Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pittsburgh occupiers settle in

Posted By on Sat, Oct 15, 2011 at 11:03 PM

Protestors at the Occupy Pittsburgh encampment are hunkering down after a long day of marching and rallying.

As of 7:30 p.m., about 100 folks were milling around on Mellon Green, and we counted about 30 tents/encampment sites made of tarps and cardboard boxes. While more than a dozen police vehicles were parked along Ross Street late this afternoon, police presence seems to have dissipated since. As we noted earlier today, police lieutenant Ed Trapp got on the protestor's bullhorn to announce that "As long as no one damages the property, BNY Mellon says it's fine if you stay here."

Protestors have said they plan to stay there indefinitely.

Tonight people were standing around in groups, some laying on their tarps. One man played the guitar while another played a tin whistle. Another group of about 30, meanwhile, stood on the corner of Grant Street and Sixth yelling "We are! The 99%" and pumping their fists at passing vehicles, some of which honked back.

Earlier this evening, the movement held a General Assembly meeting to lay out some rules and procedures for the encampment. Roughly 200 people were in attendance, and in addition to establishing some groundwork for the encampment, they agreed to participate in some other actions later this week.

Among the items the occupation came to consensus on:

1. Picketing BNY Mellon, at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.

2. Holding twice-weekly actions to picket other Downtown financial institutions during the lunch our. Among those on the list: UPMC, Merrill Lynch, Education Management Corporation, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and Robert Casey, and the offices of Gov. Tom Corbett.

3. Adopting a "good neighbor policy" that's been used by the Occupy Wall Street movement. The policy stipulates, among other things: no drugs or alcohol at Mellon Green or any action or rally; zero tolerance for destruction of public and private property; respect for health and sanitation policies of the places being occupied; respect for working hours; and zero tolerance of verbal abuse toward anyone.

4. Appointing "night guards" to patrol the encampment over night.

5. Hold another General Assembly meeting Sunday at noon.

The encampment has a medical tent and food table, with cases of water sporadically laid out over the green near the tents. One occupier was walking around handing out garbage bags to collect trash. Others were laying down cardboard boxes to create a walkway to prevent the already-soggy grass from becoming more trodden.

Those camping out are using local restaurants or the Greyhound Station for restrooms. Members of SEIU and Healthcare PA are also walking campers to their offices Downtown every hour.

Pitching his tent on one corner near the U.S. Steel Building was Josh Zorich, 27, of Forest Hills. Some liberal protests, he notes, "are so cliché and easily mocked." But he says the Occupy movement has managed to develop staying power. "Usually it's just we meet, we march and go home. This has resonated because it has longevity."

Zorich takes issue with the tax breaks that are offered to corporations. "Currently the Republican Party's only solution has been deregulations and tax breaks," he says. "Then tack on bail-outs, and no one's being prosecuted. There's no corrective action taken."

Helping Zorich with his tent was a man who identified himself only as "T-Bone" who lives Downtown. He's currently unemployed after being laid off when Comcast "closed down my department and moved the call center to India."

"I'm here just for the whole cause," he says as he helped attach a rain tarp to Zorich's grey tent. "The government keeps cutting programs and taxing us more. But the corporations? They don't have to cut anything."

Occupy Pittsburgh: Day 1

Posted By on Sat, Oct 15, 2011 at 7:38 PM

It seems almost impossible, given the series of excruciating deliberations over the past two weeks. But Day 1 of Occupy Pittsburgh seems to be going off almost without a hitch. And police confirm that unless that changes somehow, the occupation of Mellon Green, a privately-owned parklet along Grant Street, can continue indefinitely.  

Today's proceedings began before 11 a.m. this morning, when a march stepped off from Freedom Corner in the Hill District. 

The crowd, about 1,000 strong when it left Freedom Corner, was a mixture of old and young, and more ethnically diverse than the typical antiwar march. Notably, it also included many rank-and-file union members, as well as a handful of veterans. Among them was Joshua Heidecker, a former Marine who'd served between 2001 and 2005, and who came down from Erie to attend.

Heidecker acknowledged that the majority of servicemen are fairly conservative. "But there are a lot of people" in the service who sympathize with the Occupy critique. "A lot of us go in young -- we're 18-year-old kids," he told me. "And a lot of guys come out and get dealt a shitty hand of cards" in terms of finding a job.

