For the first time since Pittsburgh Organizing Group began protesting Oakland's military recruiting stations in 2005, a group of anti-anti-war protesters showed up to block the Forbes Avenue facility from POG picketers.
A POG proposal to symbolically invade the facility and "cage" the recruiters inside drew the attention of right-wing bloggers and other media, prompting death threats and wild rhetoric from thousands via e-mail. There were slightly more temperate words from about 20 members of veterans groups gathered in a steady rain in front of the recruiting station, which was closed when the POG march began around 6:30 p.m. on March 19.
"When people send out on the Internet that they are about to commit an act of war on a military facility, I'm going to stand and stop them," said Ken Marx of Trafford, a Vietnam-era National Guard veteran. "An attack on it ... is a direct act of war and treason, and it's about time to treat these people as the traitors they are. ... They are a bunch of self-serving cry-babies."
But on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war -- the occasion for the POG protest -- even the counter-protesters weren't happy about the war's progress. "There's been mistakes made, but we have an obligation to support our troops in their mission," said Jake Barsottini of Beaver County, a Vietnam and Gulf War Air Force veteran who also called the war "necessary."
"If it wouldn't have been so mismanaged at the beginning, it would have been won," said Vietnam veteran Luke P. Patrino. A Toledo resident, Patrino is the Ohio and Western Pennsylvania coordinator of Gathering of Eagles, originally formed to protect war memorials from being "desecrated" by political protests.
"The only way to end a war," said Patrino, "is to win a war."
Or never to start one in the first place. That was the general sentiment of 75 POG members and allies who began their march four blocks further down Forbes, in front of the Carnegie Museum. Showing a suitably non-confrontational spirit, the antiwar marchers announced that they had no intention of actually going to the recruiting center. The threat to cage a recruiter, organizers added, had been a ruse all along.
"We hoped, because of our limited resources, the pro-war crowd would help spread the word" about the march, POG member Laney Troutman told the crowd before it embarked on the march. "So let's give the far right a round of applause." POG never intended to try to "wrestle grown men trained by the military" at the recruiting station, she added. Even so, she said, it was "important to organize and remember what brought us to this point."
And with that, the group began to march toward Carnegie Mellon University -- heading off in the direction opposite from where the veterans waited.
Marchers did bring a "cage," however: a 10-foot long rectangle of chain-link fence sections was carried by POG members through the CMU campus. The school has been another POG target for its multimillion-dollar Department of Defense contracts to build robots for future war efforts. The group chained the cage across the front doors of CMU's Warner Hall, chanting, "We don't want your robot war," while city police watched. The group then marched through the campus and several school buildings, followed by CMU police.
A few desk/chair combos in CMU hallways were toppled by passing protesters, but the march, which dispersed at CMU's Software Engineering Institute on Fifth Avenue, ended without incident.
The counter-protesters, meanwhile, were still gathered at the Forbes Avenue recruiting station. They vowed to return for the more widely sponsored anti-war protest scheduled for the end of March.
"We're going to be here for a while longer -- make sure they don't desecrate it," said Patrino. "We'll be here again on the 29th."