By Juliet Martinez
Community members came out in their Sunday best. A brass band played. Pall bearers lifted a black coffin, and all processed through Schenley Park.
But they were celebrating, not mourning. On June 11, those who fought the Mon-Oakland Connector rejoiced in its demise.
Residents of Four Mile Run first learned about the $25 million plan to build a private road for autonomous shuttles linking Oakland to Hazelwood Green in 2015 in a Post-Gazette article. Over the following years, the administration tweaked the plan several times in attempts to placate the opposition, but ill-feeling only grew.
As residents of the low-lying neighborhood fought against the shuttle road, they appealed to PWSA for stormwater mitigation they desperately needed as heavy rainfall repeatedly swept mud, fish and debris down from Panther Hollow Lake, and sewage spewed out of the decrepit sewers into the streets and basements. The Peduto administration said they could have a new storm sewer when they stopped opposing the shuttle road.
Then, in the crowded auditorium of Propel Hazelwood in February of 2022, Mayor Gainey announced the end of the shuttle road project.
On June 11, District 5 Councilperson Barb Warwick, who rose to prominence in the fight against the Mon-Oakland Connector, or MOC, and won her seat in a special election last November, praised the mock funeral as a fun way to make a point.
“It underscores how important it is for city government – or any government – when trying to find a solution to an issue, they should ask the people who the issue has affected first,” she said, “instead of creating a solution and trying to fit it onto the community.”
Organizer Ray Gerard, whom Homepage readers may know as a contributing writer and photographer, gave this speech. It has been trimmed lightly for length.
Hi everyone and thank you all for being here today. My name is Ray and I am one of many who fought back against the community-erasing roadway project the former Mayor’s administration and his partners in the private sector aggressively pursued. We are here for a celebration of community and to – once and for all – bury the Mon-Oakland Connector.
They said the roadway was inevitable. They said there’s way too much money behind it – “You’ll never win!” – and the people pushing for it were too powerful. They said it was a done deal.
We knew it would be a long and arduous journey. And there were times we felt like we should just give up. But then what? After our communities are invaded and occupied by hostile forces, where shall we go?
A good friend of mine likes to say that when you have a problem, you always have a choice. You can do something, or you can do nothing. If you do something, you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. But if you do nothing, you know exactly how it’s going to turn out.
Not only did we all choose to do something, we did all the things. We had to. We weren’t invited to the decision-making table, so we brought our own chairs. We organized, we reached consensus and we said “No.” We formed a multi-community coalition of allies, demanding transparency, accountability and a true democratic process.
We formed a fleet of community protectors and park protectors, and we fought back against powerful forces trying to erase us in the name of progress. CMU, the University of Pittsburgh, the foundations and others had a plan. They always have a plan.
So, we made a plan and we took ’em all on. We identified the real needs of our communities and created the Our Money, Our Solutions development and transportation plan. Many of the needs listed there have been or are in the process of being implemented (see Page 1).
You see, we had a refuge the Cylon-builders know nothing about: the power of the people.
Because the power of the people is always stronger than the people in power. When we fight, we win! And thanks to many of you, we were victorious in the Battle of Four Mile Run.
The activist Harvey Milk said if you want to change the world, begin in your own neighborhood. And since this began, I’ve said many times over: The Run is ground zero for democracy.
Today, I say democracy from the ground up shall become our new normal in Pittsburgh. Democracy out there begins here.
Whatever neighborhood you’re from, you have the power to build a democratic system from the ground up. You can and you should organize, reach consensus in your communities and speak truth to power.
You can and should say no to closed-door decision-making and back-door dealmaking attempting to force you out and erase whole communities for profit. You can and should decide your own future. And yes, you can run for public office – like City Council – and win and be a true representative of the people in your district.
Let the Battle of Four Mile Run be an example of people power over profiteers and set a precedent for true community-driven development.
There are way too many people and groups and organizations to thank individually, so I’m just going to say: Thank you all so very, very much. No matter what part you played, no matter how big or small, it was important.
Take one little thing out of the equation and maybe there’s a different result.
So, I’m going to end with a promise and an invitation. I promise you today, as I promised my fellow Road Warriors in 2015: We will defend our communities. We will protect Schenley Park. And we will never allow any type of roadway to be built through this valley going forward, ever. What say you? Will you join me today in that pledge? So say we all!
Juliet Martinez is the managing editor of The Homepage