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Bus Stops: "Right-Sizing" the Port Authority
by Rob Cullen, John Landis Saturday, Mar. 31, 2007 at 2:56 AM

With an annual deficit of $80 Million, The Port Authority of Allegheny County has announced plans to cut 25% of service, and eliminate 114 weekday bus routes, leaving many commuters without access. This video, Bus Stops is a thoughtful look at some of the causes and effects of this imminent crisis.

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Where are the bus riders?
by Tim Vining Tuesday, Apr. 03, 2007 at 2:33 AM

This is a fine video and I expect it will help the professional activists interviewed (all well-meaning people, but none are bus riders who will be directly impacted by the cuts in service) get funding for their campaign. I hope the campaign welcomes into its leadership actual bus riders and automobile-independent people in a real and meaningful way. Please prove me wrong by having the video distributed to people other than professional activists and funders! My concern is that this latest campaign is mostly smoke and mirrors to use the "issue" for other agendas other than improving mass transit in Allegheny County. For the sake of all of us who do not own automobiles, I hope I am wrong!

P.S. "King Lodico" and other campaign bosses did not approve these comments :-) I thought of placing them on a bus, a place they would be unlikely to ever see them!

new campaign?
by Karis N. DeShop & Otto D. Loop Wednesday, Apr. 04, 2007 at 12:46 AM

So what's the deal with what appears to be a new campaign(?) sponsored by Mon Valley and SEIU? Is it coordinating with Save Our Transit?

by kbunny Thursday, Apr. 05, 2007 at 7:41 PM

'Coordinating with SOT?' More like co-opting SOT.

Mon Valley is in this because there's lots of grant money involved in high profile campaigns like this. These professional activists aren't interested in regular bus riders (other than to help out the 'poor folks who can't do anything for themselves')

The fact remains that this wouldn't even BE an issue if it weren't for Save Our Transit. Had it not been for the hard work of those folks who have been organizing around these issues for years, public transit in western PA would be a thing of the past.

Mon Valley and the poverty pimps aren't interested in helping out or coordinating. They're too classist and racist to get past their own privilege and realize that folks who aren't professional activists and folks who haven't been to college can actaully organize on their own.

Save Our Transit Rocks!
by iridethebus Friday, Apr. 06, 2007 at 12:39 AM

It is really a shame to witness the way Save Our Transit members have been lied about and slandered by other professional activists, like the Mon Valley, ACORN and SEIU know-it-alls. Save Our Transit is the best example of people most impacted by decisions of the big shots taking action on their own behalf. And for this, they are treated like shit. Stephen Donahue is an amazing man with integrity and dedication to the cause. The way he puts up with this pettiness and works with all regardless of their motivations... I am not half the person he is. Please don't move to Canada, Steve. You have taught me so much!!! (Not to mention you are the only regular bus rider in the "coalition" of social movement entrepreneurs.)

by Morin D. Loop Friday, Apr. 06, 2007 at 8:21 PM

OK, people. I was just interested in a bit of the background here, and did not intend for it to turn into a snipe fest, which is not going to help us get public transit back on track.

As for those going to college and being professional activists, I think that would apply to a number of people involved with SOT (and the Merton Center) and of course union-busters like ACORN (though I think the head org. for ACORN in Pgh did not attend college - I'm allowed one snipe, right?). I've got no beef with those involved at Mon Valley. The higher education often makes people more confident in dealing with many things, and there's nothing wrong with being a "professional activist" so long as you're spreading the knowledge around with the goal of being out of that job some point soon. They key is to get others motivated and involved. I think SOT has done a really good job with this considering the resources they have on hand. Best of luck to all of us with this struggle - from the bus riders, to the union drivers, to the professional pro-labor activists!

And yes, Tim & Steve will be missed in the 'burgh.

"Professional organizers"
by Tim Vining Sunday, Apr. 08, 2007 at 5:55 PM

There are some interesting responses posted here. Like the previous post, I am not interested in bickering but would like to clarify a point or two. And I am using my name here so all will know who is responding...

I do wish this new coalition well but recognize that it is very limited since money and professional organizers (i.e., PAID organizers) are a very limited and ineffective way to run a campaign. The exclusion of bus riders in leadership is a serious fault of the campaign and unless remedied soon, I doubt it will be successful as a GRASSROOTS movement to build POWER to effect real SOCIAL CHANGE. (All these words must become a reality and exist as more than words on funding proposals.) Making money on a campaign is not the same thing as building power, that is obvious everywhere I have lived except among Pittsburgh's "progressive community" of paid organizers. Money is neutral, can be used for good or bad...

