(Note: Garth and Sarah lived at Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park, Manhattan, for two weeks then joined a two-week march from there to Washington DC. The following 18,200 words were composed by both Garth and Sarah. This is the full story of the march from Day 1 to Day 14. As of this Thanksgiving Day blog posting we are safe and sound living at Occupy Washington. Most marchers have either departed the city or will soon do so. A few that remain, including ourselves, are considering plans to continue a similar activity.)
March Day 1 – Liberty Plaza to Elizabeth, NJ:
Approximately 20 people had committed to this march as of Tuesday evening. Even as of late this morning(Wednesday), hours before the march is set to start, many marchers have no knowledge of the media frenzy springing up all over the world. Crawling out of our dew-covered tents, exhausted from another night of Manhattan noise, excitement still shines brightly through tired voices. To quote one marcher, “This is going to be the most awesome thing I’ve ever done even if just 3 of us go.”
By 10AM, already being hunted down by international reporters throughout the Liberty Plaza encampment, we all stand in awe behind the great global power of this movement. By noon there are 25 confirmed marchers assembled underneath the bright red steel beam structure at the southeast corner of the park. A reporter mob of twice that number battles one another for the best shots in the very confined spaces of a stairwell. None of us has ever experienced anything like this, now feeling as if we have just stepped onto the red carpet to receive an Oscar. Some marchers seem to be left speechless, surely to the great dismay of this media army who outnumbers us 2-to-1.
Last minute marchers include a man with no shoes and another man carrying only a Guy Fawkes mask. The mass of well-wishers marching with us to the ferry terminal is so great that at least one marcher looses his way and will have to rejoin us later via public transit. A fleet of NYPD motorcycles joins in as we pass along the perimeters of Ground Zero. A dozen remaining reporters fight rolling waves to get group shots on the ferry to New Jersey. A new batch of police is there waiting for us on the Jersey shore, politely asking that we please move through the city before the schools close.
The number of well-wishers and reporters slowly dwindles through the afternoon, leaving just two reporters by early evening. Local cops hand us off to one another at each jurisdictional border, with 1 to 4 police vehicles always following or leading. Marching through historic downtown Newark and other areas with many pedestrians, we chant popular Occupy slogans and make up a few new ones also.
Public support is absolutely amazing, with horns honking and hands waving almost constantly. A river barge captain even blows his fog horn while the crew cheers on deck as we cross a bridge. Bone shaking semi truck horns are at times nonstop, with all commercial truck drivers seeming to relate very strongly with the Occupy movement.
Many people have heard about this march on last night’s news. Negative comments are far and few in between, less than 1%. One onlooker yells, “Lets kill the flag holder” as we pass through a government housing project. He is referring to either the lead marcher who carries an American flag or a rear marcher who carries a “corporate” American flag. One male motorist yells, “Get a job” and another screams, “Go home!”. In none of these cases did any marcher express any concern for our safety, considering that a cop car was always within earshot.
A police cruiser collides with a black SUV in a pedestrian crossing just as we step out into the roadway. Pieces of the cop’s bumper land within feet of us as the black SUV slides sideways through the crosswalk. Another freak near-accident happens when a marcher falls halfway through a manhole cover that is not properly seated. The marcher’s leg is pinned by the heavy steel cover and has to be freed by another marcher, but no serious injury.
The day’s voyage could have been completed soon after sundown had the police not asked us to change our route. A potentially dangerous highway overpass is detoured at a cost of at least 3 extra miles, leaving us to march for hours after dark.
At 8:30 we arrive to the home of tonight’s hosts, arranged via couchsurfing.com. One police car follows us to the house and another is already there waiting. An officer in a white dress shirt stands ominously on the sidewalk, asking to speak with the home owner. Not having considered this type of police action, we’d earlier told a cop the exact address we were headed to.
“Why are you letting these people stay with you?”, “What are you serving for dinner?”, “Can we remain parked in front of your house tonight?”, the better-dressed cop asks in a series of unusual questions to our host.
