Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday in Pittsburgh

I'm here in Anne’s house in Pittsburgh, a packed and messy little place just outside of a nice café-kinda neighborhood.  It’s been an up-and-down kind of day.  Ever since we’ve gotten here to Pittsburgh, and for several weeks leading up to this week, the City has been involved in an amazingly effective campaign of denying permits, changing their minds on decisions and permits given, and routine police harassment that has hindered and hacked away at the infrastructure of our organizing.  It feels disorganized here, disjointed, even among the pagan cluster that I love so much there are fine lines of fracture in our communicating and planning.  The Three Rivers Climate Change Group, who created the beautiful messaging and posters that inspired me to come out here, seems to have surrendered after their belongings were taken by the police in the middle of the night from the park they’d been granted by the City.

And Seeds of Peace... Wow... Seeds of Peace.  It’s a saga.  Since they arrived in town last week, there bus was impounded for a minor parking violation, released, moved to a location on private property where it was later swarmed by police who eventually bullied the elderly man who owned the land to ask them to leave.  One woman, who FAWCers know as Thea, was jailed for giving her nickname instead of her legal name when asked by an officer, and held in jail for five days for her egregious crime.  On their way to their next location (also on private property), they were pulled over by the police and surrounded by twenty-some police vehicles, held for hours, and then told that could not move their bus without a special license and yet had to move it from where it was.  Miraculously, the Seeds people managed to find a local Pittsburghian with the special license to move their bus, only to soon be thrown out of that location by the owner who had been bullied by the police who claimed that neighbors were complaining about being scared because of all the commotion — meaning, the police activity of the day before.   Finally, the ACLU decided to take action and file an injunction against the police to attempt to keep them from being able to use these kinds of harassment scare-tactics on us.  

We decided to head out that morning to go to court to hear about the injunction and support Seeds, but before that, it was time to get out and mix it up a little bit.  We woke up and went out into the streets for the first time, carrying banners and making altars to coal out in front of the places that the participants of the International Coal Conference were meeting at, singing songs, chanting.  Much of the time it was fairly mellow, almost like a family get together of activists in the streets, because the ICC participants really didn’t care much that we were there and the cops didn’t, either.   And maybe it wasn’t about the ICC participants, or the cops, anyway.  Maybe it was really to be working the kind of magic that happens in the streets... The magic of community/tribe working for earth healing.   You can see a little video of it here.

Anyway, all was fine until we entered the fortress.  Now, I hadn’t gone on any of the scouting missions, so when I heard about this idea of a fortress in the middle of the City of Pittsburgh, I’ll admit it, I kind of thought people were exaggerating.  Until I went there.

This picture, as cool as it is, does not do it justice, because it doesn’t show you that the spire of black plate glass stretching tall and foreboding into the sky is simply one of five or six buildings made of black plate glass surrounding a small plaza, just like a castle of some evil king in a post-apocalyptic fantasy movie of some sort.  The whole thing reeks of dark concentrated power, of death.  It’s one of the most frightening places I’ve ever been, in terms of its appearance and architecture. 

So of course, we had to go there to do a ritual — right into the belly of the beast.  We walked over to the plaza, circled up, and lay our altar on the ground.  And that’s about all we had time to do, for in seconds, there were fifty cops in riot gear there, their energy bristled and hot, ready for battle.  It was intense.  Clearly, the PPG fortress is one place they will not allow us to protest at, which is ironic, because although it felt personally meaningful to be there it really wasn’t a place where we’d get much participation or witness from folks on the street.  We flowed away through a sliver of sidewalk winding its way through the far end of the fortress walls, the cops’ shouts ringing in our ears.  I didn’t want to feel like I was running away with my tail between my legs, and I also really didn’t want to encounter some sort of violent episode, and was especially keen not to get arrested — especially so early in the week.  So I let myself be pulled away by the flow of people leaving the strange castle of glass into the dirty downtown streets, moved out and away. 