Major clarification: Save Our Transit has never had paid organizers. Steve and I have always been totally volunteer and, although some professional organizers from other groups have participated, none have actually been in leadership. My only experience as a "paid activist" was as E.D. of the TMC and I got out of that gig asap. I never supported paid organizers at the TMC but that is probably a losing battle here in the Burgh... Personally, I find activist subculture exclusive and a limit to building power among the masses who do not identify as "activist." Resources are great, but they tend to remain in the hands of the institutions that covet them and use them as a tool of control. Just think of the Catholic Church as an example...

Speaking only for myself, my experience in Pittsburgh among the cliquish networks masquerading as social movements (and my own participation in them) has taken the hope and fight from me that I expect to rebuild in Toronto as a member of a poor neighborhood interested in social change, not as a poverty pimp or as a professional organizer that has joined a clique that narrows my social networks, even if it provides money. Accepting employment at the TMC was probably not a good decision for me. This statement is not about the TMC but about me!

This is not meant to slam anyone or to judge their intentions based on employment status. Hell, I even tried a gig as a lawyer once, talk about cooperating with the oppressive system! :-) It is my own journey and realization that I am not comfortable with the label "activist" but prefer to simply be an individual who is willing to take concerted action with others for social change and one who is not at all attracted to an "activist subculture" who know more than others, especially those most impacted by the filthy, rotten system... Being professionally trained and having these tools is a good thing (Basic professionalism is seriously lacking in ALL sectors of Pittsburgh, not just the activist market.) Tools are neutral, they can be used for good or bad. For example, knowing how to "spin" a story can be used to advance a common cause or to raise money for an individual organization. Good or bad, depending on how used...

I belong to many groups and often willingly join in collective campaigns. I just do not like feeling used, an all-too often experience here in Pgh. We need public transit more than we need professional transit advocacy groups. One does not always lead to the other. In fact, a group can stifle and disempower the efforts of ordinary bus riders, without intention, if we are not careful.

See you at the Opera! Oh CANADA, our home and native land...

Peace and love,


Paid Organizers
by Indie Loop Monday, Apr. 09, 2007 at 3:42 AM

Re: paid organizers

Keep in mind it is often privileged white kids who can afford to work as "volunteer" organizers whose participation in movements can be just as oppressive as "paid" organizers. Being able to pay someone to contribute their experience where they otherwise could not due to finances is more likely to bring people of diverse backgrounds into mentoring positions. Not everyone can afford to be volunteer activists with noble heart and pure mind ;)

What is important is how organizational membership holds these individuals accountable and sets goals and limits to their involvement in things.

great conversation
by Tim Vining Monday, Apr. 09, 2007 at 1:44 PM

This is a great conversation and raises some important points. I definitely take to heart the comments from the most recent post about "privileged white kids being able to volunteer." This is an argument I myself often made in the past and was convinced about it while working in the social movement industry for 4 years. My main problem with paid organizers, whether the person paid is of privileged background or not, is that once people work full-time as an "activist" their social networks tend to become extremely narrow. When movements are led by such people, an inner loop is created that, almost always unintentionally, excludes larger networks that MUST be mobilized for effective actions. Once people are paid to "organize" whether of privileged background or not, the activist subculture keeps them talking mainly to other paid activists. The funders also seem to require this, whether they realize it or not, by insisting on the same training programs and the infamous "workshop sessions." The only way I could see justifying outside funding sources from foundations and such would be if the funding was simply to maintain resource centers with practical things like computers, databases, copy machines, etc. available. Yet, I have NEVER seen funding that did not include some sort of control from the funder. Local community centers would be a much better option than social movement organizations run by social movement entrepreneurs. Or better yet, the public library open to all without a stigma attached to the "poor and needy." But funding is usually tied to one's neediness, not one's gifts, especially among less privileged neighborhoods.

Given the system we currently have with social movement organizations being part of the nonpprofit market economy, if we cannot change this by removing ALL tax-exempt contributions (especially to churches), then the prior post makes the best sense. If someone has to be hired to do the work (although this is a sad commentary in and of itself) then it would be best to hire less privileged people. But the problem remains that the funders calling the shots at the foundations reek with their privileged positions and especially love to hire poor people as gatekeepers of the non-profit market.

Again, this is not about the motivations of the people hired in the social movement industry. This is about the SYSTEM of the professional activist market and how it has become an industry as any other in capitalist America. I long for an alternative somewhere, over the rainbow...

Mon Valley Pay
by Barney Tuesday, Apr. 17, 2007 at 8:53 PM

In 2005 Barney Oursler was paid $40,692+ benefits and Paul Lodico was paid $39,921+ benefits.... Hmmmmm they don't sound 'unemployed' to me...

Good Comments...
by PJD Tuesday, Apr. 17, 2007 at 10:19 PM

Thanks for the insights.

