Pittsburghers protest Sessions firing, Trump-Russia claims


Theo Schwarz | Senior Staff Photographer

A protester stands outside City-County Building holding an American flag behind a sign that reads, “This is not normal.”

By Dylan Giacobbe, Staff Writer

When President Donald Trump quickly replaced former Attorney General Jeff Sessions after firing him on Wednesday, the people of Pittsburgh were quick to speak out — but not necessarily in support of Sessions.

Pittsburghers came together Thursday night to protest Trump elevating lawyer Matthew Whitaker, a lawyer who has criticized the ongoing Trump-Russia investigation special counsel Robert Mueller, to Acting Attorney General. The protest was one of many that occurred across the nation as part of Nobody Is Above the Law, an event created to mobilize people who believe that Mueller is under attack.

Community organizers worked in conjunction with Partners for Progress SWPA to put on the short-notice rally in front of the Pittsburgh City-County Building. Tracy Baton was one of the many organizers who spoke in front of the diverse crowd of more than two hundred people.

Baton, an organizer who has directed and led various rallies in the past, including the Women’s March on Washington in Pittsburgh, began her speech with a statement embodying the urgent sentiment of the rally.

“Enough is enough,” Baton said. “This is our democracy.”

According to Baton, the American people have succeeded in combating the president and his administration, especially considering Democrats will soon reclaim control of the House of Representatives following Tuesday’s midterm elections.

“The American people spoke loudly and clearly this week that they put a check on Donald Trump,” Baton said. “Now Congress must hold up its constitutional obligation to do its job.”

Theo Schwarz | Senior Staff Photographer
Marie Norman, member of the Order of the Phoenix and professor at the Pitt School of Medicine, asks the crowd for a show of hands. “Who here thought it would be over after the election?”

Baton continued to define the necessity of the attorney general and Congress to check the actions of President Trump in light of the Trump-Russia investigation.

Many people in the crowd cheered and chanted along to the speeches, brandishing picket signs with slogans such as “Whitaker must recuse” and “Protect Mueller! Save Democracy.” After the speeches ended and much of the crowd dispersed, many stayed and held their signs toward the street as drivers honked in support. Mykie Reidy, one of the organizers from Partners for Progress SWPA who spoke at the rally, talked to many of those who stayed after.

Reidy said putting the rally together on short notice was difficult due to its proximity to the midterm elections.

“The fact that we had to tell people that now we are having this event two days after the midterm elections, everyone is exhausted,” Reidy said.

But despite the fatigue of the midterms, Reidy said she was pleasantly surprised at the turnout of the rally.

“We had no idea how many [people] would show up so I was very happy,” Reidy said. “It was a great crowd … I really thought people were energized over this issue.”

Reidy said it is important for people to participate in rallies such as this to speak up about current issues, especially people who are not already very politically active.

“It’s sort of an echo chamber of the people who are already on board and are being active,” Reidy said. “It’s very important for people to get out and speak up.”

Theo Schwarz | Senior Staff Photographer
Hundreds gathered outside the Pittsburgh City-County Building on Nov. 8 to protest the appointment of acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.

According to Reidy, there are ways to get people outside the echo chamber of active political participants who are more involved by exposing them to new voices and new information.

“You have really important conversations with people,” Reidy said. “Social media helps, having events and being in public spaces like this gets people more involved.”

Pitt students were also present afterward among the various Pittsburgh-area residents at the rally. First-years Avery Barrera, Kyle Mackey, Victoria Wengler and Sophie Shack attended the rally together to get involved in the political situation that sparked the event.

Mackey, an undeclared first-year, said Trump’s recent actions have caused him and many others to want to speak out.

“I think the firing of Jeff Sessions is obviously a big red line that they crossed to a lot of people,” Mackey said.

Wengler, a politics and philosophy major, said given the impact of Trump’s political actions, she is disappointed at the lack of students she saw at the rally.

“I’d like to see more young people. I think it’s definitely something that’s on student’s our age,” Wengler said.

Wengler said how many young people fail to see the impact politics can have on their lives and also how they themselves can impact politics.

“There is always something on the line for you,” Wengler said. “There’s always something you can be disadvantaged by.”

Despite not seeing as many young people as she hoped at the rally, Wengler said she is happy she has seen a lot of political action recently.

“In the past two weeks there has been so much positive political action,” Wengler said, “I wish there wasn’t a need for it but I’m happy there is positive political action.”

Shack, a history and political science major, said she has seen how this political action has shown Pittsburgh is a city that does not shy away from politics.

“Pittsburgh is definitely small but mighty in terms of its political presence and keeping the conversations going,” Shack said.

Barrera, a political science and communication major, said this political action is important even if it does not immediately achieve anything.

“It might not seem like anything in the moment,” Barrera said. “But we are a community and we are getting stronger together.”