Besides, it was time to go to court.  Court is a hard place to be.  The whole time we were there, the bailiff, who literally looked like an English Bulldog with an upside-down u for a mouth, stared at us with hostility clear in his eyes.  The judge looked bored enough to be asleep, which he probably was, having already made his decision to ignore our request for help before we’d ever stepped foot into the room.  Next to me sat a red-haired Seeds woman and her partner, both young, perhaps young enough to be at Teen Earth Magic.  I kept peeking over at her as the witnesses recounted their stories about the cops coming in the middle of the night with weapons and no warrants, moving the bus again and again, being stopped and searched without probable cause, the whole thing.  I wanted to take her into my arms, to protect her, which I can’t do.  I can’t do it because I’m not able to protect her or anybody else, and also because she has made this choice just as I have, and I have to respect her and everyone else who here’s decisions to do what is best for them.  But I can’t help wanting to, just the same.

The judge ruled against us, as we knew he would, saying that although there may have been violations of constitutional rights in the past couple of days, it wasn’t up to him to worry about that.  His worry was about whether or not the police’s actions were causing “irreparable harm,” which apparently the City’s harassment and willful attack on our organizing is not (this isn’t, however, quite as impressive as his last ruling, which was that the advance of modern technology gives activists other ways to speak publicly and, therefore, restricting their proximity to the summit won't violate the First Amendment right to protest...meaning, we can email and blog-o-sphere our hearts out about the g-20, so who cares whether or not we can get within three miles of the place where the actual representatives — those who make decisions -- are?).   As we walked out of the court room, literally as we walked out of the room and had not yet even gotten to the hallway, we received a phone call from the folks at the Seeds of Peace busses.  The cops were now at their third location (a church), demanding to speak to the property owner and asking about dog tags and some such things.  They had obviously been waiting for a call from their own people telling them that the judge had denied the injunction.

Luckily, the Seeds people and church pastor managed to get the police of off their backs for a bit, which was lucky not only for them but for me... I was getting quite hungry, and after all, these are our food people.  In spite of all of the madness, they had lunch waiting for us at Point State Park when we got there.  Feeling a bit tired of court and cops and all of that, we sat down on the rainy-moist grass and ate lunch with the Code Pink folks, and then went our separate ways for a little while before meeting up again for dinner. 

I hate to say that they are winning, and of course there are many ways in which they are not — the magic, the community building, the experiences I’m having that can’t be taken away.  But there is a way in which they are.  The people who want to come here to protest have had their food threatened, their sleeping spaces revoked and denied, their physical and emotional health attacked.  Even during some of my fun moments I find myself wondering what I’m doing out here.  I want to do good work.  I want to help bring in the Great Turning.  I’m not sure if anything we do here actually matters — but I also don’t know what else to do, so I’m here.   All I can do in this moment, so late in the East-Coast time zone, which I am NOT used to, is give it up to prayer and faith and see what happens in the coming days.  I can feel, in spite of all of this, a glimmer of hope for the days ahead.  I don’t even know what exactly to hope for — I just sense the turning of the tide.  Guess that’ll have to be enough for now.


  1. oh, riyana...yes, the tide is turning. you are where you must be, as i am where i must be. distant from each other. total strangers. but our trusting hands and energies are one...with all our shared hopes, we are realizing the moment, even though it does not appear clear and peaceful with our veiled eyes, i see it from my little island. have trust. believe. matter. so mote it be.

  2. Rivka: Be strong as I know you are, my sweet baby. Believe that the tide is turning, whether you can always feel it under every circumstance or not. I wish I could be with you now, but as your friend Lui said above, I am where I must be as you are where you must be.

    Remember Faramir and Eowyn standing on the walls of Gondor as the light begins to glimmer in the darkness of the East. We are standing there now, watching you and Jason from a distance. I can promise you that.

    --Your loving mother, speaking in the starlight vision