At this point everyone looses just a bit of patience for this police presence, changing from a stance of politeness to one of mere tolerance. The homeowner informs the cop in white that he is not welcome to park in front of his house. Two police cars remain parked at the end of the street all night long.
The single family dwelling is packed to the brim with marchers. Our host actually lives with his mom and extended family. We had contacted him 3 days ago requesting to arrive with 7 marchers. “Mom, there’s 25 people coming now”, he’d informed her this afternoon. Seeing every single chair and most of the floor space of her entire first level filled with strange strangers, mom simply greets us with a big smile and serves ice tea.
Our couchsurfing host, the son Ken, prepares a pot of hot soup….then another…..then another. He makes his shower available immediately, AND EVEN HIS BIG BACKYARD JACUZZI! After dinner we begin our first-ever marchers’ General Assembly. The meeting is somewhat informal but very smooth, also attended by our host and a young boy, both of whom follow along in the proper format and offer suggestions.
As this text is being composed at 3AM, a group of 3 marchers sits in the kitchen with our host and a roommate as the rest sleep throughout the home and its backyard deck. Two of us answer the flurry of email and comments while the shoeless man makes a dream catcher out of broken automobile light bulbs, bolts and other things he found along the walk today. He says no shoes all the way to DC and we say more power to him.
At 4:30AM we deliver two green ceramic cups of hot coffee to the two police officers staking out our host’s home in an Elizabeth city squad car. The driver appears asleep until the passenger nudges him. The window rolls down to reveal an expression of blank surprise, eyes coming into focus on the steaming green cups. With a sudden waking moment of comprehension the driver accepts the coffee, spoons and sugar packets. He mutters a perplexed “thank you”. Our host Ken replies, “You’re welcome. Just set the cups on the porch later if you would. Good night.” We stroll back to the house in silence.
March Day 2 – Elizabeth to New Brunswick, NJ
The kitchen is alive with aromas as the marchers shuffle past one another in our personal morning routines. Ken rests himself in the outdoor jacuzzi with a Coors light in hand. Our estimated morning prep time of one hour proves far off, actually turning out to be over two hours. We’re all finally packed up in the front yard together at 10:30AM.
Three police cars pull up to the house. “It was funny that the police car sat in front of the house all night”, says one of our Romanian-American marchers to a cop in a white dress shirt. On the back of his head is the same Guy Fawkes mask he left Manhattan with. “Oh, you think that’s funny huh?”, the cops replies, instantly ending the conversation. “We took your officers coffee last night”, I continue. “Oh, thanks, that was very sweet of you”, says the cop with his eyes turned away from me.
Four police vehicles block off all traffic at major Elizabeth intersections as we near crosswalks. Random well-wishers emerge from vehicles, homes and businesses, some handing out cash. Twenty dollars, fourty, fifty……..eventually a grand total of over $300 for the day! Until today we had considered the value of this march to lie in outreach, but now it appears we may also serve as fundraisers for the Occupy movement. Amazing.
The first signs of exhaustion fatigue begin to appear by noon. One of our medics sits slumped in a parking lot up against a convenience store wall, “I can’t go on. I’m gonna have to meet up with you all tonight.” Messages are sent out to certain members of our online audience who have offered to help in just such situations. Arrangements are made for a human delivery, the group marches on.
Many marchers are visibly uncomfortable by lunchtime, but yet another group of well-wishers is there at just the right moment to replenish us, physically and emotionally. A group of young families are waiting in a park with sandwiches, fruit and candy. This is the All-American crowd; big minivans and little babies in the comfy middle-class suburbs of New York City.
Two girls of no older than 8 years greet us with child-sized protest signs, standing under a shower of falling brightly colored leaves. A little boy approaches with another sign. The moms and a dad greet us with same level of enthusiasm, having arranged our lunch spread. Occupy Wall Street is no longer just the domain of lower income classes. The power for real change, a true global change, shows a bit more of itself with each passing day.
