POG fasts for peace

Sept. 30 marked the end of the 26-day fast and protest against military recruitment in Pittsburgh organized by the Pittsburgh Organizing Group (POG). The demonstration took place outside Oakland’s main military recruiting station on Forbes Avenue.

The POG recognized the fast as their most ambitious protest effort yet. Member Patrick Young explained that protesters’ participation served two functions; first, as a demonstration of the protesters’ personal beliefs, and second, as a continual presence (campout) and a symbol of militarism.

“We chose to do this to take an opportunity to really reflect on what we’ve done and are going to do for the anti-war movement over the next couple years,” Young said.

The POG’s goal is “to contribute to the movement working for the immediate withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq, and an end to military recruitment in Pittsburgh,” according to the organization’s website.

POG member Laney Trautman said she participated because the wanted to help build the community.

“We’re taught to watch our backs instead of watching out for each other,” Trautman explained.

Protesters decided to hold the protest during the month of September because they felt it was a pivotal month politically, with people everywhere redefining what they think of the war, they explained.

A main goal was to spark debate, according to POG member Mike Butler.

“We were able to keep [the War in Iraq] at the forefront of people’s thoughts and discussions,” Butler said.

Butler was one of the fasters but had to stop before the end of the month because he reached a point when he became too unhealthy to continue, he said. Nevertheless, Butler felt that the fast was a success and that it made a big impact on the Oakland area and local colleges.

Trautman, who survived on juice and water for 15 days, continued to be passionate about the hunger strike throughout the month. She said she really enjoyed the experience and says the results are better than she had expected.

Local business owners were less enthusiastic about the protest.

“They have to do their cause whether or not it affects people, that’s the way it goes,” said Jason Mager, manager of the Qdoba Mexican Grill next to the recruitment station.

He said at the beginning of the month protesters blocked the floor in front of his store, deterring customers, but toward the end, they kept to the front of Kinko’s. Mager did stress that his business lost somewhere from $15,000 to $30,000, which he attributes to obstruction due to the protest.

The recruitment office was fairly uninvolved with the protesters on a day-to-day basis. Dale Terry, chief of advertising and public affairs in the Pittsburgh recruiting battalion, was interviewed by the Pittsburgh City Paper.

“We have a wonderful Army doing a lot of things to keep the nation safe,” Terry said, in an August 9 article in the Pittsburgh City Paper. Hindering recruiting hinders the nation, Terry said. He suggested writing to local congressional representatives instead.

Protesters also ran into trouble with local police. Many got citations because they were obstructing sidewalks and other public areas.

“Regardless of what police try to say, [the sidewalk] is a public space. We should be able to use it,” said Ryan Williams, a POG member.

Police often have difficulty trying to reconcile the competing interests of businesses, pedestrians, and protesters, city attorney Michael Kennedy said in a Sept. 20 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

After a court battle, the protesters, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reached an agreement with the City of Pittsburgh in which the city would give the group two different areas along Forbes Avenue in which they could protest until Sept. 30.

Though this particular venture is over, the POG has more plans in store. The fast was only a small part of a two-year-long counter-recruitment campaign.

“People in Pittsburgh are ready for the war to end and ready to step up to make that happen,” Young said. “We can expect to see more dynamic and frequent actions opposing the war in the upcoming months.”