Pitt, convergence at odds over space


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This weekend, thousands of people will descend on Oakland to protest the possibility of a war… This weekend, thousands of people will descend on Oakland to protest the possibility of a war in Iraq.

The Pittsburgh Regional Convergence Against War, being billed as the “largest local peace mobilization in 30+ years” and boasting more than 60 sponsors, will draw activists from all over the Northeast, culminating in a rally and march Sunday at 1 p.m.

The convergence’s Web site lists the rally as beginning on the Cathedral of Learning lawn. A schedule sent out by the convergence leaders has the William Pitt Union lawn listed as the location. And according to sources at Pitt, the rally will begin somewhere else entirely.

William Pitt Union manager Christine Chergi said the process began when Student Community Organizing People, a Pitt student group, applied to stage the massive rally on the Cathedral lawn. According to director of Student Life Birney Harrigan, it is official policy that the office of the executive vice chancellor, Jerome Cochran, approve all requests for use of the Cathedral lawn.

Harrigan also said, “rallies are not permitted on the Cathedral lawn” and that while there was no written policy preventing protests from being approved at the Cathedral, “that’s how things are done.”

Harrigan said she and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies and Dean of Students Jack Daniel had been considering the Union as an alternative site until they learned of the expected size of the rally, projected between 2,000 and 4,000, and decided to deny use of the Union’s patio and lawn.

But Nathan Schaffer, president of Student Community Organizing Project, said his group received specific permission to use the Union lawn after Harrigan and Daniel denied use of the Cathedral lawn.

“They said we could use the William Pitt Union lawn and we expressed concerns with safety issues,” he said. “We were afraid that if we had 1,500 to 2,000 people we would inadvertently block traffic.”

Schaffer said after he and other organizers expressed concerns, Pitt police said that they would close off Bigelow Boulevard.

“It was never an issue of whether or not we could reserve the space, it was just a matter of which space,” he said.

Karen Haley, of Pitt’s reservations office, said Toni Bartone, one of the convergence’s organizers, was “hand-given a memo saying the space was denied.”

Bartone said she received a memo denying use of the Cathedral lawn, and verbal confirmation for use of the Union lawn. Schaffer said that, in his experience, verbal approval was standard for use of space at Pitt.

In an e-mail to Bartone, Chergi said “your request for a rally on 1/26/03 has been denied … It is not an event we feel the Union lawn can accommodate.”

While Bartone was not available late last night to respond to the e-mail memo, Schaffer said he was confident in the contact he and the Thomas Merton Center’s Tim Vining had with Pitt police Chief Tim Delaney.

“I don’t understand why they would send Toni an e-mail when they’ve been dealing with Tim [Vining] and I … and haven’t mentioned anything,” he said, adding that he and Vining have been handling the Sunday rally while Bartone was more involved with concerts on Friday and Saturday.

Haley said “rallies and protests and things like that have traditionally taken place at the Union,” because it is “better suited” to large activist gatherings, and that such events are not held on the Cathedral lawn.

Chergi said the procedure of not allowing rallies on the Cathedral lawn was established some time last summer. Harrigan said it had been that way since she had been appointed to her current post last May.

Rather than send the original permit request back only to have it be resubmitted for the Union lawn, Harrigan said she made the decision, with the approval of Daniel, that Pitt did not have the resources to support the rally.

“They just didn’t feel that we had the capability to handle such an event,” Chergi said. “That’s the basis for the request being denied.”

She also said Pitt police and facilities management workers would be tied up this weekend because of two sold-out home basketball games. Haley added concerns about timing.

“Although we had heard about the convergence two months ago, the space wasn’t requested until after break,” Haley said, adding that in her nine years at Pitt, this was the largest number of people that she had seen request space.

When told that organizers of the event said they had permission to use the lawn, Harrigan said, “I don’t know from whom they got that.”

Pitt police Chief Tim Delaney could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Editor’s note: Toni Bartone is a senior staff writer at The Pitt News.

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