The signage carried by protesters reflected a diverse array of concerns. "Will Work for Money" and "Dumpster Divers Unite" spoke to the economic malaise. Others warned that "When the poor get hungry, we'll eat the rich" and called for "Healthcare, not wealthcare." A handful of signs imparted a Pittsburgh accent to the proceedings: "Bankers are jagoffs," one sign read. "We're the 99 percent n'at," said another.

Some marchers brought very specific demands to the protest. Carrying a sign that said "Stop RAipe" was Art Institute of Pittsburgh student Tye Silverthorne. The Art Institute, he said, "overcharges us for everything." While he said he was getting a good education in  his field -- interior design -- he also worried about the likelihood of graduating with as much as $100,000 in student loans. "Everybody at our school has a lot of debt," he said. As City Paper readers know, that's not a new complaint. But Silverthorne added that he'd served a stint in Germany with the Air Force: "They have free education over there," he said.

Public officials were in short supply at the event -- a fact noted during the march by city councilor Doug Shields. "Where are all the other officials?" demanded Shields, a lame-duck on council who has been a sharp critic of natural-gas drilling -- and who was helping to carry an anti-drilling banner. 

Also on-hand was county councilor John DeFazio and Ed Gainey, who chairs the city's Democratic Committee. "We have to put America back to work," Gainey said. "And it's good to see the people standing up for jobs today. We are the working class that built America." 

Around him, the chants continued: "Stand with the millions, not the millionaires." There were occasional pauses along the parade route at various bank buildings, where protesters shouted, "'You want a class war, we'll give you what you ask for."

Occasionally, when marchers saw observers on the sidewalk, they called out, "We are the 99 percent -- and so are you." 

But there were few people to call to. As the parade progressed, many Downtown streets were empty but for police escorts and building security. But the crowd's enthusiasm was undimmed: "This is really energetic," said Pete Shell, a veteran march organizer as he walked along the route. "There are a lot of young people here, and it's one of the most diverse marches I've been to." As more marchers joined inside the Golden Triangle itself, the numbers nearly doubled by the time the march reached its endpoint at Market Square.

There, an impromptu "speakout" was held: Rather than subject the crowd to a series of speakers, organizers opened the mike up to anyone who wished to speak. Speakers ranged from Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers Union, to a speaker whose address was simply this: "My name is Puja. I am 18 years old. My future is fucked. We are Occupy Pittsburgh. And that's it."

There were some poetry readings as well, but because of a call-and-response presentation -- in which the audience compensated for a poor PA system by loudly repeating the speaker's words -- even brief political declarations took on a certain haiku-like quality:

I'm a student

My parents went bankrupt

I'm up to my ass in loans

And I just want to say, 

fuck you, 1 percent.

Even Joe Rittenhouse, a self-described conservative wielding a sign that read "I am the 53 percent" (a right-wing jibe), said the experience was eye-opening. "I have met people here who are absolutely insane -- people who believe Bush and Osama bin Laden conspired to take down the World Trade Center," he said. "But I've also met people who are really really upset because they aren't being heard. And there were people here who were all about having a civil discussion."

The upbeat vibe continued as demonstrators moved into Mellon Green, where by 4 p.m. some 350 to 400 people had made their way up from Market Square.

For much of the day, uncertainty reigned about whether the Mellon Green occupation would result in mass arrests. A Tribune-Review story noted the bank was willing to leave the park open for "today's protest," but demonstrators were unclear what would happen tomorrow. Rumors swirled that they might be forced to leave by 9 p.m. tonight ... or 9 a.m. tomorrow. It wasn't until 5 p.m. that protesters were assured -- by police lieutenant Ed Trapp -- that BNY Mellon had consented to allow them to remain indefinitely, as long as no harm came to either people or property. 

Demonstrators seem sincere about keeping their end of the bargain. During an impromptu voting session, some two-dozen who planned to camp overnight on the site discussed plans for cleaning up the site, keeping participants safe, and minimizing wear-and-tear on the Mellon Green lawn. (It may be too late: By the time of Trapp's announcement, much of the lawn was already turning to mud.) 

Trapp later told me that the march went "great" and was  "probably the smoothest I've handled. Our biggest concern was the weather," with marchers being buffeted by high winds.

