Occupy members ponder their next move

Campers must leave BNY Mellon Green by noon today

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By court order, Occupy Pittsburgh must get off BNY Mellon Green by today, but while many of the tents were removed Sunday, it was not clear whether all of the protesters would be gone.

Matt Wheeler, for one, said Sunday he was not taking down his tent. He spoke as people folded up some of the tents that have covered the now muddy park at Grant and Ross streets, Downtown, for four months and placed them into vans.

"Everybody's going to do ... for themselves," said Mr. Wheeler, 29, a Los Angeles native who lives on the South Side.

"I think I'm starting to get the sense that a lot of people are getting excited about making a symbolic, dignified stand," said Bram Reichbaum of the North Side, who has been at the Occupy site off and on.

"My suspicion is some people may want to be led away," he added later.


"I'm not sure [what will happen]," said David Grubbs, 56, an Edgewood resident and Occupy supporter who has not been camping at the site because of other obligations. "I'm sure some will opt for civil disobedience. Others will be outside showing support."

Some Occupy members said Sunday that support would come in the form of a march at noon today to the City-County Building, Downtown.

Others said a news conference will be held at noon today at the protest site.

Occupy Pittsburgh is one of the offshoots of the Occupy Wall Street movement that have sprung up around the country to protest economic inequality.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Christine A. Ward ruled Thursday that Occupy Pittsburgh must leave BNY Mellon's park, where it has been encamped since Oct. 15, saying it was causing the corporation "immediate and irreparable harm." She gave the protesters three days to get out after BNY Mellon filed a $10,000 bond with the court, which was done at 11:55 a.m. Friday.

But Judge Ward also noted in her 21-page opinion that the occupiers had achieved at least some of their goals.

"They have been able to spread their message -- the message of the 99 percent -- to people walking past and sometimes entering their encampment," she wrote. "They have benefited from the expressive conduct of occupying the land, a protest symbol, which has undoubtedly impressed certain messages upon passersby." And, she continued, the publicity engendered by the eviction "may even assist in communicating the Occupiers' message."

Occupiers here said they believe the movement has had an impact.

"The corporation is still valued more over people's rights ... [but it's] changed the dialogue as a whole," Mr. Wheeler said. "Last year, they were talking about the deficit. This year, they're talking about jobs creation.

"President [Barack] Obama's State of the Union [address] was all Occupy rhetoric."

"It's definitely made people aware and wakened people up," said Laney Trautman, 23, of the West End, who has at been at the park since Oct. 15. "It's brought people together and made them aware of what's going on."

She said she hopes another site will be found to occupy, but, she added, "just because we lose the park doesn't mean the movement is over."

At a news conference Friday, Quinn Elliott, 20, of East Liberty said the fact that the protesters would soon be gone didn't mean the movement was a failure. Ms. Elliott said she moved into the park on the movement's first day.

"If it's a failure, it's a failure of the system, not of us," she said, provoking cheers from surrounding supporters.

"We're trying to address the grievances of our community. We're not trying to impede anyone's rights; we're not trying to do anything wrong. We're pursuing justice. ..."

"We are the 99 percent!" the crowd chanted.

"You can't evict an idea whose time has come," Jeff Cech of Greenfield, an Occupy Pittsburgh member who did not live in the park, said Friday.

But four months after Occupy Pittsburgh's first meeting, many outsiders struggled to define the movement or what it had accomplished.

Some people passing through Downtown on Friday thought the group was wasting its time. Others supported the campers but had no idea what their message was. Many were somewhere in between, saying they supported the messages decrying economic inequality but thought the protests were poorly executed.

Joyce Kartychak, 60, an office manager for Downtown occularist Walter Tillman, was baffled by the protesters and their presence in Pittsburgh. "We don't have Wall Street here. We don't have any super big businesses here," she said Friday. "I don't think they accomplished anything really."

Many of the protesters, who she guessed were in their 20s or 30s, seemed "almost like a bunch of kids who had nothing better to do than hang out," she said.

Robert Clark, 61, a mail clerk in the City-County Building, said protesters are "trying to do the right thing -- protesting whatever they're protesting."

Lauren Wallace, 21, a University of Pittsburgh student who works in human resources with UPMC, said she thinks it's "nice that they're out doing something," but that she didn't have a clear idea what they were protesting.

Pohla Smith: psmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228. Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968. Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com , 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. First Published February 6, 2012 5:00 AM


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