Middle class this is our plea to you: Occupy your public spaces if even for just those minutes that you take your children to the park each day. Make a sign with your children and take them out to play. They will someday thank you with all their hearts.
The unseasonable warmth fades as ominous gray puffs expand above, threatening rain but never delivering. Marchers become increasingly stressed as the journey continues into darkness for the second day. A few verbally lash out about the walking pace.
Rear of the march: “MIKE CHECK! WAIT! SLOW DOWN!”
Front of the march: “WE CAN’T KEEP STOPPING! COME ON!”
The commands reverse direction, front yelling at rear, then rear at front again.
There is no slowing the fast down nor speeding the slow up, with the march continuing to gradually separate after each break stop. It simply hurts to halt because walking at one’s own pace best numbs the foot pains that everyone is experiencing. A number of impromptu assemblies are held concerning this issue but the consensus decision to hold a tight march proves impossible to achieve. Solidarity remains, though, with the front always stopping to wait before the rear is out of sight. Some marchers continue to be disturbed by this separation while others either consider it a non-issue or refrain from comment. As for the public’s perception, they continue to cheer or jeer as usual, with nobody ever questioning the gaps between marchers. And so a status quo is understood: if we can still see each other then we remain in solidarity, otherwise regroup.
Night falls. A patchy fog of melancholy begins to lift when the first New Brunswick supporter meets us a couple miles before the city center. Riding what’s best described as an electric tricycle, she carries a protest sign reading, “OCCUPY THE HIGHWAY”. Spirits are further lifted a few blocks later with a couple more sign-holding supporters, then more, and more. They line the sidewalks of the eastern New Brunswick community called Highland Park, standing in front of restaurants and coffee shops cheering us on. Overestimating our walking pace, we are hours late but they have waited! Many join the walk, reenergizing even the most exhausted marchers.
Then comes a street corner mass of some one-hundred people, mostly Rutgers University students who are about to start their own occupation next Monday. Our two groups merge into one wild entity screaming downhill towards a 4-lane Raritan River crossing bridge. A number of the locals attempt to lead the group onto the bridge roadway but fall back onto the sidewalks when few follow them. They are then successful at taking the roadway on the New Brunswick side of the bridge, leading nearly everyone into the two downtown westbound lanes. More awaiting locals join in, bringing downtown traffic to a standstill. Not a single police car in sight, anywhere.
The screaming crowd circles through the main streets for 30 minutes, their chants driven by at least two megaphones. Most honks are in support, with stuck drivers waving, giving thumbs up and peace signs. Pedestrian traffic also comes to a standstill as feet stop and eyes transfix on the scene occurring on this otherwise ordinary Thursday night in this pretty American city of 50,000. This is what will keep us marching.
Two police cars eventually arrive to put the mass back onto the sidewalks. The students lead us to our downtown dinner host, the upstairs office of a teacher’s union. An assertive older woman comes down and requests a megaphone, apparently surprised at the size of her dinner crowd. With a special motherly tact she informs the mass that it is only possible to accommodate New York marchers. Spread out all through the mass, we emerge one by one to enter the building for our much awaited dinner.
Within minutes our omnivorous marchers passionately consume an entire large foil dish of chicken. Equally hungry but still respecting their personal commitments, the vegetarians and vegans pick through the food selections with much more thought and scrutiny. Outside, the mass of students continues to chant and give speeches, with their excitement audible through open second-floor windows. One thing is certain, Occupy New Brunswick is going to be a success.
The mass takes the streets once again upon our dinner exit, the protestors voices led by a man at the rear with a portable PA system. The most frequent and spirited chant is, “WHO’S STREETS?………OUR STREETS.” Police simply creep behind us in their vehicles, making no orders to clear. The crowd especially targets city buses, screaming in echoed unison, “OUT OF THE BUS AND INTO THE STREETS”. One passenger presses his middle finger up against the windows while most others just stare.
