"We want to bring attention to the fact that Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq], that over 550 U.S. soldiers and about 10,000 Iraqi civilians have died," says Pete Shell of the Thomas Merton Center's Anti-War Committee. On March 20, one year after Gulf War II began, activists from Erie to West Virginia will converge on Pittsburgh to rally against the occupation of Iraq and press to bring American troops home, in a weekend of events partly sponsored by the Merton Center. National sponsor United for Peace and Justice plans more than 200 simultaneous rallies in every U.S. state and 50 other countries.
"We've spent over $100 billion so far [in Iraq]," says Shell. "If you look up Pittsburgh's share of that, that would be enough to pay for our city's entire debt."
POG is trying a new tactic: being open about its intentions -- to a point -- and informing police about its plans. Soon after the permitted rally, the Pittsburgh Organizing Group will hold a "sit-in" at an undisclosed location at Carnegie Mellon University. Says POG spokesperson Marie Skoczylas, "We are going to occupy the [undisclosed] space to draw attention to CMU's military programs and stay there until our demands are met." POG's demands, according to organizepittsburgh.com, include full disclosure of CMU's military contracts, such as information on the development of the unmanned "Gladiator" tank. Skoczylas says POG expects "a couple hundred" participants; though she would not disclose the location, CMU's Software Engineering Institute near the corner of Fifth Avenue and Craig Street has long been a target of protest for its military origins and research.
The main anti-war rally, endorsed by 58 local groups, will begin at Flagstaff Hill in Schenley Park at 1 p.m. March 20 and end at Bigelow Boulevard near Pitt's William Pitt Union, where a mass rally will feature keynote speaker Chris Moore, a Vietnam veteran and WQED-TV talk-show host. The weekend of events also includes a war memorial in Market Square on March 19, as well as talks, films, teach-ins and peace vigils through March 21.
Shell anticipates "at least a couple thousand" marchers for the main event.