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101 Years Ago – The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

By: RFShunt Sunday March 25, 2012 7:02 pm
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, flickr

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, flickr

On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire took the lives of 146 workers — mostly young immigrant women — and galvanized a movement for social justice.

I can offer no more moving description that the one I found here:

275 girls started to collect their belongings as they were leaving work at 4:45 PM on Saturday. Within twenty minutes some of girls’ charred bodies were lined up along the East Side of Greene Street. Those girls who flung themselves from the ninth floor were merely covered with tarpaulins where they hit the concrete. The Bellevue morgue was overrun with bodies and a makeshift morgue was set up on the adjoining pier on the East River. Hundred’s of parents and family members came to identify their lost loved ones. 146 employees of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company were dead the night of March 25, 1911. The horror of their deaths led to numerous changes in occupational safety standards that currently ensure the safety of workers today.

At the time of the fire the only safety measures available for the workers were 27 buckets of water and a fire escape that would collapse when people tried to use them. Most of the doors were locked and those that were not locked only opened inwards and were effectively held shut by the onrush of workers escaping the fire. As the clothing materials feed the fire workers tried to escape anyway they could. 25 passengers flung themselves down the elevator shaft trying to escape the fire. Their bodies rained blood and coins down onto the employees who made it into the elevator cars…

Blood and coins.

Perhaps that little phrase captures it all, as we – for whatever stupid and shortsighted reasons – revisit the questions of whether or not we allow corporations free reign over our lives.

One hundred and one years is far in the past – plenty of time to let the lessons of history be lost. Let us not forget.

Blood and coins.

When It’s Steamboat Time, You Steam… (My First Year as a Member at Firedoglake)

By: RFShunt Wednesday February 29, 2012 7:05 am

No Known Restrictions: Ben Campbell, Steamboat, ca. 1852-1860 by Unknown (LOC)

Ben Campbell, Steamboat, ca. 1852-1860 by Unknown (LOC) Public Domain from the Library of Congress

I am not, by nature, a joiner.

Maybe it’s because I tend to be reserved. (Pass middle age, and it becomes ridiculous to be shy, instead you call it reserved ) Maybe it’s because I’m skeptical. (Pass middle age, and your BS detector gets exquisitely tuned.) Maybe it’s because I value my time spent alone. (Pass middle age, and you finally, mercifully, come to like yourself.)

Still, reticent skeptic though I am, when Firedoglake announced their membership program a year ago, I signed right up. Jane and her cohorts practice a form of reporting and activism that is exceptionally savvy and pragmatic. And creating a community to further that activism was maybe the best example of that keen understanding of what works and what doesn’t. I knew joining would be the right choice.

And so it was – the past year has been amazing. When the Occupy Movement started, FDL’s response was predictably smart and practical. With winter around the corner, the occupations would need to keep warm. FDL’s response to that, Occupy Supply, was activism at its best: effective, ethical and, most importantly, built around direct engagement through locals who knew their town. And in that way, I became a liaison to my occupation here in Pittsburgh.

Certainly, it’s been gratifying to bring needed warm clothes to the occupiers who are changing so much in the political landscape. There is nothing quite like seeing somebody working out there in the cold realize that they are getting socks that are rated to forty below. But for me, it went beyond that.

To do the liaison job right, it’s vital to return to the occupation again and again, to understand the needs and the people. Do this enough, and you cannot remain a disinterested outsider, you become a participant. And for me, this began a remarkable journey.

That journey is a little hard to explain, and a story might help. With the occupiers, and in concert with Occupy the Hood, I attended a Summit on Racism, It was a day of presentations and workshops with a couple of hundred participants. There, among the activists I found a former co-worker from a radio station where I had once worked, advocating for tax reforms. At lunch I found myself sitting next to a long-ago colleague from the local media arts center, now a leader in the movement for LGBT rights. And, remarkably, I found not one, but two people from my high school – my tiny, very conservative, and very white high school – there working for racial and social justice. Who knew?

