Wednesday, November 16, 2011
I spent the Tuesday evening live-Tweeting Occupy Pittsburgh protest at the Developing Unconventional Gas conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. But here are a couple quick observations from the event:
*For one of the first times during the month-long occupation, tensions between protesters and police escalated as determined Occupiers crashed an opening-night reception hosted by oilfield services company Halliburton. Five protesters were arrested and charged with failure to disperse, defiant trespass and obstruction of roadways. The Post-Gazette has the identifications here.
I was surprised the number didn't increase. At one point, about 200 protesters and 20 officers -- including three K-9 units were standing toe-to-toe. At that point the ball was in the Occupiers court. If they wanted to, certainly some of them could have made it to the conference doors. However, most seemed to stick to their guns and did not give officers any reason to take action against them, just as they have for the entire occupation thus far.
The number looked as though it might rise to six when officers surrounded a protester (pictured above,) and accused him of touching and impeding conference attendees as they made their way downtown toward their hotels. Did some of the protesters get up close and personal with some of the attendees? Absolutely, and police warned them about it.
However, officers seemed to do little when attendees laid their hands on or got a little too close to protesters. I personally witnessed three or four instances of antagonistic behavior by those at the conference, but no admonition came from the cops.
*The other thing that struck me on Tuesday night was the interaction between those at the conference and those protesting. For the most part, protesters were well behaved. They were emphatic, they were loud and they were passionate, but by and large they were well-behaved.
The same can be said for most of the conference attendees. They were either polite as they made their way through the throng of protesters into downtown.
But then you had those on both sides who did nothing but belittle the other. There were multiple middle fingers flying throughout the evening, along with harsh words.
"How the fuck can you sleep at night?" screamed one protester at the passersby.
"Go to work," yelled one conference attendee. "We've got rigs and need people to work them."
But then you had both protesters and conference attendees who actually engaged one another, listening to each other's point of view. Neither side wavering, of course, but listening just the same
One conference-goer stood and talked to protesters for at least 20 minutes, listening to their perspective and sharing his own. While he didn't wish to give his name, he did talk with me a bit about why he decided to stop and chat.
"What I was trying to convey was that I've obviously spoken to a lot of gas people … and I [wanted them to] understand that no one here is anti-earth and we're working to make sure that the drilling is done as safely as possible.
"I think we need to be working toward using renewable energy as much as possible, but I also believe that right now natural gas is better than coal."
And while some protesters listened, it was pretty clear they were still skeptical of the industry and its regulation and planned to continue their protests.
"This whole industry is like a magician who urges you to ‘keep your eyes on my right hand' and in that hand he's got jobs and promises," says activist Elizabeth Donohoe. "And then when you're not looking at the left hand they're using it to put money in the pockets of a few by raping the natural resources of this state."