On a stairwell at the Rutgers campus we provide the group with a sample General Assembly(GA), instructing them on the specifics of how assemblies are conducted at Occupy Wall Street. As holding fair and open GA’s is the backbone of all Occupations, we marchers consider such sample assemblies to be of the utmost importance in every community visited. With the New York assembly style having helped bring the movement from that one city to the rest of the world, we teach that method.
During assembly, the woman returns who had earlier met us on an electric tricycle. She’s in a car now, shuttling marchers to her massage studio for free sessions. And for that we definitely salute her. Sleep comes at a partially abandoned industrial area, in a huge old building now containing a music studio. Yesterday the owner decided to offer hosting but had been unable to contact us. His friend had driven to Elizabeth in search of the march, finally obtaining our address from a patrolling police officer. Studio owner and friend, for this we salute you both.
A band uses one of the studio rooms, offering a talented rock serenade that reverberates through the building. The office contains full-sized commercial bathrooms with multiple sinks and toilets, a very useful amenity when hosting groups our size. Nearly half of us sleep in a single empty room measuring some 500 square feet.
It pains us not to be able to stay up all night and write in greater detail about every amazing act of solidarity and kindness witnessed each day, but we also realize that some rest is required to keep the march going. You and we are together finding great motivation in this journey, so we would be doing everyone a terrible disfavor by blindly pushing ourselves to the point of collapse.
We end tonight’s broadcast with this:
Your cheers from every corner of this beautiful blue earth are inspiring hundreds of thousands to once again love who we are as individuals and what we are as one united human race. You Laugh, We Laugh – Your Cry, Our Cry. Your free flowing support, both through technological and personal encounters, continuously leaves us in moments of humble speechlessness and raw unrestrained joy, all in the same breaths. You are each of us, all of us, and the grand ancient emotion of enlightenment could be reborn once again to bring peace for our world. Do not let your joy fade, for with this age humanity can begin to turn away from a future of annihilation and towards one of exploring this great mysterious universe together. Now could be our last chance. Let us not throw our gift of life away.…..Use your voice. Use your silence. Use yourself. Occupy.
March Day 3: New Brunswick to Trenton, New Jersey
Cold morning wind blows stiffly against our protest signs, breaking and bending the weaker displays. A group of several dozen waits awaits us downtown, mostly Rutgers students. At least half join the day’s 27-mile march, bringing the total number to over 50 people. The long roadside stretch of humanity demands attention, bringing out many reporters by midday.
At lunch we struggle not to block the flow of vehicles in the parking lot of a busy sub sandwich shop. Trying their best to respect the business, some marchers direct people and traffic while also eating and conducting interviews at the same time. With on-the-spot cash donations continuing to flow in, the New York marchers are all able to eat delicious subs. Food is also offered to New Brunswick marchers who cannot afford it, but none come forward to request any. They voluntarily spend their own lunch money. Knowing our donation trend is not guaranteed to continue, knowing many of us have no money of our own, we salute these New Brunswick marchers.
Film crews, photographers and print reporters move up and down the line of marchers all afternoon. Two independent female photographers crawl around in forests and fields looking for unique shots as the marchers pass. One of the women is a seasoned war photographer who has spent much time living in Africa during incredibly violent civil conflicts that have occurred there in past years. And now she is here.
A strikingly gorgeous Washington Post blogger remains in our midst for a second full day, walking and living among us in harmony, already treated by all as an equal comrade. She volunteered for this assignment and plans to complete the entire march to DC, carrying a full-sized hiking pack and never expressing any discomfort unless specifically asked. Her curious presence offers unique inspiration, and for this we salute her.
On multiple occasions drivers pull over, emerging from their vehicles in tears, thanking us with long hugs. With a majority of the marchers never having experienced such a powerful social movement in our lifetimes, even within Occupy encampments, we briefly experience a strange and beautiful new outlook on humanity; Hope. Struggling to maintain her emotion in order to speak, one woman says, “I’m driving home from my doctor’s office. I was just diagnosed with cancer this morning and now I just so happen to see you all marching here. It’s a sign. Thank you so much for what you are doing.”
