An inside look at Pittsburgh Organizing Group

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The Pittsburgh Organizing Group has done us all a favor and published an introspective look at a month of POG activism, including their sustained and organized counter-recruitment actions among other things, at Infoshop.org.  Thanks POG!

A Month in the Life of Pittsburgh Organizing Group

For Pittsburgh Organizing Group, pickets, protests, visits to and from the police, letter writing, sign making, meetings, trainings, accusations from the corporate media, court appearances, oh my.

Pittsburgh Organizing Group (POG) is a radical group based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania working to affect systemic progressive change in society. We seek to understand and oppose the inter-connected forms of oppression while utilizing non-hierarchical, consensus-based organizing. As a fairly large and active group we often do an inadequate job at conveying to other groups and interested people what our work looks like. We thought an article detailing what’s been happening in the past month might be of interest rather than a single report on one of our events.

—-March 25: POG Potluck—-

As a way of helping new people get involved in organizing, POG occasionally holds potlucks. We invite people who wish to get involved to come talk to us, get to know us, and hang out and have fun. POG has been endeavoring to have more of these events, and will be holding another on April 29.

—-March 29: Camping Out to Support Public Transit—-

In preparation for a crucial vote by the Port Authority Board of Directors on proposed 15% service cuts, the bus rider group Save Our Transit (www.saveourtransit.org) held an all night vigil outside the Port Authority offices. POG made an effort to turn people out and many members attended for all or part of the night.

—-March 30: Supporting Political Prisoners Through Letter Writing—-

On the last Friday of every month POG members gather to write letters to political prisoners. The project exists to encourage correspondence between Pittsburgh activists and political prisoners. Our goal is to support people who are incarcerated in the United States as a result of their political beliefs or actions they’ve consciously undertaken to either resist exploitation and oppression, or hasten the implementation of an egalitarian, sustainable, ethical, non-hierarchical society, predicated on self determination, protection of innate human rights, and maximization of all people’s freedom. We were inspired by similar projects around the country and are aware of the increasing crackdown on dissent; we see letter writing as an easy way for Pittsburghers to help build a culture of support for those voices the state is trying to extinguish. Prisoner support goes hand in hand with, and should be a part of, building a movement for radical change. At first we were primarily writing to individuals involved in military recruitment actions or who were well known in the anarchist movement. More recently we’ve added a focus on writing to a wider range of prisoners.

—-April 3: Counter-Recruitment Picket Attacked by Police—-

Our most active campaign over the last two years has been an effort to confront military recruitment in Pittsburgh. Our campaign started as a strategic decision to move from generic anti-war marches towards confronting specific groups/institutions in society that are supporting or facilitating the war. We’ve held more than 60 pickets outside local recruiting stations, direct actions that have shut stations down, presentations and skill shares in other cities, educational outreach at local high schools, the distribution of tens of thousands of flyers, banner drops and more.

One of the bedrocks of the campaign has been regular and consistent protest outside the recruiting station in Oakland. A few months ago the military quietly opened a new recruiting station in Shadyside. This Marine Corps officer selection station is part of a program designed to recruit and train the managing class of the military hierarchy. With the arrival of a new station we felt it was important to bring attention and opposition to its presence. On April 3 about 25 people stood outside the station. An hour into the picket, protesters were at the edge of the sidewalk on both sides of the street and the sidewalk was otherwise clear to pedestrians who continued to pass. Sgt. William Vollberg began making degrading comments about women supporting the demonstration. When a protester attempted to photograph him, he became belligerent and violent, physically forcing the photographer from the protest, hitting, choking and arresting observing protesters. While POG is sometimes involved in confrontations with the police during direct actions, no direct action or civil disobedience was called for or occurred at this particular picket.

The next day, as we prepared to go public with information on the police violence, the media began reporting the station had been vandalized at 3:45am. According to local corporate news (such as KDKA radio) the station incurred approximately $7,000 in damage; all of its windows and doors had been broken and there was also damage to the interior of the station. Much of the corporate press attempted to implicate or otherwise blame POG for the vandalism. As of today, the entire station is boarded up and the police have reported that the incident remains under investigation.

POG as a group, in keeping with our statement of solidarity towards the movement, generally doesn’t take positions on things that occur outside of events we organize. While the vandalism complicated our group’s media response to the police brutality, it did not occur at a POG-organized event. We focus on talking about our tactics and strategies.

In response to the police violence, POG quickly put out statements about what happened to the wider activist community. We gathered statements and photographs, supporters called politicians, and we contacted sympathetic lawyers. We also quickly announced plans for a vigil outside the home of Sgt. Vollberg and a return picket at the site of the attack. In the interim we had a sign-making party to ensure visuals for the upcoming events.

A local newsweekly, Pittsburgh City Paper, ran a story on the attack (including confirmation from two independent witnesses) and advertised our upcoming events.

