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Hill District tent city continues to grow as protesters plan demonstrations

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By Jason Cato and Margaret Harding,
Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009
 

Crews overnight erected crowd-control fences on streets around the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in preparation for the Group of 20 economic summit.

Workers placed tall metal fences along Penn Avenue near the convention center and Grant Street near the Federal Building, Downtown, and around Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Oakland. G-20 meetings begin Thursday.

Across town, a group of protesters in the Hill District said they expected an influx of people to join their temporary tent city before world leaders arrive for the summit.

"We're going to have to rearrange," said Cheryl LaBash, an organizer with Bail Out The People, as she mingled with campers about 2 a.m. Population at the tent city on Wylie Avenue stood about 60 strong, she said.

"I think it's really been terrific," said LaBash, 60, a retired road construction inspector for the city of Detroit. "The reason we're here with all the violence baiting and the G-20 and what they say is to make people remember those without jobs."

Protesters at the camp — who represent several organizations — came from across the country, including California, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina and Washington D.C.

John Parker, 49, drove from Los Angeles to join Bail Out The People and highlight the need for jobs.

"It's important for us to come here," Parker said. "(World leaders are) supposed to make things better, and things have gotten worse. They're enriching themselves."

Representatives from the Minneapolis-based Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign joined the tent city to voice the plight of the homeless. The Rev. Bruce Wright of the Refuge Ministries in Tampa said most of the people in his group are homeless or recently have been, and they came to Pittsburgh to show the world "we're no longer going to be silent."

"What we're trying to do is bring forth our belief that housing, jobs and health care are human rights," Wright said.

Hill District residents have donated water and food and have been supportive of the site, Parker said.

He dismissed worries about upcoming marches becoming violent.

"It's funny, with all these things where folks gather, the authorities put these stories out there that there's going to be violence," Parker said. "They're just trying to scare people from coming out and protesting."

LaBash joked about being considered an "outside agitator."

"I'm 60 years old. I'm retired, and I own a house," she said. "We're not scary. You may not agree with us always, but it's not the way it has been played up."

Some campers participated in a demonstration Tuesday outside BNY Mellon headquarters, Downtown, to protest bank foreclosures. Today, campers will hold a panel discussion at Monumental Baptist Church on Wylie Avenue that will spotlight how G-20 policies affect communities.

Several groups, including Bail Out The People, marched Sunday in the Hill District to demonstrate the need for more jobs.

Another yet-to-be-announced march is planned, and LaBash said her group also would participate in the People's March planned for Friday.

"We're participating in all the events," LaBash said. "We stand in solidarity with others who stand against the G-20 and what it represents."

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