Moved beyond ordinary consciousness, at a loss for words.
The Occupy column moves into historic downtown Princeton at sunset, surprising tourists and shoppers with spirited chants:
“WE ARE……THE 99%”
“TELL ME WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE……THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE”
“BANKS GOT BAILED OUT……WE GOT SOLD OUT”
The day’s overwhelming support carries goodness into the evening hours. Sikhists greet us upon arrival to the city’s beautiful university campus, wrapping turbans onto some marchers and providing us with food and beverages. We hold General Assembly on a wide stone stairwell before beginning the rest of the day’s long journey at 6:30PM. Over ten miles to go.
Still charged with the day’s incredible energy, many of the New Brunswick marchers remain with us on this double-distance day. The highway narrows just west of Princeton as we wind through a forest canopy that often branches over the roadway shoulder. Two supporters pace the rear of the march, slowing down traffic, protecting us from potential disaster. After some miles a police officer also paces the front end, lights flashing psychedelically against colorful autumn foliage.
By late evening the exhaustion of three long march days begins to show in some New York marchers who have had very little sleep. Conflicts emerge, resulting in emergency roadside meetings that bring progress to a standstill. Noticing the lines of traffic building up, the police officer emerges from his vehicle to inquire about our plans. Luckily it’s a slow night on the beat so he’s incredibly patient and friendly, simply accepting our recommendation that he remain pacing at the front. And for this we salute him. His presence spurs the stalled marchers to pursue on towards Trenton.
Entering the city outskirts just before midnight, we encounter a large group of hecklers outside a bar. A majority of them clear out as members of the media converge on the scene, saying things like, “I don’t want to be on YouTube.” A few remain, including two young men of barely drinking age who are especially aggressive. One of the female photographers who had earlier been crawling in the woods stands up for us, vocally expressing her disgust with the men as she snaps numerous close range photos. After hearing of our plan to stay overnight at Occupy Trenton, the tallest of the two hecklers offers a mock chant, “OCCUPY OCCUPY TRENTON!”, which his buddies repeat. One of the marchers again repeats the new chant, yelling it down the block. The heckler turns to his friends, “HAHAHAHA, he said it, hahahaha…..”.
A sizable crowd then appears across the street at what appears to be a large fraternity house, yelling the most common jeer of them all;
“GET A JOB!”
Some marchers yell back with a favorite new response that has just developed among us during the course of this march, “DON”T BE THAT GUY!”. First heard from panhandlers at Occupy Wall Street, the phrase now has an important new meaning;
We the marchers and anyone supporting us feels that this is the most important job in the world – saving it.
Seeing potential violence, the police escort steps out of his vehicle, “Clear the sidewalk or I’m going to start taking names.”
Although negative, the heckler encounter proves to have a ying and yang affect, again energizing the tired as we continue on into the great town of Trenton. Morale turns again to pure joy in a very low income neighborhood that some supporters had warned us about. Four men appear in the street wearing full American Revolutionary War uniforms. They march side by side singing Yankee Doodle as we fall into march behind them, joining in the song with voices and whistling. It is a moment that none of us will ever forget.
The soldiers march us some blocks to the 150-foot Trenton Battle Monument, commemorating the pivotal battle that George Washington and his troops fought here in 1776. This victory of the Continental Army was against all odds and inspired the morale and reenlistment that eventually defeated the British. The four uniformed soldiers stand shoulder to shoulder, backs to the massive monument, describing the battle as the Occupy marchers sit before them like storytime children.
Their message is this; the Continental Army did for this country then as this social movement can do for it now- tyranny once again reigns and a great force of human spirit is rising up again to free the people.
The soldiers’ final command, “OCCUPY!”
This time it shall be global. This time we shall secure our future not just as a nation but as one human race.