I'll stop my contributions to the elitist Merton Center, UFPJ, CPT, Voices for Creative Nonviolence right away (Kathy Kelly is a paid activist) and all the rest, right away!

by Rachel C. Thursday, May. 10, 2007 at 1:19 AM

Dear Tim and Anonymous Internet Posters:

I put off posting a reply here when I first saw this a couple of weeks ago. (I was directed here after being a part of this other internet conversation rife with misunderstandings and factual errors--- )

Some of the things being said here (and in that other conversation), both by people I know and respect and by many who I can’t even identify are so wrong and so outrageous that it seemed pointless to even contribute to the dialogue. Besides, the bus riders I work for (members of SEIU) don’t seem to spend much time on either the Roboto Board or Indymedia, so I therefore didn’t feel like I needed to set the record straight for them.

However, I’ve decided that it does our movement no justice to let this public conversation be so one-sided, hateful and flat out wrong.

First, let me address the issue of bus rider authenticity that seems to be an important point for many of the posters here. To make the claim that Save Our Transit is the only organization involved in the campaign coalition that is made up of real bus riders is ridiculous. Speaking for my organization, the “transit team” of member organizers within SEIU have been phonebanking and leafletting our membership on this issue since the campaign began. We know that more than half our our members rely on public transportation. For those who contend that paid staff or leaders can’t fairly represent our “regular, bus-riding” members, you should be aware that Gabe Morgan rides the bus every day.

Secondly, speaking for myself and I know a couple other folks involved in the campaign, of course we hoped that Save Our Transit would be the organization that could build as Tim calls it “as a GRASSROOTS movement to build POWER to effect real SOCIAL CHANGE.” For the last 6 years, many of us have worked to keep our organizations involved in SOT activities and fights. We understand that it has been Save Our Transit that has kept the fight for dedicated funding for transit alive and have consistently tried to support and participate where possible.

This year, however, because of the drastic moves by our County Executive, this fight has changed—and that is why the other member groups of the Stop the Bus Cuts campaign came together. We know, that something more massive than any one of our organizations has ever accomplished will be necessary to prevent Dan Onorato from gutting our public transit system.

Why anyone is viewing this as a slight to Save Our Transit is beyond me.

Regarding the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee and the choice several of you have made to call them “poverty pimps.” First of all, the term “pimp” implies that they want people to stay poor because it’s good for their business. That is the probably the most absurd thing that you could say about Paul and Barney. They personally have dedicated their lives work to helping improve peoples’ lives in material ways. Are any of you aware of the number of unemployed and displaced workers that they work with on a yearly basis? Have you seen and/or participated in their campaigns to save people from losing their homes due to welfare liens in the 90s, or to get better childcare subsidies for working and poor people? Are you aware of how instrumental they’ve been in the fight for healthcare for uninsured people? Ever heard of “adult basic?”

Regarding MVUC’s work in this campaign. (work that they have recived NOT ONE PENNY of grant money for, by the way)— it’s actually pretty impressive, if you care to hear about it. They’ve been communicating with over 600 bus riders who came out to the Port Authority hearings. Over 200 “regular bus riders” have turned out to the numerous community meetings that they’ve organized with “regular bus riders.” I hate to even go there with this comment, but of the several SOT meetings I’ve been to, including the one immediately after the cuts were announced, there were not more than 10 people.

And I say that only to re-visit the point, that this year the fight is different and we need more troops to make anything meaningful happen.

Though I have a lot more to say, I’m going to end here with some words for Tim and Steve--- (I’m exluding now the anonymous internet cowards). I’m so saddened that the two of you are leaving town on this note. I have admired and respected both of your smarts and dedication for the years that I have known you. Indeed, Steve was the first person to break down the transit funding crisis to me in a way that I could understand.

I do not understand why you are okay with the kinds of things people are saying in this thread and elsewhere, supposedly in your defense.

In love and unity,
Rachel C.

my final response to Rachel and others
by Tim Vining Thursday, May. 10, 2007 at 5:58 PM

Dear Rachel,

First of all, thanks a million for using your name with the post. I usually give scant attention to comments posted online without the identity of the person speaking. I also am deeply grateful for the honesty with which you shared your feelings after the press conference downtown this morning to save public transit. There is far too little of this among “activists,” people expressing their feelings in a non-judgmental way and owning them as their own. As always, you have my respect and admiration. For the record, I have never posted anything on indymedia or any other web site without my name attached.

