Pittsburgh Group Takes Direct Action against Military Research

On Friday March 2nd, members and supporters of the Pittsburgh Organizing Group organized a successful direct action against military research. Protestors barricaded the National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). The NREC, which develops robotic warfare devices for the Army and Marines, was successfully shutdown by a blockade involving some twenty activists who chained themselves in front of the gates to the facility. The action was widely covered in the corporate media and received coverage from the Pittsburgh Independent Media Center. According to a statement released by the Pittsburgh Organizing Group , the protest received the most press of any antiwar action in Pittsburgh since the start of the war and demonstrated the success that direct action can have in building a “visible resistance to war, empire, and occupation.”

The National Robotics Engineering Center was chosen as the target of the protest because of their extensive involvement in “warfare robotics.” Realizing that one of the biggest obstacles to maintaining public support for wars are the deaths of US soldiers, the military has begun to spend billions of dollars on the development of robots and “unmanned” vehicles. Institutions connected to the university system (like NREC) and corporate entities have received major contracts from the Pentagon to develop these new warfare technologies. Carnegie Mellon University has received so much money and support from the Pentagon that it is almost impossible for students to do research without contributing to the military-industrial complex. According to an article published in The New People, “CMU is to robotics warfare as the University of California is to nuclear weapons.” While supporters of warfare robotics have argued that it saves lives, critics have argued that it further “sanitizes and dehumanizes warfare” while making the decision to go to war potentially easier because it partially eliminates the human cost. Moreover, as has been the case with other technologies originally developed for the military, it is quite possible that these new technologies will eventually be used on the population of the United States as a tool to make the repression of large segments of the population more “efficient” and also as a tool for neutralizing dissent.

As would be expected, CMU’s press office attempted to describe the action as a failure, pointing out that the majority of researchers continued their work at offsite facilities. However, the Pittsburgh Organizing Group argued that CMU “missed the point” and that the action was “a tangible act of resistance against the war” that brought public-scrutiny on a war-related facility. The successful action showed the role that direct action can have in a movement–if it is connected to other efforts and tactics. In evaluating this action and others that it has engaged in at military recruiting centers, the Pittsburgh Organizing Group wrote that:

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.

The Pittsburgh protest is likely to be one of many direct actions that will take place around the country as the fourth anniversary of the United States’ invasion of Iraq approaches. Among the publicly announced protests are a March 19 protest in New York City aimed at shutting down Wall Street (http://www.march19peaceactions.org/) as a vehicle for making a clear demand that the United States must immediately end its occupation of Iraq. Elsewhere across the United States, several groups affiliated with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) have pledged to participate in walk-outs on March 20 from college and high schools campuses with the goal of “fighting the war machine” and taking “an active stand against US imperialism” by taking to the streets on the 20th. Fifteen groups around the United States have also signed onto a call to action calling for “Days of Resistance” to the war (http://www.activategr.org/march19/) on March 19 and 20. As has been the case for the past several years, there will also likely be “breakaway marches” within the context of the large antiwar mobilizations–including a March 17 march on the Pentagon in Washington, DC–that will target institutions connected to the war. In addition, ongoing campaigns such as the Occupation Project and various counter-recruiting campaigns around the country will continue and received increased attention.

An independent media outlet in Pittsburgh has also produced a short, two part video about the action that is available online (part 1 and part 2).