Pittsburgh walks for peace

More than a thousand students, professors, and Pittsburgh residents marched down Fifth Avenue into Oakland last Saturday to mark the fourth anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq. This event was one of many in Pittsburgh and across the country organized by pro- and anti-war activists alike to make their voices heard as the U.S. began its fifth year of involvement in Iraq.

Saturday’s march combined the forces of political activism groups in local colleges, universities, and the community. In total, an estimated 1200 people attended the rally.

The march began at the Islamic Center, passed the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) — where protestors spoke out against Carnegie Mellon’s federal government-commissioned military technology — and ended on Bigelow Boulevard, where participants congregated on the University of Pittsburgh campus.

Participants hoped to convey to the public their belief that troops should be sent home now. Their statement comes on the heels of the Iraq Accountability Act, passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last weekend, which set a pullout date of August 2008.

The demonstration also hoped to bring attention to the losses created by the continuation of the war. As of now, 3200 troops have been killed and 23,000 soldiers have been injured, 1100 of whom were Pennsylvanians.

“I am very satisfied with how the protest went,” said John Clendaniel, president of Pitt Against War (PAW).

University Police said that participants were most intent on communicating a message in a peaceful manner.

“We generally get along well with protesters, and this was one was no exception,” said Sergeant Richard Sima of University Police. “The protest went completely without incident, and [there was] only one arrest by the city police at the start of the protest.”

The rally came on the heels of the March 2 protests at Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC), where protesters chained themselves to the building’s gates to show opposition to the university’s role in the development of military technology.

Organizers were enthusiastic about the event’s three guest speakers, the protesters’ energy, the presence of youth in the crowd, and the clarity of the anti-war message. It was these finishing touches, they felt, that made this year’s march stand out.

However, fewer participants came out for Saturday’s march than in previous years.

“The decrease is numbers can most likely be attributed to the bad weather we experienced that day,” said Jonah McAllister-Erickson, a Thomas Merton Center volunteer who helped organize the event.

Despite the decline in numbers, morale was high among participants who chose to attend. The majority of Pittsburgh’s political activism groups, both university-based and community-based, were represented in the crowd.

Based at the University of Pittsburgh, PAW is an anti-war campaigning group that organizes speak-outs and rallies aimed at spreading the anti-war message. PAW collaborates with students from Carnegie Mellon, Duquesne University, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

“The focus is really to build a broad, mass anti-war movement [so that], regardless of who is in Congress, there is this large mass movement that would make it politically infeasible to continue the war,” Clenandiel said.

Clenandiel is also a volunteer for the Thomas Merton Center, whose Anti-War Committee (AWC) emerged in response to the imminent invasion of Iraq in January 2003. Together with independent organizations like the Pittsburgh Organizing Committee, the AWC leads protests held in Pittsburgh and marches in Washington, D.C. The AWC was the dominant organizing force behind Saturday’s event.

Pittsburgh is also home to a local chapter of CodePink, a nationwide anti-war group especially for women activists.

“We often work together with other women’s organizations in Pittsburgh such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Pitt Women’s Group,” said Tracy Porter, a CodePink Pittsburgh leader.

Members of CodePink made their statement dressed in pink sweats and holding posters that declared “Women say no to war” and “Women say pull out.”

“It is wonderful to see that four years in, the energy and morale of protesters is so high,” Porter said.

Pittsburgh is also home to Iraq Veterans Against the War and Students for a Democratic Society, a re-formed group from the 1960s and the era of Vietnam protests.

The event was also attended by members of several pro-war groups, who wanted the same opportunity to have their voices heard, including Carnegie Mellon’s College Republicans (CMUCR) and a similar organization at the University of Pittsburgh.

Political activists are growing younger and younger. The Northern Allegheny Teenage Republicans consists of local middle and high school students who gather in support of Republican ideals, and in particular the war in Iraq.

Regardless of the political tensions between activist groups during the march, Clendaniel reported that the event overall was a success.

“The energy in the crowd was great, and there was an overwhelming presence of veterans and youth,” he said. “On the whole, our message seemed to come out loud and clear.”