and changes in corrosion control have been blamed for the high lead levels in the city.
Pamela Harbin, Education Rights Network co-founder and organizer, and Angel Gober, a onePA organizer, used their workshop to speak about the need for equal education access and disciplinary reforms in Pittsburgh Public Schools.
“We have to start kids early in school,” Gober said. “If we wait, it’s too late.”
The final workshop, “Roll Up Your Sleeves,” combined ideas from each of the other three into a hands-on activity for participants to practice their activism skills. Attendees acted out scenarios such as calling local representatives and asking for petition signatures as a way to practice speaking to those with different beliefs than them.
Bloomfield resident Christine Gordon was brought to tears by an activity where she had to think about and describe a loved one whose political opinions differ from her own.
“It made me feel very vulnerable,” Gordon said. “[The conflict] affects my life and my family specifically.”
After the workshops, attendees shared their experiences with each other and networked while enjoying homemade food provided by volunteers and organizers. Leaning against a wall and enjoying some chicken, Gilani said she is eager to reach out to local politicians after what she learned at the meeting.
“This fight is going to go on decades after Trump is not even our president anymore,” Gilani said. “There’s no time but now.”