Not everyone was so impressed.  As tents began sprining up on the Green, a handful of demonstrators holding signs along Grant Street was getting some abuse from fans wearing Pitt gear. (Whose mood was presumably not improved by the Panthers homecoming disaster.) 

"You suck!" one of the fans shouted. "Keep buying Nikes!"

Demonstrator Joyce James -- who acknowledged this was indeed not her real name -- said that most passers-by simply ignored the protest. "That's the vast majority," she said. As for the others, while some were supportive, others were not. "I think people are mad, and I can understand that," she said. "But they need to think about who to blame. I'm not the one who took half your pension, or killed your union, or got a bailout. But I'm the one getting yelled at out here."

The Occupy Pittsburgh march/rally in pictures

Posted By on Sat, Oct 15, 2011 at 4:17 PM

We'll have more of these in our print edition -- and more details on today's Occupy Pittsburgh action right here throughout the weekend. But here's an early look at the march and rally.

The scene at Freedom Corner:

occupy_001.jpg

The march begins:

occupy_002.jpg

Marchers entering Downtown:

occupy_003.jpg

A sampling of signs:

occupy_004.jpg

Demonstrators at One Mellon Center:

occupy_005.jpg

Guy Fawkes, keeping an eye out:

occupy_007.jpg

Marchers headed down Ross Street, toward the PNC Service Center:

occupy_008.jpg

Marchers along Grant Street:

occupy_009.jpg

The scene at Market Square:

occupy_011.jpg

An occupation with a Pittsburgh accent:

occupy_010.jpg

Occupy Pittsburgh: Watch this space

Posted By on Sat, Oct 15, 2011 at 11:34 AM

As you've no doubt heard, today marks the beginning of the Occupy Pittsburgh protest. Starting with a permitted march at 11 a.m. this morning, and continuing throughout the weekend, we'll be providing coverage here and through our Twitter account, @PGHCityPaper.

And as you're waiting for news of the festivities, why not take a few minutes to brush up on the underlying social and economic dynamics that are helping to drive the movement? Plenty of great charts and analysis from former Wall Street analyst (?!?) Henry Blodget here.

chart.jpg

Be careful: Looking too closely at these charts may result in you grabbing a sleeping bag and heading for Mellon Green.

Friday, October 14, 2011

What did Mellon do to deserve an occupation? Quite a bit, maybe

Posted By on Fri, Oct 14, 2011 at 2:08 PM

When protesters announced their plans to occupy a parklet next door to the Pittsburgh headquarters of Bank of New York Mellon, you could almost hear the forehead-clutching from the upper floors:

"What did we do to deserve this?" 

True, when it comes to fucking up the entire global economy, Mellon is not in the same league as Goldman Sachs, Citigroup or Bank of America. Still, the bank has made numerous appearances in the headlines recently ... because it's been accused of exactly the kind of behavior that spawned the occupy movement in the first place. 

Consider that Robert P. Kelly -- who was Mellon's CEO until stepping down less than two months ago --  got an eye-popping 73 percent raise this past spring:

Kelly received a compensation package valued at $19.4 million last year, compared with $11.2 million in 2009 ...

Perks and other benefits increased 20 percent to $356,495 from $297,158, which included use of a company car and driver, personal use of the corporate jet, a company match to a charitable gift, insurance premiums and contributions to a retirement plan.

Not bad, but of course, at the CEO level, you make the real money by quitting

Bank of New York Mellon Corp. has agreed to pay $33.8 million in severance and benefits to Robert Kelly, who stepped down as chief executive this week after disagreeing with the board over how to manage the company.

Kelly's departure came in late August, just a few weeks after the bank announced a 3 percent workforce reduction. I'm gonna guess a lot of those employees receieved considerably less generous severance packages.

And by at least one accounting, Kelly's earnings in 2010 far outweighed what the entire Bank of New York Mellon octopus paid in corporate income taxes last year ... because Mellon got a $670 million refund in 2010. According to the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies:

Bank of New York Mellon CEO Robert Kelly took home $19.4 million in 2010. The bank, the same year, claimed a $670 million federal tax refund, despite $2.4 billion in U.S. pre-tax income

... The Bank of New York Mellon, with 10 subsidiaries in tax havens, did not pay a dime in federal taxes in 2010. However, the banking giant did devote $1.4 million to lobbying over the year. The bank’s lobbyists worked diligently to exempt currency trading from new transparency and oversight rules.