Now to respond… First of all, I apologize deeply for any comments I made that have been interpreted as unfairly slamming you, Stop the Bus Cuts campaign organizers and Mon Valley Unemployed. I am only going to comment on my own thoughts since I have no idea who else is posting on this site (or any other site for that matter). Basically, my major problems (and only speaking for myself here) with the campaign seem to revolve around two areas. First of all, Paul Lodico’s extreme disrespect for Steve and for Save Our Transit, when he called us “failures.” I realize you did not interpret what he said the way Steve did but such an attitude IS consistent with Paul’s overall chauvinistic disposition. Yes, I do have problems with Lodico and see no reason to deny it. The second issue stems around my understanding that the Campaign was getting lots of grant money to organize around transit, despite not being led by people mostly impacted by the proposed bus cuts. Combined with a seemingly “sudden interest” in the issue and my knowing the constraints of foundation funded campaigns, I made a negative judgment against the campaign. You informed me today that the Campaign is not a foundation funded campaign. I have no reason to disbelieve your comment on this. Therefore, I apologize for making a rash judgment based on misinformation. I repeat my respect for people like Barney Oursler, yourself, Gabe, Khari… When I criticize a campaign or a system that promotes social movement entrepreneurship at the expense of people’s self-organization, I do not intend this to be taken personally. I am currently funded by an institution of “higher learning” that does its part to enshrine the injustice of the status quo. I would never want motives imparted to me based on the actions of the Trustees of the University of Pittsburgh! And the same goes for my use of the term “poverty pimp.” I am referring to a system of defining people by what they lack and not by their gifts, especially present in social service organizations. We all know groups that have to work with “at-risk” youth to get funding to maintain employment for people -- and maintaining people’s employment is not a bad thing! I fear such a view has creeped into professionalized social movement organizations, in order to gain funding to maintain organizations and institutions. We ALL have to dance with the devil to survive in capitalist/imperialist America. I just prefer to know who I am dancing with…

I still hold to my expressed concerns about the social movement organization “industry” and the horrendous consequences of SMO’s being no longer rooted in actual grievances by people most impacted by injustice. My main concern is not a moral one, but a strategic one. As SMO’s become “professionalized” and rely on funding outside of their membership, they become entities unto themselves. Their social networks out of which they attempt to mobilize become smaller and smaller. I could go on and on about how such “activist subcultures” do more to divide “activists” from the “masses” rather than bringing unity. Perhaps I will save this for my dissertation! And anyone who thinks their own SMO is different can just prove me wrong. It won’t be the first time I would be ecstatic to be proven wrong! THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE EMPLOYED WITHIN THAT SYSTEM ANYMORE THAN CAPITALISM DEFINES A BANK TELLER! IT’S THE SMO INDUSTRY I CRITIQUE, ALONG WITH SOCIAL SERVICE ORGANIZATIONS, NOT INDIVIDUALS WORKERS OR “ACTIVISTS.”

On a more personal note, I am at a point of actually having regretted moving to Pittsburgh in 2001. I truly hope that Steve and I can move from here without such a bad taste in our mouths for this city. I have always been uncomfortable with the title “activist” never having identified myself as such. I prefer to view myself as one citizen among many who gets pissed off at injustice and tries to make a change and encourage others to do so in their own way. During my time in Pittsburgh, I have made few deep friendships, compared to those I share with people in Louisiana and Toronto. This saddens me. Being pulled into the activist subculture has actually hampered my ability to maintain close friendships based on shared values and experiences. Everything becomes so politicized and polarizing, even among people with whom I would cherish close friendships. My first experience with the SMO industry was here in Pittsburgh. In Louisiana, Steve and I simply lived in a poor neighborhood and shared life with neighbors, raising hell whenever injustice invaded our space. And we mobilized with others to deal with such grievance without ever forming organizations, raising money, etc. And to be honest, we achieved greater success than I have witnessed in Pittsburgh among SMO’s. I know all about “the tyranny of structurelessness” and have studied it as a sociologist. But our intent in taking action when faced with injustice was never to form organizations or personality cults. I think 1,000 individuals giving Dan Onorato hell is more effective than one person claiming to represent 1,000 people. I guess in social movement lingo, I am just an old-fashioned anarchist :-) Perhaps I do not have the stamina or personality to be an SMO entrepreneur, just like practicing law was not for me. In my heart, I am a teacher and a neighbor, nothing more, nothing less. Continue to invite me to events and I will continue speaking out wherever life has me at the time. But building organizations and the petty infighting among persons of the “activist subculture” is just not for me. I apologize for anyone I have hurt as a result of my cynicism and ambivalence toward social movement organizations in Pittsburgh. That was never my intent. SMO’s just bring out the worse in me, not the best, and this is a sign for me to move on.

Peace and love,

Tim Vining

this year the fight is different
by anonymous cowardly poster Wednesday, Jun. 06, 2007 at 12:08 PM

It's not that much different than any other war. It's simply safe to assume that the major fighting is over when the vultures show up to pick at the corpses of the fallen.

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