In becoming more active, I found a rich community, working for the same things I believe in. That community had always been there, just around the corner. But to find it, it took being nudged out of my comfort zone. It took a blog in another city to do that. Thank you, Jane, Bev, Ryan, Brian, all of you. I do a lot more things that could rightly be called activism now. And I’m not going back. There is too much to do beyond the cozy confines of my computer desk. My world is changed now, broader, richer.

And just in time, too. Because more than my own little life is in flux. You know what I’m talking about. There are so many signs. The Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, the revitalized attitude of the young, the new note of hollowness in the former roar of conservative voices. What once seemed immovable is shifting.

You might wonder at the title of my post. Mark Twain said it. It means something along the lines of “There is nothing like the power of an idea whose time has come.” Only Twain is more pithy and apt. Like FDL, he was savvy and pragmatic too. He understood that the powerful new idea doesn’t passively take hold on its own. It needs people to take it up, spread it, act upon it. It needs steam.

You can remain dockside. You can stay in the familiar place, thinking that the lonely stretch of riverbank you see, where nothing seems to get better, is all there is. You can read and comment and shake your head. That’s what I had been doing. But what I discovered, what I was coaxed into discovering, is that there are better things just around the bend in the river, a marvelous journey that awaits those who are willing to embark.

This is membership drive week here at FDL and it won’t surprise you to hear that I highly recommend joining. It’s a good community, smart, full of potential, engaged and active. Certainly, without question, now is the time to act. It’s a decisive time, a watershed time.

It is, in short, Steamboat Time. I say, book your passage and let’s steam.

Trojan Horses, Rick-Rolls and Multi-Angle Livestreaming as Pgh Awaits Eviction

By: RFShunt Monday February 6, 2012 11:57 pm


The Occupy Pittsburgh encampment is a site of uneasy anticipation as people have gathered to support the occupation during what is probably its last hours at People’s Park (formerly Mellon Green). The day of waiting produced a great deal that is metaphorical of this ad hoc social movement.

Occupiers have used wooden pallets that formerly functioned as platforms for tents and walkways to construct a symbolic Trojan horse. No word on whether BNY/Mellon plans to take it inside the gates to their neighboring tower.

The arrival of police escorting workmen tasked with reassembling fencing that had been taken apart sparked the promised rick-rolling with attendant dancing, creating a festive break in what is becoming a wary vigil.

Local television media have been taping all day, with some reporters adopting an adversarial and dismissive tone – unaware that multi-camera, multi-angle livestreaming done by the occupation itself provided far more extensive and immediate coverage. This is perhaps the most symbolic of the many symbols of this occupation – the lack of awareness by the media that considers itself mainstream of the future that may render it obsolete.

UPDATE: 11:00 A.M. 2/7/12
BNY/MELLON has closed People’s Park and has posted a “No Trespassing” notice. No word from the Allegheny Country Sheriff.

Members of Occupy Pittsburgh Make Statement on Pending Eviction

By: RFShunt Friday February 3, 2012 9:00 pm

Quinn Elliott and Jeff Cech each make personal statements in a press conference moments after Allegheny County Sheriff’s Deputies post eviction notices around the Occupy Pittsburgh encampment on Mellon Green – now called People’s Park by members of the occupation.

Bank of New York/Mellon had secured a temporary injunction on Thursday for Occupy Pittsburgh to vacate the parklet on bank property that adjoins their Pittsburgh headquarters. The legal case centered on issues of public accessibility of what is called “Urban Open Space”

Reporters’ questions and the Occupiers’ responses to follow in a second video.

Judge Gives Occupy Pittsburgh Three Days to Vacate

By: RFShunt Thursday February 2, 2012 3:25 pm

Judge Christine A Ward issued a decision today finding in favor of BNY/Mellon and against Occupy Pittsburgh. The 23-page ruling sides with the bank’s claim of immediate and irreparable harm, and gives the occupation 3 days to remove tents and personal belongings, cease camping, and comply with all BNY/Mellon notices.

