Report on Successful Shutdown
of Warfare Robotics Facility
3 March 2007
From: Pittsburgh Organizing Group (POG)
Pittsburgh Report on Successful Shutdown of Warfare Robotics Facility
On Friday, March 2, Pittsburgh Organizing Group (POG) and supporters set out to shut down the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC), a largely Pentagon-funded venture of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) that has become a world leader in warfare robotics. The action succeeded beyond the organizers' expectations.
Two actions were organized for the purpose of creating a barricade. The first was a non-publicized effort by four affinity groups to barricade the main entrances through the use of lockboxes (long pipes through which people's hands are locked together) and a tripod. These groups deployed at 5am, before police were on the scene. This action alone blocked all vehicular access to NREC and severely disrupted the possibility of pedestrian traffic. The second piece of the action was a publicly announced 7:30am march from Friendship Park to NREC, which also intended to barricade the facility. As expected, a large number of police were deployed at various locations to ensure the march would not be able to successfully create a barricade.
It is no surprise that when you announce public plans for a shutdown of a three block-long multi-million dollar facility, especially one heavily funded by the military, that the state may make plans to stop you. The point of the unannounced action was to occupy and hold the space we wanted before the police arrived. The march was intended to bring more people to an ongoing barricade and leave open the possibility of a second attempt if the first was quickly removed. Instead of being forced to push through police lines, with the large confrontation and heavy risks that would have entailed, many people were already where they wanted to be.
It was large-scale disobedience that shut down the facility. Thirty-four people blockaded the main entrances to the facility in the largest act of civil disobedience/direct action in Pittsburgh since the war began. This action marked the first use of lockboxes, U-locks and tripods in Pittsburgh, and that allowed us to hold the space we did for as long as we did. Having brought in members of Homeland Security one week before the action to train police on how to remove us, it still took the police over five hours to get 15 protesters out of the street, three hours after the police and paramedics actually began trying to cut people out. In the end, the police had deployed 50+ officers from a variety of departments, mostly concentrated at the back gate. FBI members were filming from an observable window across the street.
Midway through the action, the protest marching band showed up playing tunes and waving flags, keeping everyone's spirits high. A banner was dropped from the nearby 40th Street Bridge that read, "Shut Down the War Machine: Stop NREC." (The day before, current and former CMU students dropped a banner on CMU's campus that read, "Don't be a Cog in a War Machine.") Protesters at the front barricades unlocked and dismounted around noon after learning that we had successfully shut the facility down for the day, seven hours after we arrived.
The barricade remained as long as it did because POG utilized a new tactic. This success may otherwise have required hundreds of people engaging in direct confrontation with the police, which would likely have resulted in injuries and a much worse legal situation for the movement.
The action received what might be the most extensive coverage of any local anti-war protest since the beginning of the war. Most of the corporate and independent media in attendance interviewed people on the scene, sometimes reporting live, and throughout the day as well. Links to all the print, TV and photo coverage can be found on the March 2nd website, www.organizepittsburgh.org/m2 .
Not surprisingly, CMU's media response was to argue that the barricade did not completely affect their work. Through telecommuting, off-site events and a rearranging of schedules, they made other arrangements that allowed "nearly everyone" to continue some type of work.
But they missed the point of this action entirely. What we said we'd do, and did in fact do, was barricade the NREC facility as a tangible act of resistance against the war. Our goal was not to hold employees hostage at their homes to ensure they couldn't work on a military project, nor did we intend to stalk people to see what they were working on outside the facility. Much like our repeated shutdowns of the military recruiting station, this action was intended to interject an anti-war message at a war-related facility that has thus far received no public scrutiny.
Forcing recruiters to alter their schedules or denying them access to their offices, delaying the production of military equipment, occupying the offices of legislators, barricading a world leader in warfare robotics - none of these actions are some magic bullet to end war or force a structural change in society. All the work we do is in conjunction with a myriad of other education and action tactics by millions of other people in the country. Petitions, phone calls, letters to the editor, teach-ins, anti-war art, acts of direct action and civil disobedience all serve their part. A movement is spawned and nurtured by creating a climate of systematic resistance throughout large sectors of society. All of these actions contribute to a visible resistance to war, empire and occupation that is growing. POG sees our role, and capability, as continuing to push the movement towards direct action through well-tested methods and experimentation in new tactical directions.
We want to thank everyone who took part in the action, especially the folks who travelled from Illinois, Ohio, Maryland and elsewhere to risk arrest. We also want to thank folks who participated in solidarity outside the jail, which probably helped reduce the size of the bail (Pittsburghers were releaased ROR; out-of-towners had to paid $100/each). In addition, thanks go to all of those who gave money and sent messages of support, the marching band, the supporters who housed people, mad props to the boom-boom-bamf group, and everyone who gave us the benefit of the doubt that we wouldn't be completely crushed by the state!
There are court appearances to come. There is also the certainty that we will continue to take on the military recruitment apparatus and confront CMU's direct contribution to warfare.
With love, solidarity and resistance.
Pittsburgh Organizing Group
POG C/O TMC 5125 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh PA, 15224