Caddy-corner to the battle monument is Occupy Trenton, a collection of well-spaced tents set upon an open grassy park. Bonfire flames leap high, reflecting tears that flow among the marchers as they embrace their Trenton brethren.
SHALL SUCH BEAUTY SPREAD THIS GLOBE AND CHANGE US ALL FOREVER.
March Day 4 – Trenton, NJ to Bristol, PA:
Sunrise glistens from frosty grass and tents as Occupy Trenton warms to life. Campers sit around a fire sipping coffee as a laptop computer streams the scene live from atop a makeshift table of bricks and plywood. Some marchers had spent the night two blocks away inside an old brick industrial building converted into a community center, complete with showers, operated by the Eastern Service Workers Association. Marchers move between the Occupy camp and that building all morning, our only bathroom location.
Considering yesterday’s 27 miles, there is no rush to hit the road until after noon. Each marcher spends the long bright morning in their own unique ways. Signs are attached to the People’s Taxi wagon. A GPS tracker and LiveStream capability is added to the march’s website.
A pre-march General Assembly is held at noon, taking two hours and eventually leading to shouted profanity. This inability to hold a proper GA is a reflection of our individual exhaustion. Even after a full night of sleep and ample food, recovering from a 27-mile walk takes time that we don’t have. People in every city along the route are making plans for certain days. We don’t want to let them down or play into popular media stereotypes.
Walking progress resumes at 2PM, crossing the Delaware river into Pennsylvania. Media lurks on the bridge, having expected us hours ago and waiting ever since. Supporters track down the march with fried chicken at dinnertime, during which we hold another GA that also results in screaming. “You’re accent kills me!”, one man says hysterically to a Mexican speaker. “WE ARE OCCUPY WALL STREET AND WE MUST FOLLOW OUR CODE OF CONDUCT!”, someone screams. The speaker continues calmly, not offended, “My accent is not news to me.” The ensuing bout of group laughter brings the GA back into peaceful order.
An SUV pace vehicle joins us, driven by a local supporter. Relieved of our backpack weight, the nighttime pace quickens. Marcher Brandon befriends the driver, choosing to ride in the passenger seat instead of walking. He sometimes also rides on the vehicle’s exterior while wearing the Guy Fawkes mask he’d left Zuccotti Park with. Even after repeated scoldings from other marchers he continues the stunts. The full truck will not fit his heavy backpack, homemade with gunny sacks, so he throws it onto the People’s Taxi rather than carrying it on his lap.
A dilemma is faced concerning the Taxi, primarily now being used for personal belongings and trash instead of items such as food and water that benefit everyone. For the second night in a row, backpacks and loose clothing is piled so high that the food and water at the bottom of the cart is mostly inaccessible. This will prove as difficult as controlling the march pace, going through cycles of severity while never seeing a real solution.
A Quaker meeting house in the town of Bristol offers lodging for the night. Built in 1711, the building stands among other structures of that same time period. Church members have hot dinner waiting and the heat cranked high, resulting in an entry so joyous that all the day’s trials and tribulations are immediately forgotten. A supporter brings in a stack of pizzas just as the meal is wrapping up.
Half of the marchers fall unconscious with a quickness, laying on, under or around church pews. A two-hour facilitation training meeting stretches till after midnight at an ancient hardwood table, instructing interested marchers on how to hold their own General Assemblies. This training is very important to relieve stress from the organizers, who have had to facilitate every General Assembly up until this point.
March Day 5 – Bristol to Philadelphia, PA
Bo and I co-facilitated a General Assembly for the first time this morning. Kelly and Jason have facilitated almost all of our Internal and Public GA’s since the march began. Until last night’s impromptu Facilitation Teach-in, they were the only marchers who knew how. This meant that neither of them were able to speak their minds on the agenda items that were discussed and voted on. A facilitator is meant to be neutral so they can lead the General Assembly without influencing the decision-making processes of the group.
