Mary Persuit marched Saturday through the streets of Downtown Pittsburgh, saying she was excited to take part in a demonstration and movement she believes is just beginning.
“I think this is awesome,” said Persuit, of Sewickley, as marchers gathered in Market Square for a larger rally. “This is the beginning of something great.”
Young and old, college students and retirees, union and non-union workers met this morning at Freedom Corner in the Hill District for a short rally. The crowd then took to the streets, stretching for about four blocks in a march Downtown.
To the accompaniment of bongo drums and bull horns, marchers carried signs and chanted such messages as, “The banks got bailed out, we got sold out!” and “This is what democracy looks like!”
Later in the day, marchers moved from Market Square to the Mellon Green park adjacent to the BNY Mellon Tower at Grant Street and Sixth Avenue. In a statement, organizers of Occupy Pittsburgh said Pittsburgh Police notified them at 5:30 p.m. that the bank would not attempt to oust them from the green as long as their gathering is peaceful and they maintain the property.
Organizers said the march aimed to demonstrate solidarity with the global movement that is drawing attention to corporate, economic and social issues.
Nathaniel Glosser, a spokesman and organizer for the Pittsburgh event, told Patch about 4,000 people participated in the local Occupy march, based on estimates from police.
Glosser said he was pleased with that turnout.
"It's fantastic. It exceeded my expectations," he said. "I thought we'd max at 3,000."
Marchers arrived about a half-hour earlier than expected in Market Square and spontaneously began speaking with bullhorns up until 3 p.m.
Evelyn Bento of Braddock, who is in her 80s, was one of many who gathered in the square. Bento said she isn’t a sit-at-home kind of person and wanted to join other members of Braddock’s Save Our Community Hospital in the march.
The former UPMC Braddock hospital, owned by the UPMC health system, closed in 2010 and was razed despite efforts to save it by supporters in and around the Mon Valley community.
“I can’t come out for anything more important than this,” Bento said, clutching a sign aimed at banks. “Groups supported us, so I’m supporting Occupy Pittsburgh. That’s why I’m here,” she said.
Grace Cameron, 21, a sociology student at the University of Pittsburgh, said she’s been following demonstrations with the Occupy Wall Street movement and wanted to see the demonstration for herself rather than merely follow news reports of the events.
Cameron said her perception is that the movement does not have one cohesive message so much as several messages being voiced within one movement. The Pittsburgh demonstration in particular attracted everyone from unions and environmental workers to stay-at-home moms pushing strollers.
Glosser said all of the groups represented in the marches are opposed to corporate greed. He noted that Saturday's march drew people representing many organizations and political affinities, including Republicans and Libertarians.
Everyone, he said, "except those whose only political affinity is large sums of money."
Cameron said she believed that was the message.
"People are just out together. It's a peace movement,” she said.
One of those messages came from supporters of MarcellusProtest.org, who carried a banner during the march.
Briget Shields, a member of the group, said she came out because she feels like the government isn’t working for the people.
“I feel like the government is letting us down, especially in Pennsylvania right now,” said Shields, wife of Pittsburgh City Council member Doug Shields.
She said it doesn’t make matters better that many of the candidates running for office want to deregulate the gas drilling industry. She criticized Pennsylvania for being a state that, unlike others, doesn’t charge natural gas drilling companies a severance tax.
“Probably because the government was bought and paid for by the natural gas industry,” Shields said.
Pittsburgh radio talk show host Lynn Cullen, 63, of the East End, held a sign that read “Just the beginning.” She said it’s time citizens take back their country.
“Our government doesn’t represent the people. Corporations are not people,” she said.
Cullen said she’s been waiting for years to see citizens, especially young people, “rise up, stand up and speak out” the same as those from her generation did.
“And I think it’s starting to happen,” she said.