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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2011 at 3:24 PM

Remember how, a year or so ago, there were those weird Levi's ads with Braddock in them? And it was slightly uncomfortable for all of us? Well, Levi's is sort of making good on their promise to follow up and work to better Braddock. How are they doing so? By, um, bringing some huge indie bands to town!

As announced today by Opus One Productions, the weekend of Nov. 11-13 will feature three benefit shows at the Braddock Carnegie Library. Friday night, Andrew Bird headlines, with Kurt Vile in support. Saturday night, it's Built to Spill with Atlas Sound. And Sunday, The Hold Steady and Titus Andronicus. Each night is $25; tickets available via Showclix. The shows benefit "community based projects inside Braddock," according to the announcement. Sure to sell out in, like, five minutes, right?


Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2011 at 3:21 PM

It's pretty clear what Dance Alloy Theater gets from a merger with the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater: The venerable but financially struggling group will continue to exist, if no longer as an independent outfit.

But what does the Kelly-Strayhorn get out of the deal? And, more importantly from the perspective of arts patrons, what does the merger mean for dance in Pittsburgh?

Answers to such questions came into a little clearer focus last night, as the groups formally announced the merger at a reception at the Kelly-Strayhorn, in East Liberty. (This blog first reported on the merger in late August:

 "We believe this is going to be a win-win for both organizations," Kelly-Strayhorn board chairman Fran Escalante told the 50 or so attendees, who included members of both boards and two of the five Alloy dancers whose seasonal contracts were not renewed as merger negotiations progressed this past summer.

Under executive director janera solomon, the Kelly-Strayhorn has been an growing presence on the local dance scene in recent years. Last night, Escalante, solomon and Dance Alloy board president Cabot Earle all said that the merger would strengthen dance in Pittsburgh.

Merger talks were initiated early this year by the Alloy. "They knew that they couldn't sustain themselves in the current situation," said Escalante. (He said, however, that the Alloy had no significant unpaid bills, and emphasized that the merger wasn't "a bailout.")

For the moment, the move leaves a big gap in the local arts calendar, where the Alloy has been a presence for 35 years, for much of that time as the region's premiere modern-dance company.

While some former Alloy dancers continue to perform through the Kelly-Strayhorn on a project-by-project basis, the group's usual fall and spring main-stage shows have been canceled. solomon said that the group is on "hiatus," and that the earliest there might be an Alloy show is next fall.

But whether the Alloy will return as a troupe with its own artistic identity remains to be seen. Solomon said while the Kelly-Strayhorn remains dedicated to dance, the Alloy's future as a performing entity is largely a matter of funding. "How much is this community willing to give to support dance activity?" she asked rhetorically.

The Kelly-Strayhorn, meanwhile, gains from the association with the Alloy's name and its community ties through its education programs.

The Alloy's community dance school for children and adults, for instance, continues to function, solomon said, with 70 students in nine classes this fall. And Alloy instructors continue to lead classes for 100 K-12 students in area schools.

The Kelly-Strayhorn also gains other resources. For one, Alloy board members were invited to join the Kelly-Strayhorn board. Some agreed, raising the total number of board members from 14 to 22, including Alloy board president Earle.

Not least, the Kelly-Strayhorn will take over the Alloy's leased two-story studio space, located just a few blocks down Penn Avenue, in Friendship. The studio provides an additional space for small-scale theatrical or dance performances. (It lacks a stage, but has a sprung floor suitable for dance.) And, says Escalante, it will free up the Kelly-Strayhorn stage, which is often occupied by rehearsals on nights when the theater could be staging or hosting performances. (The Kelly-Strayhorn had in fact previously rented the Alloy space for rehearsals.)

In recent years, the Kelly-Strayhorn has produced the increasingly popular NewMoves dance festival -- the fourth is scheduled for May -- and hosted residencies for visiting choreographers to create new work. Both initiatives have brought cutting-edge artists to town, and solomon says the theater's dance audience has grown.

The merger, she said, could allow, for instance, for more residencies for local and even international choreographers.