The report also notes that Mellon has been accused of fleecing state pension funds by overcharging on those very currency trades -- a charge which Mellon heartily rejects, but which has led to civil charges by New York's attorney general and the federal Department of Justice.

These are only allegations, of course. But in any case, Mellon could use some good PR right about now. Maybe providing blankets to its would-be occupiers wouldn't be a bad move?

Let the fear-mongering begin! Downtown braces for Occupy Pittsburgh (UPDATED)

Posted By on Fri, Oct 14, 2011 at 11:40 AM

Occupy Pittsburgh is still a day away ... but already building owners are being warned to batten down the hatches. 

Pittsburgh's Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security has issued a Threat Assessment to property owners and public-safety officials. Among its fears: that protesters may try to steal building-security uniforms and "prob[e] ... security response time and capability."

The memo, which is based on "open source" material found online, does acknolwedge that "[d]iscussions on social media have maintained a focus on non-violent behavior" and it quotes the following Facebook posting made by an Occupy organizer:

Let it be known that this movement will not be compromised. We are adopting a non-violence "policy" (in which our workgroup is working very hard on- will be posted) and anyone who begins a state of anarchy or incites any kind of violence should expect to be arrested, fined, and in jail for up to 90 days. Violent acts are immediate grounds for expulsion from the movement, and you will be fed to the cops.

That comment -- particularly the part about being "fed to the cops" -- generated considerable dissent. (ADDED: And some confusion -- please note my comment below.) That's in no small part because the statement had not posted with the approval of the General Assembly process, which determines the protest's message and tactics. However, at a Wednesday night gathering, the General Assembly did agree to a "tactical non-violence" policy that asserts in part:

[W]e agree ... while at or near Occupy Pittsburgh’s encampment or actions:

  • not to initiate physical violence with members of the police or public,
  • if attacked by either, to respond in ways that seek to minimize harm to persons, and
  • to abstain from provocative destruction of property.

Still, the threat assessment urges building owners to be on the lookout for "Lost/ missing/stolen facility uniforms- security, maintenance, or other facility specific uniforms which would allow unsuspecting access" as well as for those who may be engaged in "Testing security- triggering alarms or probing incidents to evaluate security response time and capability."

Here's my guess: Absolutely none of these things will take place. But somebody's lunch may get blown up anyway. 

UPDATE: Looks like the US Steel Tower -- which is just across the street from Occupy Pittsburgh's hoped-for encampment -- plans to surround the structure with barriers. We just received an e-mail from a building tenant advising that as long as the protest last, "the perimeter of the U.S. Steel Tower will be cordoned off by a physical barrier, which will restrict access to the building."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Occupy Pittsburgh: The ball is in Mellon's court

Posted By on Thu, Oct 13, 2011 at 4:17 PM

As we noted earlier today, the most contentious part of Occupy Pittsburgh's demonstration -- which will begin Saturday -- may be its choice of occupation site.

Protesters have selected Mellon Green -- a Grant Street parklet located conveniently near One Mellon Center, and the US Steel/UPMC building -- as the site for their encampment. As a political statement, it's an ideal location: Grant Street is the heart of the city's political and corporate establishment. But the site is owned by Bank of New York Mellon itself.

And Mellon, ultimately, will decide whether the protesters are allowed to stay or not.

"We met with city officials this morning," says ACLU attorney Sara Rose. "The city has said they can't issue a permit for the encampment because it isn't city property. It's owned by Mellon, so it's going to be up to them if the [occupiers] can stay." On the other hand, she adds, that means "The police aren't going to kick them off unless Mellon asks." 

City officials were a bit less forthcoming when we called them. City solicitor Dan Regan said that until our call, he hadn't known that the occupiers were planning to use Mellon Green at all.

"It's hard to provide an opinion when we don't really know the facts," he said, and largely begged off answering further queries.  He did confirm that the city would be approving a permitted march taking place before the Mellon Green occupation. (Police spokesperson Diane Richard echoed that, adding that the bureau was expecting somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 marchers.) 

We have called Bank of New York Mellon itself, and have yet to hear back. When we get a response, we'll post it here. 

In the meantime, protesters are citing a provision in the city's zoning code which governs "urban open spaces." These are spaces that are essentially open to the public, though they have private owners. Section 910.01.C.3 ("Urban Open Space Requirements") of the code includes the following provision:

The Urban Open Space shall be open without restriction to the general public at least during business hours normal to the area in which it is located and during periods of heavy pedestrian movement in the area.

