Pittsburgh: Anarchists open a new squatted social center
reportback sent to pghanarchy by a May Day participant:
This May Day, 2013, in the city of Pittsburgh, PA. A group of close anarchist friends began the work of cleaning and repairing a recently opened squatted social center. In the process of tidying up the joint, this same group was lovingly cooking a 10 course meal in a camping-style kitchen set up inside. This prepared food was ferried across town to a large park where we held a special one-off Food Not Bombs serving.
The picnic drew a crowd of roughly 100 people from the neighborhood and around town, who merrily chilled in the sun while enjoying hot dogs and the Food Not Bombs specialty of vegan mush. Kids were playing pick-up games of football and soccer in the grass, and the stack of anarchist propaganda that someone had brought was being widely read and elicited many favorable responses from people who had not previously been exposed to anarchist critique.
With full bellies a group of about 30 returned to the squat. A tour of the building was given where the myriad bedrooms were explored and the expansive event space was drooled over. We popped a bottle of champagne and passed it around drinking out of the bottle. We dreamed and schemed late into the night about the seemingly unlimited potential of our new space. What would this social center actually mean for us? What needed functions should the space serve for us as Anarchists? What resources could we offer to the community immediately around the building, and how will we fit into that community? How could we uses this space and the social network that it will engender as a platform for the attack? How can we consolidate this gain and use it to take more of the city?
While our grand dreams don’t yet meet the new and somewhat rough nature of the space. Even the dreams and resources that we have acquired thus far didn’t come out of nothing. Talk and aspirations for a social center have been swirling in the Anarchist scene for the last 3 years since the closing of the most recent permitted space in the city, GPAC (Greater Pittsburgh Anarchist Collective). The people that spoke of a need for a space of our own were slowly able to meet and find each other in the city. Those of us who were already squatting for mere private dwellings were linking up with others of us who had the dreams and skills to give a space social content. Our meetings began to draw more and more of our friends and acquaintances. The dreams became more fleshed out, more nuanced. We developed detailed plans for all the things we would need. We began to scout buildings. Then finally one day, we popped the door of one and changed the locks, just like that. And it was ours.
We’re all excited about the potential that this building can bring. We’re also aware of the limitations and contradictions of a squatted social center. How can we be open and social with our friends and neighbors while keeping the police in the dark about our crimes against property? When Anarchists in the United States have attempted these types of projects in the past, they have generally gone about it one of two ways. They can either crack open the door in broad day light, drop a banner, and run around the neighborhood extolling the virtues of anarchy, this model is typified by the example of a D.C. Homes Not Jails action in 2001. Or, they can open it in secret, spread the news of the space to other punks around town by word of mouth, and generally shy away from neighbors, this approach is typified by the 949 Market space in San Francisco also in 2001. Some of us in the collective leaned towards the former model; others of us leaned towards the later. So we’re doing our best to muddle through a middle path together. The ultimate lesson of both D.C. and 949 is that both places were evicted. D.C. before it had even really begun, and 949 after several months. None of us are deluded enough to believe the space will last forever. Although, squats in rust-belt cities like Pittsburgh tend to last longer than “World Cities” like S.F. and D.C. with competitive real estate markets. But we know that for this project to have longevity we’ll need to maintain a degree of opacity early on, and achieve a degree of neighbor support later on. Everyone involved in this project is ready to spend the next couple years of our lives to actualizing our dreams, and to fighting anyone who should threaten them.
With love and rage,
more images at pghanarchy.tumblr.com
 949 Market, by Erick Lyle, Microcosm Publishing