Occupy Pittsburgh comes to Oakland

By Amy Friedenberger & Joe Chilson

Occupy Pittsburgh protesters wanted to march in solidarity with California’s Occupy Oakland… Occupy Pittsburgh protesters wanted to march in solidarity with California’s Occupy Oakland protests, so it’s only natural that they marched in the Oakland neighborhood Wednesday night.

More than 100 protesters, who currently have a camp set up in Mellon Green, met in Schenley Plaza and began their march around Oakland at 6:30 p.m. The protest, which lasted for more than two hours, was meant to support the efforts of the protestors in Occupy Oakland, whose camp was raided by police last Tuesday.

Unlike the events in California, the protest remained peaceful. One person was taken into police custody toward the end of the protest, when protesters tried to enter an event held by the Pitt student group Students for Justice in Palestine. Police initially denied entry to protesters who were not Pitt students before allowing them in at about 10 p.m.

Pitt junior Liam Swanson, a poetry and history major, said he was at the march to “stand in solidarity with Occupy Oakland and to protest police brutality.”

The group marched down Forbes Avenue to Litchfield Towers, where they chanted, “Out of the dorms and into the streets.” The group then tried to enter the Cathedral of Learning, which was locked. By 7:30 p.m. the march had spilled off the sidewalk and into the streets. The protestors marched down the middle of Bigelow Boulevard and into the bus lane on Fifth Avenue, chanting and playing music from a PA system being transported in a shopping cart.

City police, who had been following the demonstrators throughout the evening, responded to the protesters by telling them to get back onto the sidewalks and sounding sirens from their cars. The protesters responded with chants of “Whose streets? Our streets.”

Eventually the group settled in front of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall to decry the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and express their support for Occupy Oakland. Standing in front of a black and white banner spelling out “Fight Strike Occupy,” war veterans and general protesters took to the microphone to express their discontent.

“We come here in solidarity with Occupy Oakland,” one protester shouted.

Protesters were specifically angry about the case of Scott Olsen, a veteran of two tours in Iraq, who was hit in the head by a projectile thrown by Oakland police during last Tuesday’s confrontation. Olsen has become an accidental symbol of the movement. Media outlets are reporting that Olsen’s skull is fractured, leaving him unable to talk.

The Occupy movement began Sept. 17 when Occupy Wall Street formed in Zuccotti Park in New York City. Since then, more than 900 Occupy movements have begun worldwide. The Occupy Pittsburgh movement started Oct. 15 with a kick-off march and rally. The group set up camp at Mellon Green, but leaves the camp periodically to protest in different areas.

45-year-old Helen Gerhardt of Point Breeze, said that after her return from her tour in Iraq as a Marine, many people thanked her for her service, but she didn’t see why people should thank her for what she did.

“All I did was damage and hurt lots of innocent people,” Gerhardt said.

About 10 people spoke before the group began marching down the stairs of Soldiers & Sailors to head back toward Forbes Avenue.

Students for Justice in Palestine President Ryan Branagan invited the protesters into an SJP event in David Lawrence Hall at 8:30 p.m. following the protest, which was already open to the public. However, Pitt police closed the door to anyone who was not a Pitt student, including Gerhardt.

“I think a lot of people just got scared,” Branagan said as to why the police reacted defensively in allowing the protesters to enter the University building for the lecture.

One man was arrested outside of David Lawrence Hall at 9:40 p.m. for failure to leave the building after being told to do so by police.

Pitt Police Chief Tim Delaney said that he needed the proper permit from Students for Justice in Palestine to make sure that the group was allowed to host an event. After Branagan gave Delaney a copy of the permit, he allowed about 10 remaining non-Pitt student protesters to enter the event.

“What we’ve experienced in the past few years … we get a little antsy,” Delaney said, referring to the vandalism that occurred during the G-20 Summit in the fall of 2009.