The ruling, despite a sometimes sympathetic tone towards Occupy Pittsburgh’s message, finds that the bank met nearly all the criteria for a temporary injunction which allows for eviction before a full hearing of the case.

Much of the ruling centers on the whether or not the park is public or private – based on the City of Pittsburgh’s zoning of certain areas as “Open Urban Space”. The judge came down solidly on the side of the area being private.

In her ruling, Judge Ward described the occupation as “…an invasion of BNY Mellon’s right to possess Mellon Green and close it in the winter months as it has normally done…”

The judge’s order requires BNY/Mellon to post a $10,000 bond at which point the order will become effective.

Jules Lobel, an attorney for Occupy Pittsburgh, said in a statement to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

“She really deferred to private property, even though it is designated urban open space, built with public subsidies with the idea it would be a public plaza,” he said. “I don’t think she got the First Amendment right.”

Allegheny Country Sheriff William Mullen also told the Post-Gazette that if the occupiers don’t leave on their own within the 3 days, then BNY Mellon will have to file a request for eviction. He would instruct his officers to carry out the eviction, but hoped it would not come to that. “They’ve been very cooperative with us. In a perfect world, they’ll be gone by Monday.”

Members of Occupy Pittsburgh have yet to make their intentions as to whether to comply with an eviction order known.

Stay tuned.

Koch Bros. Mouthpiece Tells Occupy: “Forget the 1%, Go After Granny”

By: RFShunt Thursday February 2, 2012 6:30 am

The uproariously named “Reason.tv” has a video out entitled “Why Geezers Are the True Enemy of the Occupy Movement” featuring Veronique de Rugy. In the video, Ms. de Rugy explains to young occupiers that the elderly have done deplorably well in the preceding few decades. This makes Nonna and Nonno the natural enemies of the young and should therefore be stripped of Social Security and Medicare. In her defense, she does stop short of suggesting they be taken to the nearest frozen mountaintop and set adrift.

Lest she be mistaken for some class warrior, Ms. de Rugy hastens to point out that even though many of the aged are rolling in enough gelt to keep them in poligrip and corrective shoes for the rest of their lives, they differ from the one-percent. The heroic one-percenters, you see, amassed their riches by making contributions to the economy, unlike grandma who fritters away her days watching Matlock reruns and has yet to outsource a single job.

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research analyst with the Mercatus Center of George Mason University. If I were her, given her own analysis, I’d worry about that senior part.

A Tale of Two Homewoods: Martin Luther King Day in Pittsburgh

By: RFShunt Tuesday January 17, 2012 12:20 pm

We Are All Witnesses
On a cold January night two years ago, Jordan Miles, an 18-year-old honor student and viola player at Pittsburgh’s Creative and Performing Arts High School , left his home on Tioga Street to walk the 30 yards to his grandmother’s house. He intended to spend the evening with her as he often did. He never got to his Grandmother’s door. En route, three undercover police officers in an unmarked car saw him and felt that he was behaving suspiciously. Before the evening ended, Jordan Miles was arrested and received injuries serious enough to require hospitalization and from which he is still recovering.

This Monday, Martin Luther King day, a rally and march was held to honor the day and show support for Jordan Miles and his family. The event was attended by a wide range of organizations, including Alliance for Police Accountability, One Pittsburgh, NAACP, One Hood, Occupy Pgh, Kuumba, Occupy the Hood, Black Political Empowerment Project(B-PEP), African American Leadership Association(AALA) and others.

There are two accounts of what happened that night: the police officers’ and Jordan Miles’. Two accounts that are completely different, completely irreconcilable, and completely appalling to the residents of this Pittsburgh neighborhood.

