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Occupy Pittsburgh “On Sacred Ground”

Occupy Pittsburgh, like Occupy actions in many other cities, kicked off today. What had started out in the planning stages as energetic but rough-hewn and chaotic seemed to settle into a more cohesive event.

It began with a march from Freedom Corner in Pittsburgh’s Hill district – historically the starting point of many marches dating back to the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s.

The march wound through downtown streets to Market Square, close to the city’s “point” at the confluence of Pittsburgh three rivers. Press estimates of the crowd varied from 2000 to 4000. A rally lasted until mid-afternoon, and was hampered slightly by the loss of the sound system (the “people’s mic” did much to mitigate this.) [cont’d.]

Afterwards, protestors moved to occupy Mellon Green, a small park owned by BNY Mellon, but made available to the city as public space. Police announced at 5:30 p.m. that they would not evict the occupiers, in fact praising the non-violent nature of the event to local reporters.

For me, the high point of the day was the woman in this video, who pointed out to the protestors that the site of the occupation had, in 1920, been a location of one of the infamous “Palmer Raids” and today stands as sacred ground.

The Palmer Raids, if I have my history right, began in November of 1919, when then Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, assisted by the 24-year-old J. Edgar Hoover, newly installed as head of the Justice Department’s “Radicals Division”, invoked the Espionage and Sedition Acts to round up and deport dissidents and trade unionists.

Civil Libertarians of the day and since decried the raids as unlawful, in fact a low point in American law enforcement. When most of the cases were thrown out in court or not even brought to trial due to lack of evidence, Palmer along with Hoover switched tactics.

They made an appeal to many Americans’ xenophobic distrust of immigrants and continued the raids into late 1920, with the apparent support of Woodrow Wilson who had suffered an incapacitating stroke in October of 1919. Many historians view Palmer’s actions and invoking of anti-immigrant fears as being motivated by political ambition. Sound familiar?

The history of dissent, and its opponents, is long and woven deep into the American fabric. And it ain’t over yet.

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