"We want more dance-making to happen in Pittsburgh, and we're going to do whatever we can to support that," said solomon.


Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2011 at 1:28 PM

Thanks to Pittsburgh's own Jasiri X, the Occupy movement now has an anthem.

On Tuesday, the local hip-hop artist released his latest video, "Occupy (We the 99)," a song whose lyrics warns Wall Street that if "you want class war, we'll give you what you ask for."

The video, which was filmed at Occupy demonstrations in both New York and Pittsburgh, begins with dramatic footage of police clashing with Occupy Wall Street protesters. Before Jasiri chimes in with the first verse, the video shows an Iraq war veteran screaming at a line of New York police, "These are U.S. citizens! ... They don't have guns! Why are you hurting these people?"

A vocal activist, Jasiri is known for writing powerful, meaningful lyrics (See his controversial video "What if the Tea Party Was Black," which went viral last summer). And "Occupy (We the 99)" is no exception.

"Nobody got more welfare than Wall Street," he raps. "Hundreds of billions after operating falsely / and nobody went to prison that's where you lost me / but my home, my job, and my life is what it cost me."

The video is filmed and directed by Paradise Gray and produced by Cynik Lethal.

Here are the lyrics in their entirety:

Verse 1
The Power's with the people don't let these cowards deceive you
and be the next mouse in the talons of a eagle
this country's wealth gap isn't unbalanced it's evil
we celebrate access while the people have less
in poverty abject madness
while the economy collapses add stress
that's the last straw
you want class war well give you what you ask for
the have nots at the have's door
we came to crash your party
and we aint leaving until we're even
the Constitution guarantees these freedoms
any one against that's committing treason
your not a real patriot unless you stand for what you believe in
and nobody got more welfare than Wall Street
hundreds of billions after operating falsely
and nobody went to prison that's where you lost me
but my home, my job, and my life is what it cost me

Verse 2
Remember when police beat the Egyptians who were defiant
even president Obama condemned the violence
but when NYPD beat Americans there's silence
it's apparent that there's bias
sticks for the people but give carrots to the liars
those crooked cops just for embarrassment should be fired
and if you want to see terrorists then look higher
they in them skyscrapers with billions from my labor
forcing people out of there homes with falsified data
so we either unify now or cry later
1% got the wealth but the 99's greater
so in every city we gone occupy major
cause nobody got more welfare than Wall Street
hundreds of billions after operating falsely
and nobody went to prison that's where you lost me
but my home, my job, and my life is what it cost me


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Posted By and on Wed, Oct 19, 2011 at 5:08 PM

Chanting "BNY Mellon, corporate felons," roughly 100 Occupy Pittsburgh protesters picketed outside BNY Mellon late this morning. They then marched to the state attorney general's office, demanding an investigation into Mellon's handling of Pennsylvania's pension funds.

The demand was inspired by civil suits filed by the Department of Justice and the attorney general of New York, which allege that Mellon has taken advantage of pension funds, charging them unfair rates on foreign currency exchanges.

"[Mellon] took money from workers' pension funds, and we want it back!" protester Maria Somma shouted as occupiers gathered at their Mellon Green encampment -- which BNY Mellon owns -- shortly before heading to the bank's front steps. "The 99 percent is not going to take thieving anymore!"

At around 11:45 a.m., protesters marched the short distance from their encampment to the front of Mellon, where they formed a moving circle at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Grant Street -- to the apparent bewilderment of Mellon employees looking on. Many demonstrators hoisted signs: "BNY Mellon Bank of the 1%," read one. All joined in songs and chants: "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!" Many chants specifically targeted Mellon, which one song described as "a corporate crook."

Protesters largely singled out the bank because of the pension-fund allegations, and because it acted as the custodian administrating the U.S. Treasury's highly controversial bank-bailout program. (BNY Mellon, like other major banks, itself receieved funding from the Troubled Assest Recovery Program, but returned the funding in 2009 alongside nine other large banks.) The bank's executive-compensation policies have also drawn criticism

Mellon has denied any wrongdoing in its handling of pension funds. And in a statement handed to CP today, the bank rejected the protesters' and lawsuits' allegations:

On behalf of our nearly 7,800 employees in Pittsburgh, we recognize the right to protest and express opinions. However, the concerns regarding our foreign exchange services are misguided. The suits against us are not supported by the facts or the law. The foreign exchange market is highly competitive and we are proud of the valuable services we provide our clients. We will defend ourselves vigorously on behalf of our shareholders and employees.

