Power Shift leads Downtown protest against fossil fuel energy



In the biggest activist demonstration in Pittsburgh since the G-20 Summit in September 2009, more than 1,000 marchers snaked their way through Downtown streets Monday, chanting against continued reliance on coal and natural gas fracking, and for clean energy development and a "just economy."

The peaceful but loud march, preceded by a rally in Allegheny Landing Park on the North Side and ending with sit-ins at county Executive Rich Fitzgerald's office and several PNC Bank branch offices, was part of a "day of action" against fossil fuel energy development that ended the Power Shift 2013 summit.

That four-day conference, which usually meets every other year in Washington, D.C., was held in Pittsburgh for the first time. It attracted 7,000 participants for workshops and training in grass-roots organizing and protest strategies for climate change issues.

Fitzgerald reacts to anti-fracking protesters

Anti-fracking protesters marched in Pittsburgh today, with some occupying space outside the offices of County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. (Video by Nate Guidry and Bob Donaldson; 10/21/2013)

"We're trying to advocate for society to move beyond fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, to transition to a cleaner energy economy that will provide jobs," said Whit Jones, a leader of the Energy Action coalition, the host organization for Power Shift.

At the Allegheny Landing rally, activists from around the nation waved signs protesting a wide range of climate change-related issues, including tar sands development, mountain top removal coal mining in West Virginia, shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing across the nation and in Allegheny County parks, even mass transit cuts.

A Consol Energy tow boat and coal barge served as a backdrop on the Allegheny River for the rally, turning around in circles to show banners on either side that read "Welcome to Coal County" and "Support American Energy Support American Jobs."

Some demonstrators joked that the tow boat seemed to be circling a drain.

"The reason that barge is out there is because they're afraid. Their money is not that important to us," said 13-year-old Xiuhtezcatl, a Native American activist from Boulder, Colo., who performed several songs with her brother, Itzcuauhtli.

"People need to realize that middle school and high school kids should be involved, too," he said. "It's our generation that will be affected by climate change and fracking and the tar sands. We have to fight it, united."

Just before noon, the parade started across the Roberto Clemente Bridge into Downtown, led by a small marching band, carrying signs and chanting.

At the Downtown end of the bridge about 50 members of Boilermakers Union Local staged a counterdemonstration, waving signs that read "Stop the War on Coal," and shouting "job killers," at the passing parade.

"We just want to let them know that we have a voice in Washington, and we're going to be heard," said Ray Ventrone, business manager for the local, whose members want to continue working on pollution control retrofit projects at coal-burning power plants. "The Environmental Protection Agency wants to put restrictions on them that will cause them to stop burning coal."

The parade turned onto Fort Duquesne Boulevard, proceeded to Ninth Street, and down Liberty Avenue. When the marchers reached Sixth Street, most headed back across the Clemente Bridge to Allegheny Landing, but a third of the marchers split off and headed to the Allegheny County Courthouse, where they entered the courtyard chanting and demanding to meet with Mr. Fitzgerald about proposed drilling in county parks.

"The parks are public land and a lot of the decision-making process has been pushed through in closed-door, private meetings, between Fitzgerald and the shale gas drilling companies," said Devon Cohen of Lawrenceville, a march organizer and member of the Shadbush Collective, which is part of the anti-fracking organization Protect Our Parks. "The public needs to have a say in whether it wants that dirty industrial process in the parks."

A couple dozen anti-drilling activists entered the courthouse and Mr. Fitzgerald's office, saying they would not leave until he promised to hold multiple open meetings regarding proposed drilling.

Mr. Fitzgerald eventually addressed the protesters in the office, telling them to "Schedule an appointment."

Pittsburgh police issued a statement saying the march and rally were "peaceful and orderly" along the approved parade route, but they arrested seven protesters, members of the Earth Quaker Action Team, shortly before 2 p.m., inside a PNC Bank branch in the UPMC Tower on Grant Street.

Charged with trespass for refusing to leave the building were Walter Sullivan and George Lakey of Philadelphia: Benjamin Shaprio of Youngstown, Ohio; Michael Gagne of Wallingford, Delaware County; Amy Brimmer of Yardley, Bucks County; and Karen Leithner and Johannah Cordonhill of Bryn Mawr, Montgomery County.


Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983. Molly Born and Andrew McGill contributed. First Published October 21, 2013 2:22 PM

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