The police officers say they noticed a bulge in Mr Miles’ jacket pocket, which they felt might be a weapon, identified themselves as police and then pursued Mr Miles when he ran, first tasering him and when that was unsuccessful, struck him multiple times until he was subdued. The supposed weapon, police say, later turned out to be a bottle of Mountain Dew.

Jordan Miles says that they did not identify themselves as police officers, but rather demanded to know where the money, drugs or guns were. Mr Miles said he was afraid that he was about to be robbed and that is why he ran. He also says he was not in possession of a bottle of soda, or anything else.

What is not in dispute is that Jordan Miles was beaten severely enough to be hospitalized, had a large handful of his hair torn out, and later had any charges against him dropped.

Both Jordan Miles and the three police officers have taken and passed polygraph lie-detector tests. Both police and Mr. Miles have had their accounts supported by expert witnesses. Pittsburgh District Attorney, Stephen Zappala has declined to bring charges against the police officers and the U.S. Attorney’s offices has decided not to look into the case.

OccuCuddle Puddle: Good Thing or Bad Thing? – Occupy Pgh Eviction Hearing Concludes

By: RFShunt Wednesday January 11, 2012 8:10 pm

Paul O'Hanlon and Helen Gerhardt discuss the BNY/Mellon Hearing - photo: 'Dmitri' Beljan used by permission
Paul O’Hanlon and Helen Gerhardt discuss the BNY/Mellon Hearing – photo: ‘Dmitri’ Beljan used by permission

Arguments concluded today in the hearing to determine whether or not Bank of New York/Mellon should get an emergency injunction to immediately evict Occupy Pittsburgh from property owned by the bank but zoned as open public space. The outcome will not be known for at least two weeks.

Proceedings at times occupied unusual ground of their own – with Rick Astley rolling into the testimony and plaintiffs’ high-powered attorneys extensively quoting snarky tweets and requesting the definition of an “OccuCuddle Puddle”

A better reporter than I would make you wait for the details of the above incidents while he first outlined the pertinent points of the case. But I assume, gentle reader, that you are as lacking in impulse control as I am, so let’s get straight to the surreality, shall we.

The day’s first witness was a young but very self-possessed man named Mike Lawson. BNY’s lead attorney, during cross-examination, pressed him rather hard on questions of how prepared and functional a leaderless organization could be.

“Is Occupy Pittsburgh leaderless?” (Yes and no, everyone is a leader.) “Who does BNY go to with concerns?” (Anyone.) Who sets the rules? (The General Assembly) Have people been removed for rule-breaking? (Yes.) Have the gone peaceably? (Yes.) Does the GA have documented plans for those who won’t? (No, the group de-escalates the sitution.) Are you content to just not plan for this? (Yes.)

The line of questioning ended with this: “Is there any plan for handling the arrival of police to evict the camp” (Yes, the plan is to sing ‘Never gonna give you up’ by Rick Astley.)

BNY/Mellon’s elderly and impeccibly-dressed lead counsel then surprised the courtroom by asking “That is known as being ‘Rick-rolled’ is it not?” Somewhere, the ghost of Eugene Ionesco smiled contentedly to itself.

The cross-examination of the second witness, Don Carpenter, a veteran of Afghanistan, relied heavily on his twitter activity, meticulously documented by BNY’s phalanx of lawyers. (I counted at least 10.) This line of questioning was introduced early on. Trust me, you have not lived until you’ve heard a corporate attorney in a suit worth more than the bluebook value of your car intone the words: “Do you tweet”

Much was made of Mr Carpenter’s dark humor in those tweets as he described the arrest of an acquaintance, an incident (unrelated to Occupy Pittsbugh) involving New Year’s eve property damage and his repeated attempts to get a particularly stone-faced BNY security man to smile.

The BNY lawyer concluded his questioning by reading from a tweet that mentioned the OccuCuddle Puddle.

“i know this is not relevant, but I just have to ask – what is an OccuCuddle Puddle?”