As they marched, protesters handed out fliers explaining their arguments against Mellon's actions. "Workers lost money in their pension funds, and taxpayers are on the hook for BNY Mellon's actions," the flier reads. "Today we're marching to tell the bank to pay back the $2 billion!"

"My message is that our elected officials have to start opening their eyes to see what they're doing to middle-class America," Jill Fleming-Salopek, a recently furloughed school teacher, told us. "If places like BNY Mellon are skimming off the top of pension funds, it's the responsibility of our attorney general to investigate."

After demonstrating at Mellon for roughly half an hour, protesters marched to a satellite office of state Attorney General Linda Kelly. Outside the office, located at 564 Forbes Avenue, roughly 75 demonstrators continued to sing and chant as they walked around a small plaza in front of Sammy's Famous Corned Beef.

Shortly after they arrived, protesters asked a security guard if some of the protesters could go inside the building to speak with AG staff members. But a security guard told them that she was told not to let anyone inside.

"Apparently, the attorney general of our state has decided this is a private building and has given orders not to let four of us in," John Lacny, 33, of Overbrook, announced to the protesters.

The group then decided to bombard the office with phone calls until they agreed to meet.

"Keep calling the number!" one protester yelled.

"They put me on hold, John!" joked activist Barney Oursler.

A few minutes later, a Pittsburgh police officer informed protesters that the attorney general's office agreed to meet with one representative of the group.

"I think they're tired of putting up with us," announced Lacny, "so they're letting somebody go up."

The group decided to send Fleming-Salopek in. While waiting for her to return, they moved their demonstration from the patio in front of Sammy's to the sidewalk down below -- so as not to block foot traffic into the sandwich shop.

"We don't want to hurt their business," protester Calvin Skinner told CP.

Fleming-Salopek returned after about 10 minutes. She announced that "two very nice gentlemen" advised her to contact the office by writing letters -- news that wasn't very well received by protesters.

"I told them that we expect that they will investigate the accusations," said Fleming-Salopek, noting that she gave the officials a copy of the group's flier. "We expect [the attorney general] to be accountable and listen to us, because we're not going away."

As protesters began marching back to their camp at Mellon Green, they chanted "We will win!"

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Posted By on Wed, Oct 19, 2011 at 9:22 AM

One of the frequent criticisms of the Occupy Pittsburgh movement, and similar protests taking place in cities around the nation, is that for all its complaints about economic inequality, it offers few solutions. 

That may change in the next few weeks.

Adbusters -- the countercultural magazine that launched the Occupy movement -- has put out the call for another demonstration: an Oct. 29 rally for a tax on global financial trading.

In an Oct. 17 blog post, the magazine called for a demonstration espousing a "Robin Hood" tax:

On October 29, on the eve of the G20 Leaders Summit in France, let's the people of the world rise up and demand that our G20 leaders immediately impose a 1% #ROBINHOOD tax on all financial transactions and currency trades. Let's send them a clear message: We want you to slow down some of that $1.3-trillion easy money that's sloshing around the global casino each day -- enough cash to fund every social program and environmental initiative in the world.

Take this idea to your local general assembly and join your comrades in the streets on October 29.

The tax, also known as the "Tobin tax," would take a tiny cut of financial transactions, like stock sales and currency trades. The goal of the tax is twofold: First, to raise money from rich financial markets, and give it to poorer communities; and second, to reduce the volatility of financial markets by attaching a cost to each transaction. Proponents say that the tax will reduce the endless "churn" in financial markets, and that it would land hardest on speculators and Wall Street insiders engaged in computer-driven "fast-trading." Such trading capitalizes on very short-term fluctuations in price, creating potentially massive instability without providing much benefit for the larger economy.