—-April 5: Media Training to Build the Movement’s Skill Base—-

POG has increasingly been prioritizing the sharing of skills and knowledge held by members of the group to others within the group and the wider community. The Tactical Training Initiative aims to help educate activists and non-activists alike about protest tactics, movement history, strategies and skills. Previous trainings have been held on lockboxes, lockdown devices and “Going to an Action 101.” Upcoming trainings from POG include a two part series on the history of the global justice movement summit protests, covering the period from 1998-2003 with an emphasis on comparing and contrasting various convergence organizing models.

On April 5 members of POG and interested community members came to learn how to use media effectively to complement a social justice campaign. The workshop covered the basics of doing media work/outreach to accompany strategic campaigns for social justice. Some of the specific areas covered were: writing press releases, media wrangling, relationship-building, creating media packets, the difference between press conferences and action media work, the importance of role rotation and other collective and radical philosophies that have worked for POG over the years. The workshop utilized role-playing and discussion, while providing helpful materials for participants to take back to their campaigns.

—-April 12: Vigiling at Vollberg’s House—-

On April 12 POG and supporters gathered outside the home of Sgt. Vollberg, (1705 Cosmos Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15207, in West Mifflin). Thirty people lined the sidewalk with signs denouncing his violent attacks, calling for accountability from the police, and emphasizing that, while deplorable, this manifestation was just a product of a systemic problem. The police response was significant, comprising at least seven police cars, two unmarked cars and two police vans with surveillance equipment. Our only interaction with the police during the event was when they asked who was “in charge” and ordered us to stand across the street from Vollberg’s house (in front of someone else’s house) while saying they were “allowing us to be there.” We held vigil for over an hour and handed out flyers stating why we were there protesting in a residential neighborhood.

Participants attending the picket were tailed to their cars and followed back to Pittsburgh. One car was pulled over for a minor traffic violation, receiving hundreds of dollars in fines and a bit of harassment. During the picket the police surveillance van went by every car in the area and snapped pictures of the license plates.

That night and since, we’ve been really popular with the police!

Coincidentally, a number of people who drove to the Vollberg picket have found the police nearby. The night of the vigil, police made a 3am visit to the home of an attendee based on an unidentified “underage party complaint.” The four (overage) people in the quiet house were amused. A complaint was filed with the Office of Municipal Investigations. A few days later, another person who drove a parent’s car to the vigil was told by the parent that the police had blocked the driveway and stared up at the parked car. In these and two other cases police were writing things down in a notebook while looking at either the residents or the house.

—-April 14: Reclaiming Our Right to Protest, Return to the Shadyside Station—-

On Saturday, April 14, POG revisited the Shadyside station for a two-hour “Reclaiming Our Right to Protest” picket. In the pouring rain, 25 activists held signs under the watching eyes of numerous police officers and the usual surveillance vans. The pattern of police misconduct and response to follow-up events is strikingly predictable: Visibly angry, white male officers have perpetuated almost all the incidents of violence and harassment, with a couple notable exceptions. The police generally send women and people of color, as they did on April 14, to the follow-up events where they end up taking a hands-off approach.

—-April 17: Tax Day Counter Recruitment Picket—-

On Tuesday, April 17 (also known as Tax Day), POG returned for a two-hour picket outside the main military recruitment station in Pittsburgh. Pittsburghers have already paid $310 million for the war in Iraq as Congress decides whether to allocate billions more. Meanwhile, 51% of the proposed 2008 Federal budget is directed towards military ends, which comes at the expense of cuts in education, such as the elimination of the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program. Overall increased “defense” spending on war, supported by both parties, aids a long-term goal of the right wing to bankrupt the government to force reductions in social spending.

—-Going to Court—-

A local activist went to court on charges of institutional vandalism (a second degree misdemeanor). The arrest was made on January 13, for graffiti on the door of the military recruiting station in Oakland. Several people showed up to the hearing to support our comrade, taking up the length of a wall in the courtroom. After the arresting officer showed up more than two hours late, a plea bargain was offered and accepted. The offer was for community service and pleading guilty to a summery charge disorderly conduct.

Overall the month so far has been fairly representative of what our group is up to on an ongoing basis. We held two general meetings and a project meeting. There were a slightly higher number of events than we usually see in a month, but they were also smaller and less involved than many of the large scale actions we organize.

For more information on POG see: http://www.organizepittsburgh.org or contact us at pog@mutualaid.org

* What’s next for POG: Thursday, April 26, workshop on resistance to the G8 in Germany 2007, 7pm at the Thomas Merton Center, 5125 Penn Avenue
* Thursday, May 3, court appearance for 13 arrestees from the POG-organized shutdown of NREC on March 2
* Saturday, May 5, counter-recruitment picket, Oakland station, 11am-1pm
* Saturday, May 5, “Sacco & Spaghetti Benefit,” location TBA, dinner at 6:30pm, movie at 8pm
* Sunday, July 1, “Annual Anarchist Picnic,” 1-6pm at the Andersen Shelter in Schenley Park

4 Responses to “An inside look at Pittsburgh Organizing Group”

  1. LA: Activists concern as recruiters target poor and people of color « CounterRecruiter.net Says:

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