Sounds great, but as everyone knows, in Downtown, "business hours normal to the area" pretty much wrap up at 5:01 Friday afternoon. Moreover, the owners of these places have previously cleared out citizens with much less cause

In general, the ACLU's Rose says, the code's language "would probably make it hard for Mellon to prevent Occupy Pittsburgh participants from passing through the park. They'd have the same right to be there as any other pedestrian. But I think Mellon could keep people from camping there. I think it would be hard to argue that they have a First Amendment right to camp there."

Rose says that if Mellon did object to the protesters' presence, "the police would give them time to leave, and probably charge anyone still left with defiant trespass." She noted that Occupy Pittsburgh had lined up a fallback location -- Monumental Baptist Church on the Hill District's Wylie Avenue.

Will the ACLU be on hand to keep an eye on things? Rose said that free-speech monitors will be on hand for the march itself.  "But I think it's still up in the air whether anyone is going to be on Mellon Green. I'm not sure we'd be able to provide observers 24 hours a day."

Occupy Pittsburgh news flash: Consensus process actually produces consensus

Posted By on Thu, Oct 13, 2011 at 11:29 AM

As noted here yesterday, plans for the Occupy Pittsburgh action are coming along, and were further cemented at a "General Assembly" meeting at the First Unitarian Church in Shadyside.

Last night's meeting attracted about 150 to 200 people -- fewer than at the first meeting, but roughly the same as attended a session on Sunday. And while previous gatherings mostly produced frustration, last night's gathering came to consensus on some critical points in the movement. Their march permit is currently pending with the city. We'll post the statements and strategies as they become available online.

Here's what the General Assembly agreed to last night:

  • The rally will start at 11 a.m. at Freedom Corner in the Hill District and move downtown with stops at the City-County Building and other Downtown corporate headquarters, and will end at Market Square. The movement kickoff rally will be held from 1:30 to 3 p.m. there. Organizers say the original location, Point State Park, is hosting another event.

  • The encampment area is set for Mellon Green, on Grant Street between the BNY headquarters and UPMC building at 4:00 p.m. While the space is private property and this portion of the action is unpermitted, "there is an ordinance on our side," asserts Jibran Mushtaq, of the Location working group. The ordinance says that during periods of high foot traffic, "the space must remain open to the public," he says. And as a press release issued this morning says, "the Urban Open Space section of the Golden Triangle ordinance of city code ... mandates privately-owned plazas and parks be 'open without restriction to the general public.'" Further, Mushtaq says, "Our goal is to get the occupation going."

  • A second "safe" site will be at the Monumental Church on Wylie Avenue in the Hill District "for anyone who can't risk getting arrested," says Mushtaq, or in the event the protestors need to regroup.

  • They adopted a "tactical non-violence" strategy, which pledged not to initiate any act of violence -- against either people or property -- but does not rule out self-defense.

  • They adopted a Declaration of Occupation

  • They adopted a statement of "internal solidarity" opposing all forms of discrimination.

The use of Mellon Green may prove contentious: During the G-20 demonstrations, protesters who tried to use the parklet simply to eat lunch on were hassled by police and forced to move. 

Diversity has also been an issue facing the group from the outset, and it again came up last night as the GA debated the solidarity statement put forth by the marginalized communities and allies working group.

"Just because you're part of an organized group doesn't mean you're not oppressive," stressed East Liberty resident Quinn Elliot as she encouraged adoption of the statement.

Additionally, Khalid Raheem, President and CEO of the National Council for Urban Peace and Justice, said that an auxiliary group has formed from the national Occupy movement, called Occupy the Hood. Locally, Raheem said, a group was "working on a list of issues relevant to people of color." That meeting, he said, was happening simultaneous to the GA last night, and they were hoping to present the information to the GA prior to Saturday's occupation. The GA did reach consensus to support the auxiliary group.

Overall, attendees of Wednesday's meeting say it went smoother then the first two. "It isn't that one is better than the other. It's just people getting to know each other," says Steve Cooper, a member of the facilitation committee. "You can almost feel the energy start. No one is telling us what to do. We didn't know what to do. Now we're making progress that we can get behind."