The tax is not a new, or even radical, idea. It has been backed by more than 1,000 economists worldwide, including New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and Jeffrey Sachs, who have urged the tax be adopted by the G-20. In a letter to the leaders of the world's leading economies, the economists wrote:

The financial crisis has shown us the dangers of unregulated finance, and the link between the financial sector and society has been broken. It is time to fix this link and for the financial sector to give something back to society.Even at very low rates of 0.05% or less, this tax could raise hundreds of billions of dollars annually and calm excessive speculation.

But as you might expect, there's been plenty of opposition to the tax proposal -- largely from the financial sector and its advocates. While countries in the European Union have supported the idea, it has been blocked by a coalition of the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. Critics contend that financial institutions would simply pass the cost along to customers, and argue that it would make development more difficult in poorer nations, because it would increase the cost of raising money.

Another objection is that such a tax scheme would have to be adopted universally -- in every country -- or else financial institutions would simply begin channeling their financial operations through, say, Asia. The very thing that makes this tax desireable -- the ease with which capital can transcend national borders -- would make it difficult to pass. 

It's not clear yet whether Occupy Pittsburgh or similar movements in other cities will be taking part in the Oct. 29th protest: Decisions about protest goals and tactics are made by the "general assembly" of each city's Occupiers. It's worth noting, though, that Occupy Pittsburgh will be demonstrating outside BNY Mellon at 11:30 this morning. And guess what financial misdeed BNY Mellon has been accused of? Reaping too much money from foreign currency trading.  


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Posted By on Tue, Oct 18, 2011 at 4:45 PM

Last night, writer Jonathan Franzen visited Carnegie Music Hall to present a nearly packed house with a "craft talk." 

That was how Franzen described his appearance at Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures' Monday Night Lectures. The acclaimed author of The Twenty-Seventh City (1987), The Corrections (2001) and Freedom (2009) is also a dedicated bird-watcher who didn't waste time mentioning the donation of his speaking fee to the American Bird Conservancy.

Those familiar with Franzen's work would have found recurring themes of media, technology and over-stimulation unsurprising. Partially veiled confessions of his insecurity as a writer, however, were striking — especially after three best-selling novels, gratuitous awards nominations and a Time cover photo.

He explained the necessity of apprehension for creating meaningful narrative. "Each new novel should represent personal struggle," he declared. 

"If the writer doesn't face some kind of insurmountable challenge during the creative process, he cannot create a worthy literary experience. Literature cannot be mere performance."

Franzen emphasized the idea of loyalty to oneself as a writer, and the notion that effective literature depends on the writer's willingness to dig beyond unsettling self-analysis. Sometimes, it can constitute a degree of "betrayal" against loved ones and those whose lives are drawn on for inspiration. 

But he assured that this concerted effort, demanding of writer and reader, ultimately served both by dismissing any invitation for a passive read. "We need writers who will create more opportunities for introspection," he pled. 

At the conclusion of his speech, an audience member asked the author what kind of advice he had, particularly, for young writers. Franzen pointed to the young man and said, "I need you to be a good writer."

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Posted By on Mon, Oct 17, 2011 at 5:24 PM

One of the year's most notable music festivals takes place this week in New York City. It's the CMJ 2011 Music Marathon and Film Festival, which features music performances, movie film premieres, and media panels at various locations throughout the city. Headquartered at New York University's Greenwich Village campus, CMJ hosts thousands of fans, industry professionals, press, filmmakers, and musicians to invade more than 80 of the city's hottest venues and theaters. With more than 1,300 artist performances scheduled, CMJ incorporates a broad range of musical genres. A majority of the week's performers would be classified as artists on the rise, climbing the ranks of their respective musical fields.