Mr Carpenter went on to describe the phenomenon of people gathering in one tent on cold evenings to talk and laugh and keep each other warm – then eventually falling asleep.

“The OccuCuddle Puddle, is that a good thing or a bad thing?” asked the lawyer.

Oooo, Oooo, pick me. I have an answer. It might be the best thing in court all day.

There’s so much more. The detailed inquiry into a hookah in a BNY photo and all possible uses it could have, the exact purpose of a much talked about turkey fryer – but reluctantly it is now time to leave the realm of Rod Serling and go on to the case itself.

A little background. The park, Mellon Green, where the occupiers have their tents, is zoned as “Open Public Space.” This type of designation is quite old in Pittsburgh, dating back to the post-WWII “renaissance” of the city. Significant downtown property owners are often required to provide such openly accessible and public areas. For the first few weeks, BNY/Mellon offered no objection to the occupation.

This began to change in early November as they presented a list of guidelines, which, among other things, prohibited heaters, cook stoves and fuels. Although there is some dispute as to the timeliness of it, those guidelines appear to have been met. And BNY/Mellon gave no indication at the time that they were unhappy with the compliance to those guidelines Then, on December 9, the bank posted a notice insisting that tents and other gear be removed and occupiers vacate.

BNY/Mellon is asking for an injunction to have an eviction occur immediately, before a full trial. Because of the public nature of the green, they cannot do this based on trespassing. Instead, they have the burden of proving several things. Among them are: irreparable harm being done; activities that are against the public’s interest; a case with such strong merit that it can bypass the normal trial; or an unacceptable change to the status quo of the park.

A lot of the questioning by BNY revolved around the implication that occupiers were ill-prepared to reside in the park, especially with the onset of cold weather. Considerable time was spent on the response to the November guidelines. Much of the testimony looked into the camp’s procedures and habits, and even overall philosophy – even getting into the question of what constituted theft. A claim that security guards had seen and videotaped a fire in a 55 gallon drum resulted in the plaintiffs’ attorneys not being able to produce the videotape

It’s worth noting that Firedoglake’s own Occupy Supply helped Occupy Pittsburgh make the case that adequate preparation and planning had in fact happened. Records of cold weather gear delivered to the occupation by Occupy Supply were entered as evidence and brought up in witness’s testimony.

The hearing ended with an interesting turn of events concerning whether or not the occupation interfered with normal operations of the park, with the aforementioned status quo. This came from the testimony of the final witness, attorney Paul O’Hanlon, who filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief.

Mr O’Hanlon, who is disabled, co-chairs an organization called the “City-County Task Force on Disabilities” and is also a supporter of Occupy Pittsburgh. Part of BNY/Mellon’s case is that they have closed the park each winter because of concerns over snow and ice, and the occupation is prohibiting them from continuing this precedent. However, as Mr O’Hanlon discovered and will apparently put in his brief, the bank may have been violating the zoning requirement. The only part of the park that remains open in winter is a narrow passageway between the green area of the park and the BNY/Mellon tower. This space is comprised of 3 flights of concrete steps and is inaccessible to the disabled.

Aattorneys for the bank offered to meet with Mr O’Hanlon to address his concerns as soon as possible.

The judge hearing the case, Christine Ward, adjourned the court but not before making the statement that it was a privilege for her to hear such a case, which involved what she view as important issues. She also took pains to praise the demeanor of the attorneys and witnesses on all sides.

Members of the legal team of Occupy Pittsburgh were pleased with the testimony of their witnesses. They also felt confident BNY/Mellon had likely failed to meet the burden of proof needed for the temporary injunction.

Both sides will now await the transcripts from the two days of hearings (and, boy howdy, do I want to get my own copy of that) They then have two weeks to file final briefs at which point Judge Ward will make her determination on whether to grant the injunction for an immediate eviction.

Stay tuned.