July 27, 2011

Activism

On Tuesday morning, July 26, I received an e-mail message from MoveOn.org. It said, in part
In his speech last night, President Obama called on Americans to contact Congress demanding an approach to the deficit that makes millionaires and corporations pay their share. MoveOn.org posterSo many did that they crashed the House’s servers.

Today, we’re taking that pressure directly to Rep. Murphy’s office in Pittsburgh. The office is at 504 Washington Road.
Clicking on a link further down in the message offered specific instructions for a noon demonstration and a variety of signs that could be printed. (A sample is at the right.)

I can’t recall ever participating in a demonstration, but I decided that pressuring a Republican congressman to behave like an adult was a good place to start. I had neither the materials nor the time to assemble a truly respectable sign to carry, but I did have some letter-size card stock. I did what I could and checked the map to figure out where I might park.

I parked a couple of blocks from Congressman Murphy’s office. I got to the office about 11:45. One woman was already there, showing a couple of signs pasted on poster board to passing cars. Clearly, she was part of the demonstration, but I was a bit embarrassed at the prospect of perhaps being half a demonstration, so I decided to take a bit of a walk beyond the office. By the time I returned, another 10 or so people had shown up, and I felt more comfortable being part of the group. Over the next few minutes, more people arrived. Below is the scene in front of Congressman Murphy’s office soon after I joined the demonstration. (For this and other photos, click on the photo for a larger view.)

Fellow demonstrators
At least two of MoveOn.org’s signs are visible in the picture above, but many people, like me, decided to compose our own slogans. (I hope that MoveOn.org doesn’t think we went too far off-message.) One sign, for example, said “Balanced Approach” on one side and “Compromise” on the other. A crowd favorite was “Who Elected Norquist?” I was jealous of those who had attached their signs to sticks of some sort. Being new to this sort of thing, I didn’t have an appropriate device at hand, so I could only hold my letter-size sign in one hand or two.

At first, it was not clear to whom the signs were addressed. No one could be seen in the office, but people were holding signs where passing motorists could see them. Lots of people looked, many honked in support, so we had a wider audience than I expected. Some demonstrators, including the woman I saw when I first arrived, decided to go across the street to show their signs to northbound vehicles.

Demonstrators across the street
Several Mt. Lebanon police cars drove by, and, eventually, a couple of policemen came by and placed a few traffic cones in the street. They didn’t stick around.

Eventually, a couple of aides emerged from the office and began talking to the crowd and collecting names and contact information. One man—it was not clear whether he worked for the congressman or not—distributed bottles of water. This was much appreciated on a hot July day. The crowd was good-natured, and the congressman’s staff did a fine job both of explaining Congressman Murphy’s position and listening to what people had to say. (The congressman is too conservative for my taste, but he is not a Tea Party crazy.)

I left before the crowd broke up—it wasn’t clear how we were to decide that the demonstration was over—and I went home and uploaded some of my photos to MoveOn.org. Before I left, however, a fellow activist offered to take my picture with my sign, which you can see below.

My sign

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