Walking up to the “tent city” camping and protesting site along Wylie Avenue in the Hill District on Sunday afternoon, the first dissenter I ran into was a dreadlocked brother from Jersey City, New Jersey, who wore a charmed, if somewhat pissed smile. A postal service worker and a member of the Peoples Organization for Progress and Social Justice, Larry Adams was sitting on a side lot across from the main encampment, appearing ready for action prior to the March For Jobs.
“I came here to confront the organizers of the economic collapse. We’re not going to accept a jobless recovery. We’re here to say we need a new WPA [Works Projects Administration],” Adams said. “The crisis is dragging the standard of living of everyone down. The workers have nothing to lose.”
Adams said he was trying to help build the people’s ability to fight back against overwhelming forces.
“They brought the G-20 to Pittsburgh to piss in the eyes of the people of Pittsburgh—to propagate the lie of a model recovery,” Adams said. “This is the capital of the Rust Belt.”
He quoted Frederick Douglas, who said “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.’”
Adams noted that in the world he was fighting for, poor kids wouldn’t have to take out loans for college, and that housing, health care, and full employment also would be a reality.
I kept that thought in mind as I approached other strangers for quotes.
Detroit resident Antonio Cassone, an unemployed janitor who said he was fired for engaging in union activity, looked depressed. He had been employed by Detroit Metro Airport, and was waiting for his case to be heard, but in the meantime, he looked chagrinned. The member of SEIU Local 1 sat in the tent city, seeming a bit stunned by the hubbub around him.
“I’m fighting to get union representation to people and to get more jobs available to people,” Cassone said.
Joe Mosyjowski, of the Akron, Ohio-based American Friends Service Committee, held a placard saying: “No more money for war.”
He said violence in all its forms is hurting America and the world.
“People on people violence is the biggest problem that faces the world. Economic violence is just as bad—we need to see that money go to feed the hungry, and for jobs, green energy, and health care—not warfare and megabanks,” Mosyjowski said.
Pete Shell, who some might remember from the Justice For Johnny campaign, also is a member of the pacifist Thomas Merton Center, and was at the march with a few friends from the Center.
“We’re here to stand with the protest for jobs,” Shell said. “G-20 policies of globalization caused the economic crisis.”
Looking over the crowd of a few hundred people, some of whom came from California and farther, Monumental Baptist Church pastor Rev. Thomas Smith wore his formal purple vestment shirt, and a pleased smile. “We got a good turnout—it’s a good start,” he said.
From the back of a pickup truck serving as a stage, Bail Out The People organizer Larry Holmes led the crowd in chants:
“What are we gonna do?”
“Are these bankers and leaders going to hear you?”
“A jobless recovery is like a dead patient after a successful operation,” Holmes said, and then launched back into the chant. “We got the right!”
“We got the right to a job!” the crowd chanted.
The chants continued as the group moved peacefully down Wylie, along with a hefty and quiet police escort. Some of the protestors talked about hassles being faced by other dissenters who’ve come from across the country and could find no place to sleep. Some had tried to camp in Schenley Park, but had been forced out by Pittsburgh Police. Local churches are being tapped to provide places for protesters to sleep, one said.
Walter Jacobs, a “South Hills resident” and member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, made it clear that his group, which was carrying a banner and taking up the tail end of the march, intends to change the system.
“We want to build a movement to build working class power. We think the means of production should be controlled by the workers,” Jacobs said.
Though he was quite boyish-looking and clearly didn’t want to be identified as a resident of Mt. Lebanon, Upper St. Clair or Bethel Park (we won’t say from which he hailed), Jacobs was saying some powerful things. The culture of short-sightedness and greed is ingrained in Americans, but not inevitable, he said.
“We need to work on organizing people and fighting back. Our real enemy is not each other…We need to fight the capitalists,” Jacobs said.
Veterans For Peace member Mike Hastie, in town from Portland, Oregon for the G-20 Summit, clicked away with his camera, chronicling the event. “The corporate rich are taking our jobs and exporting them overseas,” he said.
Paul Wohlfarth, a retired auto worker from Toledo, carried a sign that read “Short term fix, long term debt.” He said he and many others see where the country is heading.
“It’s heading for bankruptcy,” Wohlfarth said. “We’ve been listening to the 1 percent, and they lead us astray. That system doesn’t work.”