An artist I was excited to see listed on the CMJ schedule is Elle Varner. The Los Angeles-born singer-songwriter's music was introduced to me during my most recent visit to NYC, only a few months ago. Traveling with the staff and youth of the Hip-Hop On L.O.C.K. Project, we were welcomed on a tour of J. Records where we were amongst the first to hear Ms. Varner's debut single, "Only Wanna Give It To You," featuring J. Cole. She has since released a colorful music video that also incorporates a Cinderella shoe-themed plot. With her powerful singing voice and unexpected rapping ability, Varner embodies talent that hasn't been seen in the public eye since the glory days of Lauryn Hill. Varner performs Tuesday at Arlene's Grocery (7:00 p.m.).

Also performing Tuesday are Pittsburgh-bred indie-duo 1, 2, 3. The group, comprised of Nic Snyder and Josh Sickels, plays their first of a few CMJ sets at the Brooklyn Bowl for the LIVE4EVER Media Party (7:10 PM). In June, 1, 2, 3 released their debut album, New Heaven, preceded a national tour that included shows in several East Coast and Midwest cities. And for those arriving for the weekend of the CMJ Music Marathon, 1, 2, 3 will be performing on Saturday night at the Knitting Factory (9:10 PM).

On Wednesday afternoon, as is with many of the afternoons, there are an overwhelming amount of intriguing panels. For the sake of your time and acknowledging this publication, I will only mention one. The "Producing Killer Videos on a YouTube Budget" will be moderated by Pittsburgh film and music video make Ian Wolfson, of Rex Arrow Films. Founded in 2007, Rex Arrow Films has most notably been credited with a long list of video production work for Mac Miller. The particular panel takes place at NYU Kimmel Center – Room 905/907 (3:30 PM).

Also on this day, Perry High School graduate Nikki Jean takes the stage. Since last performing in Pittsburgh in September 2010, Jean released her album, Pennies In A Jar, which includes the hit song "Million Star Motel," featuring Black Thought and Lupe Fiasco. The singer-songwriter's album has songs co-written by Bob Dylan, Burt Bacharach, Carole King, Carly Simon, and several others. Jean will be performing at S.O.B.'s (8:30 PM).

Rhyme Calisthenics: The Official MC Competition, founded in Pittsburgh, continues making strides with a showcase at CMJ. SYNERGY x FREE LVE host the event at the Hiro Ballroom, Thursday night (7:00 PM), which also features art displays and music performances by King Fantastic and ASAP Rocky, among others. Different from past Rhyme Cal competitions, the night's showcase will be a one-on-one challenge that includes three rounds of wheel-spinning action. Pittsburgh native and Rhyme Cal champion Real Deal faces off against New York native and D.C. Rhyme Cal champion Jess Jamez. The event is sure to entertain the audience with a performance unlike anything they've seen before.

Entering the weekend, one of the most renowned music groups to call Pittsburgh home, Rusted Root, performs Friday night at Le Poisson Rouge (8:30 PM). The folk-rock jam-band is an elder of the 1,000-plus performing artists of the CMJ Music Marathon. Rusted Root became famous with the hit song, "Send Me On My Way," from their debut album, When I Woke Up, released in 1994. Although they haven't released a collective album since the '90's, they have continued touring; this stop for CMJ in NYC is one of several along the East Coast, closing with a performance on the Gateway Clipper Majestic in Pittsburgh on Oct. 28.

And so we've reached the closing night of the CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival, Saturday, Oct. 22. As I previously stated, Pittsburgh indie rock duo 1, 2, 3 will be performing on this night, which means that every night of the marathon Pittsburgh will be represented by a featured performer. However, those that have followed my writing know that, although I'm open and interested to all genres of music, hip hop is what raised me. Looking over the final schedule for the week of events, I approached the bottom of the listings before my eyes finally popped out of my head. On Saturday (11:00 PM) at the Music Hall of Williamsburg is a Jam Session with Talib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch, Jean Grae, and Buckshot. These four highly acclaimed hip-hop MC's will be performing with a band, and to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised to see several other prominent artists find their way to the stage during this showcase. This looks to be an incredible way to end an exciting week overflowing with artists on the brink of success, whether mainstream, underground, major label, or independent.


Posted By on Mon, Oct 17, 2011 at 5:07 PM


This week's MP3 Monday features a track from Lucid Music, the local hip-hop trio. The new single, "All Day All Night," features some sweet old-school soul samples and breakbeats. Download it here and enjoy!

