White Paper: Protests and Demonstrations Help Pittsburgh Residents Become Better Informed About Many Public Issues

10 Apr

Civil Pittsburgh White Paper (Microsoft Word Version 76.4 KB)


This White Paper provides information about the effects of popular protest in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It describes the reasons one might engage in a popular protest and the external effects it may have on the surrounding community. Further the paper will look at specific examples of protest and the results that occurred as directly related to the actions of the protestors.

 Protests and a Better Informed Electorate: A Self-Fulfilling Relationship

At one time or another, everyone has criticized the government. The President, the Mayor, or any number of public officials that have done something that we feel is wrong. Speaking one’s mind is a privilegewe enjoy in the United States, a privilege guaranteed by the 1st Amendment against government infringement.

The 1st Amendment boldly states, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”(First Amendment) The Framers to the Constitution attempted to secure the freedom of conscience and the free communication of ideas. This ability to make your voice heard “serves to ensure that the individual citizens can effectively participate and contribute to our republican system of self government” (Globe Newspaper Co.).In an era defined by corporations dominating political discourse, it is all the more important to make your voice heard. Many individuals have taken to the streets with signs, slogans, and a message that they want to portray to their fellow citizens. These protests come in many shapes and sizes, but all have the same goal: Allowing fellow citizens to hear their grievances and hopefully moving these same citizens to action.

For instance, recent protests in the Middle East and Northern Africa have reinforced the fact that simple democratic principles, including mass protests, can lead to tangible political change. Political change is also occurring in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as a result of groups of individuals coming together, lobbying their legislatures, and taking to the streets in popular protest.


In recent months Pittsburgh has seen thousands of its citizens taking to the streets for various causes, with the ultimate goal of changing enough minds about some issue to create some real political change. These protests have made an impact on the electorate and the community. The protests have the ability to inform fellow citizens about important issues, and to thwart corporate interests that may have different interests than the average Pittsburgh resident.

A. Marcellus Shale Protests
For instance “Marcellus Shale Protest,” is an alliance of western PA groups & individuals building a broad movement to stop the destruction of our environment and communities caused by Marcellus Shale gas drilling (Marcellus Shale Protest). They have organized a number of protests in the Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania area.
“Marcellus Shale Protests” along with other organization’s tireless work informing the public and public officials about the negative effects of drilling, has led to Pittsburgh’s City Council banning Marcellus Shale drilling and production in the City (Smydo, 2011). City Council President Darlene Harris when pressured about the job creation gas production would bring to the city quipped, “There’s going to be a lot of jobs for funeral homes and hospitals”(Ibid. 2011).

courtesy of flickr user “your lawyer”

B. Protests to stop Transit Cuts
“Pittsburgher’s for Public Transit” held a rally, March 19th, in opposition to cuts to the Pittsburgh Transit System (Pittsburgher’s for Public Transit, 2011). The Port Authority faces cuts that would lead to the reduction and elimination of multiple bus lines, the loss of jobs and steep fare increases. The transit cuts will affect the lives of most people in Pittsburgh. Whether you ride the bus to get to work, and your options for travel are decreasing, or you drive, and the roads are becoming crowded with more cars– many Pittsburghers will be affected in their own way.

“Pittsburgher’s for Public Transit” argue that these cuts can be averted and want the people of Pittsburgh to rally in support. The rally on March 19th saw some 500 hundred protesters in support of stopping the transit cuts (Fuoco, 2011).Although “Pittsburgher’s for Public Transit” made an effort to stop the transit cuts, the scheduled cuts went into effect March 27th. The cuts saw various routes cut and 180 employees of the Port Authority have beenlaid off from their positions (Nereim, 2011).


While protests and demonstrations are not always successful in their stated goals, they are a cornerstone of our American democracy. As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said in his famous dissent in Ginzburg v. United States, “Censorship reflects society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime”. The ability of every person in Pittsburgh to have their ideas expressed, gives every other person in society the ability to become more informed about issues that directly affect them, and this knowledge can lead to the political mobilization needed to spur tangible political change.


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