It's not clear what impact "Pittsburgh for Trayvon" -- a fledgling racial-justice group spawned in the wake of Florida shooter George Zimmerman's acquittal -- will have. But already it is demonstrating the staying power of Occupy Pittsburgh, with the bonus of added mobility.
The movement started with a spontaneous sit-down protest in the middle of Centre Avenue on Sunday evening, a protest that didn't break up until after 11 p.m. that night. A follow-up demonstration yesterday lasted even longer, and included an early-morning visit to the mayor's house today.
Wednesday's demonstration began conventionally enough, with a noon rally in the courtyard of the Allegheny County Courthouse. Organizers had drafted a series of wide-ranging demands, encompassing everything from policy solutions for "food deserts" -- economically struggling neighborhoods without access to healthy food -- to a review of law-enforcement conduct in controversial cases like the Jordan Miles beating. The group is also seeking a city resolution denouncing the Zimmerman verdict itself, and Pennsylvania's version of the "Stand your ground" law that has attracting so much attention in Martin's death.
Organizers are seeking a response to the agenda -- which is being presented to elected officials, law enforcement, and institutions like the Urban Redevelopment Authority -- within three business days. "We demand Pittsburgh renounce 'America's Most Livable City' title until these demands are met," the demands read.
After reading demands to the crowd, about 75 demonstrators marched across the street, and up to the fifth-floor of the City County Building, where they sought to present the demands to city council, Democratic Mayoral nominee Bill Peduto, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Council President Darlene Harris was on-hand to accept the demands, and did so in a somewhat awkward exchange that lasted five minutes. Peduto met with the group later that afternoon and pledged to respond to its demands, perhaps as early as today.
But Ravenstahl did not meet with the protesters, who were later told he had left the building. While the doors to Ravenstahl's office were not padlocked this time, police did bar the demonstrators from entering the mayor's office. The crowd, jammed together in a hallway that lacks air-conditioning, began chanting "the mayor! The mayor! The Mayor!" until they were asked to stop due to a city council hearing underway.
A sit-down protest ensued, after the group rejected overtures to deliver their demands to mayoral aide Jim Sheppard and Public Safety Director Michael Huss. "We're not going to give [the demands] to anyone else but him," Bekezela Mguni, one of the central organizers of Pittsburgh for Trayvon told the crowd. "We're committed to staying here."
And in fact, the mayor's office allowed the group to remain in the 5th floor hallway indefinitely. By 6:30 last night, a stack of pizza boxes was stacked neatly by a column and a handful of children were playing. At the time, Mguni said the group's next move was still being discussed. "I'm saying, 'Expect us,'" she told City Paper last night. It's a message she says was intended for "everyone who received the letter."