*Download Link Expired"

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Posted By on Mon, Oct 17, 2011 at 4:49 PM

Participants in the Occupy Pittsburgh movement ventured out from their Mellon Green encampment and to protest outside Sen. Pat Toomey's office today, demanding he "[s]top working for Wall Street and start working for us."

The Occupy campers joined One Pittsburgh and its offshoot action, the People's Lobby, in front of Toomey's Station Square office building at noon today. There, they denounced the Republican Senator's vote against the American Jobs Act. The action was among those that Occupy participants consented to supporting this week. They also plan to picket BNY Mellon -- which owns the Mellon Green site they are camping on -- this Wednesday.

The roughly three dozen activists on hand were joined by county councilor Amanda Green. "A lot of people think of me as an elected official, but that's just a part-time job," she said into the bullhorn. "I've got a full-time job. I've got bills to pay. I've got student loans. I understand what it's like to not be able to make ends meet."

Green made an impassioned speech from below Toomey's office window. "You need to be able to explain how, at almost 9 percent unemployment rate in this county, you vote 'no' on the [American Jobs Act]," she said. "It's unacceptable and ridiculous to me."

Toomey, protesters say, hasn't offered much of a response to their concerns. "At every meeting, his staff leads us nowhere," says Corey Buckner, a 24-year-old Garfield resident and member of One Pittsburgh.

Toomey has issued this statement on the ACA vote:

President Obama's latest stimulus bill contains hundreds of billions of dollars in increased spending and more tax hikes, which won't create jobs any more than his last stimulus bill did. With the unemployment rate at 9.1 percent, we do not have time to waste on political games and big tax increases that will only make our economy weaker for all Americans

Instead, I support a real jobs plan, which will reduce burdensome regulations that are preventing businesses from hiring; ratify three pending free trade agreements that will increase Pennsylvania's exports; simplify and reduce business and individual tax rates to encourage job-creating business expansions; and get our federal deficits under control, among other pro-growth measures. This plan will actually create jobs.

The protesters, meanwhile, called for Toomey's impeachment for his allegiance to corporations and big banks. And while One Pittsburgh and the People's Lobby aren't directly part of the Occupy Pittsburgh movement, or vice versa, activists like Buckner say the movements go hand-in-hand. "We're all here for the same thing," he said. "We want what Americans have been promised people forever: freedom and the ability to work."

After protesting for about 45 minutes, the group headed back across the Smithfield Bridge and into Downtown, shouting rants against Toomey and singing: "Everywhere we go, people want to know who we are," one lyric went. "So we tell them: We are the 99!"

Onlookers seemed mostly amused or inquisitive. One man yelled, as he flicked his cigarette in the trash, "This is what you get for voting against Arlen Specter, you dumbasses!" Another man, walking behind the protest, asked, "Are they shouting against Toomey?"

Told they were, he smiled. "I can agree with that."

Meanwhile, Downtown workers have been scoping out the Mellon Green encampment that has suddenly appeared amidst the city's skyscrapers. Some workers milled around the encampment during the morning rush and lunch hour, reading signs posted on the fence around the parklet's fountain.

"Keep up the good work!" one woman in a business suit yelled as she passed by on Grant. Another man sidled up to protestor Steve Cooper and said, "Ok, what do I need to know?"

Not everyone was receptive to the message: Occupiers have been keeping a tally of how many times a passerby instructs them to "get a job!" -- and that number is now in the dozens.

But as camper Doug Placais, 27, of the city's Allentown neighborhood puts it: "For every one person who walks by and yells 'get a job' there's been a positive honk or someone yelling in support."


Posted By on Mon, Oct 17, 2011 at 8:03 AM

This weekend, Occupy Pittsburgh's annexation of Mellon Green drew the attention of local media and curious residents alike. But while all eyes were focused Downtown, a critical part of the occupation was taking place more than two-and-a-half miles away -- in Josh Stitzer's Lawrenceville kitchen.

