U.S. Rep. John Murtha's (D-Johnstown) recent statement in favor of immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq has encouraged members of a group that has been making the call for months: those demonstrating against military recruitment.
"We now have to push this farther," said Albert Petrarca of Highland Park, who had joined the Nov. 18 protest in front of an Oakland recruiting station on Forbes Avenue with a "Honk to Impeach" President George W. Bush sign. "The peace movement needs to step into this vacuum. After yesterday's announcement, who can be to the right of John Murtha?" The long-time Congressman is known as one of the more hawkish Democrats and a strong supporter of defense spending.
Alex Bradley, a member of Pittsburgh Organizing Group, which has been leading the counter-recruitment movement locally, was less certain Murtha's move meant anything to POG's efforts.
"It's just the Democratic Party and to a lesser extent the Republican Party finally catching up to what the peace movement and others have been saying for a couple years now," said Bradley -- "that we are a destabilizing presence [in Iraq], and that if you're a cause of violence you're not going to be its cure."
New military recruitment numbers released by the Pentagon show the four service branches have the most success recruiting from rural areas, which contribute 44 percent of recent recruits. Only 14 percent of recruits come from major cities, but Bradley says they aren't going to change their focus on the city, while continuing their outreach to local high schools.
"It's important that your efforts stay rooted in the communities you're a part of," he said. "High school kids can most effectively talk to high school kids. People in Bloomfield can most effectively talk to people in Bloomfield."
But he took encouragement from other Pentagon figures that showed recruitment efforts falling farthest behind for crucial combat specialties, despite some of the branches meeting their overall goals.
POG is planning to hold a regional counter-recruitment conference here next March, and Bradley says groups from Cleveland and New York have already expressed interest in coming to Pittsburgh to share strategies. POG also plans to hold a "large-scale direct action" on the fourth anniversary of the Iraq War, March 19. A similar action, on Aug. 20, drew strong police reaction and resulted in six arrests.
Police didn't seem to be ignoring the Nov. 18 protest, which coincided with demonstrations in 19 other cities as part of a national day of anti-recruitment protest. Two men alternately stood, crouched and sat in the empty second floor storefront at the corner of Forbes and Oakland avenues, filming the peaceful proceedings with a video camera. Ryan Williams of Murrysville, a veteran of recent protests, says he walked up the stairs to the men's second-floor perch and confronted them.
"I said, 'We wanted to know who you guys were taping for,'" Williams reports. "They pretty much flipped out. One guy started walking toward me [saying] 'Get out of here. This is private property. We'll have you arrested.'"
Pittsburgh Police spokesperson Tammy Ewin said she didn't know whether the cameramen were city police officers and wasn't certain she could reveal that if she found out. Pittsburgh FBI spokesperson Bill Crowley did not return a call by press time. Neither did the building's owner.
Toward the end of the protest, which drew about 30 people at its height, Albert Petrarca's "Honk to Impeach" sign was joined by a man carrying a "Honk for Murtha" placard.
Said Petrarca: "Who would have thought Murtha would be a hero of the anti-war movement?"