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Pittsburgh Demo Shuts Down Robotics Warfare Facility: 14 Arrested in Direct Action

Jessica Lee Mar 28, 2007

More than 120 demonstrators shut down the National Robotics Engineering Center of Carnegie Mellon University on March 2 by blockading the main entrances to the facility. The action by the Pittsburgh Organizing Group attempted to link the development of robotic warfare to domestic resistance to the Iraq War, which is a testing ground for such technology.

“I felt it was time for the antiwar movement to step it up and that a big win in Pittsburgh could help inspire radicals in other areas of the country to push back against the system in direct and tangible ways,” said protest organizer Alex Bradley. He was one of those arrested in a lockdown outside the entrance to the center. “Rather than march in another symbolic anniversary protest… I wanted to focus on an institution directly connected to the war with an action intended to shut it down,” said Bradley.

After assembling at 5:00 a.m., 25 activists blocked the back entrance by sitting in the street with their arms chained together inside plastic pipes. It took police more than five hours to break the blockade, eventually cutting them apart. Six individuals also locked themselves to the front gate. A 22-foot-tall tripod was erected with a demonstrator hanging from the apex with a rock-climbing harness. A march joined the blockade several hours later.

Robotics center staff said that the action did not close the facility because many employees chose to work at home or nearby offices. Carnegie Mellon is one of the top academic institutions receiving Pentagon dollars. It garnered $83 million in military contracts in 2005 and is a world leader in weapons guidance software, communication networking systems and robotic warfare. Fourteen individuals were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, obstructing traffic and possession of an instrument of crime (chains). Organizers said they learned that local police had received training from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on how to respond to blockade tactics.