At least 100 people marched from Calvary United Methodist Church in Allegheny West to the parking lot of the Del Monte Building on the North Shore in order to claim the land around it as holy ground at a Northside United rally July 23.
The rally began in the church with a welcome and prayer from several local reverends. After the prayer, several more people from local activist groups spoke about the issues they had with the North Shore and its primary developer, Continental Real Estate.
Michael Glass of Northside United and Northside Common Ministries spoke about urban renewal and the need for jobs that provide a living wage.
“Development for the sake of building something does not help communities,” Glass said to applause. “We can’t stop until they understand that they have a responsibility to the communities and our families and our lives."
After his brief speech, Glass yielded the microphone to Pete McQuillin and Debra Brister, both of whom were arrested earlier in the day for blocking the door to the Del Monte Building. McQuillin joked about how he had intended to get arrested at a similar protest last week, but wasn’t.
On July 16, Paradise Gray and three others were arrested for blocking the Del Monte Building’s doors, but only Gray was taken to the Allegheny County Jail. He said he had not intended to get arrested, unlike the other three, and was released later that night when a group of community members pitched in to post bail.
“If we all come together as one city we can make it work,” said Brister, who lives in Homestead.
Carl Redwood, the chair of the One Hill Community Benefits Agreement Coalition, spoke next about how a benefits agreement worked in the Hill District and called for agreements in East Liberty, Homestead, Homewood, Wilkinsburg and the Northside.
“When a developer receives subsidies, it must repay those subsidies to the community,” Redwood said.
Reverend John Welch of the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network also said that developers need to invest in their communities, and that large developers like Continental only come into poorer neighborhoods.
“Violence is a result of isolated poverty,” Welch said. “We don’t determine to live in isolated poverty, we are put into pockets of isolated poverty.” The crowd clapped and cheered at his words.
Welch then led attendees in a song, and everyone stood up to sing “Holy Ground,” after which the entire group moved outside and started marching toward the North Shore.
During the march photographers flitted in and out of the crowd snapping photos as the crowd chanted things like, “This land is our land, it’s not yours! It’s Northside, not North Shore!”
Speakers and an empty wreath waited for the marchers in the parking lot on the corner of Art Rooney and North Shore drives. McQuillin stepped up to the microphone again as storm clouds threatened to dampen the gathering.
He explained why Northside United wanted to claim the space as holy ground, and said that the city had stolen from Northsiders by selling land to Continental for $8 per square foot rather than the land’s actual value of around $80 per square foot.
Then the whole crowd sung “This Land is Your Land,” only with Northside-specific lyrics, such as “As I was walkin’, I saw a sign there / It said to the North Shore — they sold us all out.”
After a few more songs, several attendees handed out pink, red and white carnations to attendees for the purpose of decorating the empty wreath. Reverend Gretchen Hulse explained that anyone who had lost something on the Northside, such as a loved one to violence or jobs, could come place the flowers on the wreath after the dedication ceremony.
A few speakers from the community stood up with their carnations and spoke about their personal experiences with loss to highlight some of their problems with Continental Real Estate’s development policies.
Will Thompkins advocated having good, living wage jobs to help the youth of the community.
Others spoke about losing family members to violent crimes and the negative environmental impact of development.