Occupiers declare city victory, leave Mellon Green
Occupy Pittsburgh protesters hold one final news conference Wednesday before leaving the Mellon Green, Downtown.
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A small, lingering contingent of Occupy Pittsburgh protesters marched out of Mellon Green Wednesday -- two days after a court-appointed eviction deadline -- declaring victory and vowing not to let their cause die.
The one or two dozen people who had remained in the park left behind damaged tents and a wooden "trojan horse" as a final act of defiance.
"This is not over," protester Helen Gerhardt said. "We will work to serve our communities ... to shine the light on the ways in which corporations are damaging these communities."
Occupy Pittsburgh protesters have been vague about their plans for the future, partially because some of them haven't been finalized. Several said they plan to hold teach-ins and rallies about labor issues, transit cuts and other topics. Some have said they would like to begin another encampment in the spring, possibly returning to Mellon Green if they can find a way to do so.
The group set up camp in Mellon Green, BNY Mellon's privately owned park on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Grant Street, on Oct. 15. BNY Mellon asked the group to leave in December and, when it didn't, filed a lawsuit asking a judge to help remove the protesters.
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Christine A. Ward gave protesters until mid-day Monday to remove their belongings and to abide by the company's posted declaration that the park was closed.
When Allegheny County sheriff's deputies didn't arrive that night or the night after, Occupy Pittsburgh supporters began to speculate about what could be happening, several protesters said.
Wednesday, to the surprise of even some supporters, Occupy Pittsburgh released a statement announcing that its protesters planned to voluntarily march out of the camp and applauding Allegheny County Sheriff William Mullen, whose office was tasked with evicting them.
"BNY Mellon has not been able to force our elected Sheriff, William P. Mullen, to disavow himself from his role to protect democracy and suppress the free speech rights of Occupy Pittsburgh," the group wrote. "We know that Sheriff Mullen does this at risk of being in contempt of court, and we appreciate and applaud his informed judgment and willingness to stand up for the rights of his constituents."
Sheriff Mullen asked to withhold comment until today. He had previously said that deputies would act at a time that was convenient for them.
Occupy Pittsburgh's numbers have fluctuated vastly. One month into the "encampment," protesters estimated that 50 to 60 people were sleeping in tents on the green. Over the past week, those numbers had dipped down to the single digits.
Critics viewed the dwindling number of campers, whose message some of them found murky and hard to discern, as a sign that the group was no longer passionate about its cause. They viewed the muddy state of the park, which was once covered in green grass, as evidence of disrespect.
Occupy Pittsburgh protesters attribute the dwindling numbers to cold weather, the threat of eviction and the need to balance protesting with family and job obligations. They also said they have a strong network of people supporting them outside of the camp, and one or two said they might be willing to help BNY Mellon replant part of Mellon Green.
The most consistent campers, some of whom are homeless, gathered to mark what several people called the "first chapter" in their group's story. They hugged one another and applauded in between remarks as people reaffirmed their intentions to keep protesting and described the family-like bond they had formed with one another.
"I lost my place to live, and I have no clue where I'm going," said one protester, who identifies himself only as T-Bone. "In my heart, this will always be home."
First Published February 9, 2012 12:00 am