Nancy Downie of Delmont had never participated in a protest in all of her 58 years but Saturday she joined a Squirrel Hill march and rally by an estimated 500 like-minded opponents of impending Port Authority service cuts.
Simply put, she came “to save my bus,” Ms. Downie said as the hourlong peaceful march and rally broke up. “I need to go back and forth to my job in the U.S. Steel Building. I have to get to work. There’s already standing room on it.
“We need our bus.”
That was the rally’s theme as time ticks away to March 27, the date the authority plans to cut service by 15 percent and eliminate 29 routes because of inadequate funding.
The permitted march, sponsored by Pittsburghers for Public Transit and members of Local 85, Amalgamated Transit Union, began at noon at Beacon Street and moved down the center of closed Murray Avenue to the intersection with Forbes Avenue.
About 300 people peacefully marched with another 200 supporters on the periphery, said Pittsburgh police Sgt. Cristyn Zett. Pittsburgh police had prohibited parking on Murray and conducted rolling closures of intersections as the march moved north.
At Forbes, the protesters gathered on the lawn of the Sixth Presbyterian Church as speaker upon speaker used a bullhorn to decry the cuts as anti-union, anti-poor, anti-working class, anti-environment, anti-common sense.
The sunlit protest had a festive flair. There were cheers and chants, smiles and handshakes among the diverse crowd. Teenagers stood next to the elderly, the disenfranchised mixed with the middle class, all facing a common loss, all applauding and voicing their resolve not to accept that fate so loudly they could be heard blocks away.
One blonde girl, about 9 years old, held a bright yellow sign reading, “Steve, Please don’t take my mom’s job,” referring to Port Authority CEO Steve Bland. Among the dozens of handmade signs: “Yinz Need Transit,” and “Power to the People for Public Transit,” and “Tax Cuts for Rich = No Transit.” Across Forbes, a trumpeter serenaded the crowd with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
“What’s disgusting? Union busting!” the group chanted over and over. That gave way to “Fire Steve Bland. Fire Steve Bland.”
And then, at 1 p.m., the crowd broke up quietly after making a promise to continue the protest Friday before the Port Authority’s monthly 9:30 a.m. board meeting at its Downtown headquarters in the Heinz 57 Center on Sixth Avenue.
“It’s our last chance,” one speaker said.
Ms. Downie said she has to work Friday or she would be planning to attend her second-ever protest. But between now and then she will be working the phones, she said, calling Port Authority members to tell them: “We need buses.”