The kitchen itself is nothing special to look at. Except for the scooter parked along the wall, there are few furnishings to obstruct foot traffic from fridge to oven, or from oven to the door. But that's important, because this is where Occupy Pittsburgh's "food working group" -- the cadre of volunteers who keep the Mellon Green occupiers fed -- warms up the meals. Later, the food will be brought Downtown, where it will provide the calories occupiers need to keep warm in the mid-October urban night. 

On the menu for Sunday night: a rice medley, seasoned potatoes, and hummus -- whose spicy "kick" has so far proven "the hit of the entire camp," says Stitzer.

Stitzer is one of more than a half-dozen volunteers who make up the food working group. Participants range from as young as 19 to as old as 68, though most are in their 20s or earlier 30s. Their work is neither easy nor glamorous. The food currently warming in Stitzer's oven -- a half-dozen "half-tins" filled to the brim -- took 14 hours to prepare. (The cooking is done in a larger kitchen located a few blocks away, and stored in Stitzer's fridge until needed.) The day before the occupation, working-group members say, they toiled from noon to 2 a.m. in order to have food ready once the camp was established.

Why do they do it? 

"I've been an advocate for workers' rights for a long time," says Dan Lichten, a 34-year-old former chef. And thanks to the momentum created by the original Wall Street occupation, "it seems like people are actually listening and waking up."

"Student loans -- that's what opened my eyes," says Andrew Koltsoon, a Point Park University student from New Jersey who first heard of the protest from a professor. "I just wanted to get involved in any way I could. I'm away from home, in a new city, and I want to do some things outside the comfort zone." 

Right now, that involves spending a lot of time in the kitchen, and ferrying food from Lawrenceville to Oakland. The fare is mostly vegan -- partly because such food keeps well, and partly because, as Lichten puts it, "you have to know your audience." As you might expect, many of the Mellon Green occupiers eschew meat.

The food is being donated from a variety of sources: a local soup kitchen, from Occupy participants themselves, and from sympathetic Pittsburghers.

"We had an elderly woman who couldn't get out of her car because she used a cane, but she brought a carload of stuff," says Stitzer. "A guy in a wheelchair wheeled up with a donation." 

Assuming you don't have a large-capacity food processor to spare, what the working group could use most is "things we cook in bulk," says Lichten:

  • economy-size bags of pasta
  • rice 
  • potatoes
  • onions
  • oatmeal
  • chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice (for the aforementioned hummus)
  • liquid eggs

Currently, donations can be dropped off at the base of operations for Food Not Bombs, at 258 39th Street in Lawrenceville. (But partly to prevent FNB from being overwhelmed with drop-offs, the working group asks that you keep an eye for alternate locations at the Occupy Pittsburgh website. The site will also feature an updated list of needed items.)

Relying on donated food presents a distinct culinary challenge: trying to prepare meals with little advance notice of what ingredients you'll have. While the cooks haven't quite figured out a plan for some donated items -- like a box of chocolate truffle mix -- Lichten assures that "whatever they give me, I can do something with it."

Despite the logistical challenges, there are no leaders. The work seems almost self-organizing, with people stepping up to fill the need. Which is a good thing: Those "get a job, hippie!" jeers notwithstanding, many of the Pittsburgh Occupiers do work. Lichten himself is headed back to his job working with the mentally challenged this week.

Does he worry about who will fill in for him?

He shrugs. "Everything will gel," he says, "just for the simple fact of necessity." 

In fact, says Stitzer, "I've been to rallies and protests before, but this is the first one I've seen in a long time that has been so well organized. And the first one that bridges age groups and cultural rifts. I'm pretty stoked about that."

And as Stitzer keeps the food warming, the other volunteers pile into a car being driven -- with an "Occupied Vehicle" placard in the windshield -- by Tim Connor, a Slippery Rock University student in town for the weekend. Together, they head Downtown to ready their serving tent on Mellon Green. 

When the food is ready, it too will be brought Downtown, and served warm from chafing dishes. It will be just like any other outdoor catered affair -- or as Koltsoon puts it, "like a continuous wedding reception."