Despite a week of police-related violence, Still We Rise: The 2016 People’s March peacefully trailed through downtown Pittsburgh Friday afternoon, filling the streets with bright colors and music in the process.
About 40 organizations — including New York Communities for Change, Common Good Ohio and Action United — and more than 1,000 people marched from the David L. Lawrence Convention Center to the Station Square office of Sen. Pat Toomey, R-PA, in protest of inequality and hate.
Friday’s march was part of the People’s Convention — a two-day convention discussing social issues such as climate justice, immigration and economic inequality. The Center for Popular Democracy and CPD Action presented the convention, which runs Friday through Saturday at the Convention Center.
Emily Terrana from Open Buffalo, a civic initiative in Buffalo, New York, focused on improving equity and justice, said collaborative actions show “the outside world” and people within the organizations the importance of their work.
“It really shows how much power we have when we come together,” Terrana said. “Oftentimes, folks can feel really isolated in the work that they do. [Actions like the march] give life to one another so that we can continue to exist and fight on.”
La’tasha Mayes, the executive director of New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice and a Pitt alum, said marches such as Still We Rise are important because “we have so far to go” on social issues.
“Every time you have an action like this, it’s to bring awareness,” Mayes said. “It’s supposed to mobilize people who are most impacted by these issues. We have to have leaders, we have to have advocates, we have to have organizers to make a difference.”
A large phoenix puppet with a 35-foot wingspan was at the head of the march. The CPD asked KT Tierney, a Pitt alum, and a group of others who make puppets for marches and similar events. Tierney said the phoenix, which also appeared on flags and shirts organizers distributed to demonstrators, symbolizes rising from the ashes.
“People face oppression, and from that oppression, they can still triumph,” Tierney said. “It’s kind of a rebirth.”
Before reaching its final destination, the march leaders stopped at several Downtown locations to protest corporate and governmental offices. Among the stops were the Allegheny County Courthouse, Bank of New York Mellon, the U.S. Steel Tower — where protesters held signs decrying UPMC’s treatment of employees — and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland offices.
JoEllen Chernow, the director of special projects at CPD, said the CPD has been planning the convention for a year, while the march has been in development for about five months.
“This is a really important moment for people to be coming together,” Chernow said. “People are afraid already in their communities. These [issues] are things keeping every one of these people up at night.”
Before reaching Station Square, marchers crossed the Smithfield Street Bridge and waved to kayakers in the Monongahela River. A sign reading “Stop Oil Trains” floated across the water, tied to each of the kayaks.
Outside of Toomey’s offices, a wall of Styrofoam “Toomey stones” served as the backdrop for a series of speakers, including Teresa Hill of Action United and Debbie Soto of Organize Now from Orlando, Florida.
The wall of Toomey stones read, “Here lie profits over people, homophobia, divisive politics and empty promises, racism and hate, climate change denial.” Following the speeches, members of the crowd cheered as the wall fell, symbolizing the necessity of overcoming institutional obstacles.
As part of the march’s finale, rappers Jasiri X, LiveFromTheCity and Tyhir Frost performed as representatives of 1Hood Media, a Pittsburgh collective of socially conscious hip-hop artists and activists.
“When we say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ we’re not saying only black lives matter,” Jasiri said before starting his performance. “We say ‘Black Lives Matter’ because if you watch the news, if you watch television, it’s black people that are being shot down.”
The march and convention happened to coincide with the fatal police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, which sparked controversy after videos connected to the incidents went viral on social media.
Micah Johnson, a black man angered by the deaths of Sterling and Castile, shot and killed five Dallas police officers, injuring seven other officers and two civilians during a Black Lives Matter march Thursday night.
On Friday afternoon, Mayor Bill Peduto announced plans to hold a communitywide peace summit next week “to work together to address fear and violence.” Peduto, in collaboration with Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, plans to gather leaders in law enforcement, faith-based organizations, activist groups, corporations and government.
“We are all affected by the violence in our communities — whether it be here in Pittsburgh, in Dallas or so many other cities — and we all must do everything we can to stop it,” Peduto said in a release. “Pittsburgh is a strong and resilient place, and our bonds are even stronger when all of us in the city work together.”
The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership will also host a Town Hall meeting July 13 with the city police to discuss Downtown stakeholders’ safety concerns.
Renata Pumarol of New York Communities for Change said the organizations behind Still We Rise, as well as the individual demonstrators, were there to “learn from each other” and show they are a “strong force.”
“We wanted to take to the streets to send a big message here that we’re stronger than ever,” Pumarol said. “We face the same issues across the nation. It’s very important for us to be united and fight together.”