"Tonight was great. The last one was just people sitting and shouting," says Elliot. "I felt I had something to do coming out of it."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupy Pittsburgh plans coming together

Posted By on Wed, Oct 12, 2011 at 1:24 PM

OK, so some developments to share with you regarding the Oct. 15 "Occupy Pittsburgh" movement. A march and rally has been planned that will involve a tour of Pittsburgh corporate headquarters, and an afternoon rally at Point State Park. 

Here are details, fresh from an Occupy Pittsburgh release:

On Saturday, October 15, 2011, Occupy Pittsburgh plans to hold a march from Freedom Corner in Pittsburgh's Hill District through the Downtown Financial District and end with a rally in Point State Park.

At 11:00 AM a rally at Freedom Corner will precede the march, which is scheduled to begin at 11:45 AM. En route the march will pause for brief rallies at BNY Mellon, Citizens Bank, the UPMC Building (formerly the Steel Building), the former Federal Reserve Building, Liberty Center/Federal Investors, and One PNC Plaza.

The march will pause to gather demonstrators unable to complete the longer walking distance at The City County Building and Market Square.

A rally will begin at 1:30 PM at the Fountain in Point State Park. The rally at the Fountain is scheduled to end at 3:00 PM. March and Rally plans for the 15th are still under review for permitting and are subject to change. Updated information will be available at www.OccupyPittsburgh.org

Plans for the actual occupation part will be forthcoming. I hope. In any case, the weather Saturday is supposed to be in the upper 50s, with a chance of rain. Not atypical for mid-October.  

Also, if you're not already aware of it, there will be a third "General Assembly" meeting tonight, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the First Unitarian Church in Shadyside (the site of the first general assembly one week ago -- at the corner of Morewood and Ellsworth, across from Winchester Thurston). Previous Occupy Pittsburgh gatherings have been fairly excruciating, but as I've said elsewhere, the meetings start and end pretty much on schedule, which makes them superior to many City Council meetings. 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Obama Pittsburgh visit gets cool reception from environmentalists

Posted By on Tue, Oct 11, 2011 at 3:17 PM

Nikki Luke remembers what it meant to support to Barack Obama in 2008. The 19-year-old University of Pittsburgh student interned for him in Southern Virginia, knocking on doors, working on get-out-the-vote campaigns and making phone calls.

"I believed him when he said we'd be the generation that frees the country from the tyranny of big oil," she said while awaiting the President's arrival on the South Side this morning.

But while Luke was holding a flag with the Obama symbol on it, she wasn't standing at a campaign rally. She was among about 100 others protesting today along Hot Metal Street, where Obama was visiting the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers training center, touting his jobs plan.

And as the presidential motorcade passed down Hot Metal Street, protesters shouted "Obama yes, pipeline no. that's the way it's gotta go." 

As City Paper previously reported, the rally was called in opposition to what's called the Keystone XL Pipeline, a proposed 1,700-mile pipeline from Alberta, Canada to Texas to transport crude oil from Canada's tar sands. Many of the protesters were students, in town for Association of Sustainability in Higher Education, some as far as away as Alberta and British Columbia.

Pipeline opponents -- including Tar Sands Action and the Pittsburgh Student Environmental Coalition, who helped organize the rally -- say that the mining of the tar sands is environmentally devastating. Burning the oil once it's extracted, they warn, will greatly increase our emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gasses that cause climate change. Activists also fear leaks and spills along the planned pipeline route through the American Midwest.

The extraction process for the oil, says protestor Seth Bush, is as dangerous as the controversial "fracking" process of the Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits. "It's crappy, crude oil," he says. "It's so viscous and it's treated with all kinds of chemicals."

For Bush, the pipeline protest is "symbolic of a whole range of issues."

"This is symbolic for fracking, this is symbolic for climate change," he says. "We need to bring up this social movement and get public pressure"

The U.S. State Department is mulling over the pipeline proposal, but Obama has the authority to reject the project. His decision, the protesters say, will ultimately define how much support he receives from them in the 2012 election.

"We're not going to work our asses off for him if he approves this!" one protestor shouted at the end of the rally. Luke, one of the event's organizers, says that while Obama "might still be able to get the environmental vote" if he supports the pipeline, he'll lose the grassroots efforts that made his campaign so successful in 2008. "He won't have our support as interns and doorknockers," she predicts.

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