The inability to speak ones mind leads to the build-up of frustration and stress. And if the facilitators are stressed, it can severely undermine the smoothness and effectiveness of the GA process. This is what was beginning to happen withing our GA’s, and it lead to a lot of emotional arguing and very little decision-making. As a result, people stopped paying attention to and participating in the GA’s.
The other problem with having the same people facilitate every GA is that those people may then be percieved as power-mongers. People may accuse them of pushing a personal agenda or of trying to be dictators. The whole point of horizontal Democracy is to make everyone feel that they can be involved and that they can step into any position they wish to, including that of facilitation.
This morning, the process was very smooth. People did pay attention and they did participate. Seeing new faces in the facilitation role every day reminds people that everybody is empowered to step into every position. Just knowing this makes people feel that they are being recognized and heard. It makes them feel that engaging in the GA process is a productive use of their time.
Having different facilitators this morning not only renewed the group’s interest in the process, it also took some pressure off of Kelly and Jason and allowed them to speak their minds. It is always better for everyone if duties and responsibilities are rotated between everyone involved.
I thoroughly enjoyed facilitating the meeting. I don’t typically take on roles of leadership or management. I don’t like to tell others what to do. I don’t like to be percieved as an authority figure. Facilitation doesn’t feel like that. It is empowering, but rather than making you feel above the group or in control of it, facilitation makes you feel connected and included in the group. You feel like you’re doing something for everyone, not like you’re making everyone do something for you.
After the GA, everyone rushes around to the tune of jazz piano, packing, getting taped up by the medic, eating pizza, waffles and eggs. Today we load our bags into Mical’s car. She’s a woman I met at Zuccotti Park the day David Crosby and Graham Nash played there. I didn’t think I’d see her again until Garth and I returned to New York.
Tragically, we leave the Bristol Friends Meeting an awful mess in our hurry to get on the road. But our host, Paul, is very patient and gracious and he does not take offense.
“You have more important things to do,” he says.
We owe him. We’ve learned our lesson. We’ve got to get up earlier as a group and make time for cleaning.
Mical marches with us when we leave Bristol. A little way outside town, a fellow pulls over and sets out two boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts on top of his car. He also gives us a cash donation.
Raghu is making the trek on crutches today. He went to the doctor last night because he’s got a shin split. But he insists on marching. He says he’s here to pay off bad karma with suffering. It’s hard to deter people with spiritual motivations. He’ll be the only marcher with blisters in his armpits.
After a couple of hours of marching, we stop in a parking lot to eat lunch. One of our luggage transport cars, driven by Bill the Vietnam War Veteran, plays loud dance music with the doors open. Garth, Panama, Pauly and Bo break dance on the asphalt. Mical takes a photo of all the women in the marching group. Liz, the Washington Post reporter, and Jackie are not present, so we write their names on the back of a sign so they can be in the picture.
Micheal and his American flag have become the face of the march. We want to make sure that everyone knows there are a few strong women in this group too.
When we start marching again, May gives Panama a piggy Back ride and shouts, “Warrior Women!”
“We’re practicing for Raghu!” Panama says. “This is what we’re gonna have to do with him!”
The people’s taxi is full of food today. From the Quaker Meeting House we brought leftover Pizza, hard-boiled eggs, apple juice, orange juice and many other things.
At the city limits of Philidelphia, I catch up to the faster marchers who have grouped together on the sidewalk. Bo jumps up and down like a pogo stick, going in circles around the group, looking absolutely ecstatic.
“Mic check! Mic Check Mic check!” he shouts.
The rest of the marchers gather around. In the center of the mob stands a large man in a pubic transit uniform. He’d approached us and asked if he could do a mic check. He gives us a an inspirational speech.
“You see that river you just crossed?” he says. “The last time there was a revolution in this country, they marched across that river! You are the youth and our future and I applaud you and support you wholeheartedly! Thank you and welcome to Philadelphia!”
Everyone crowds him into a group hug, cheering and screaming.
It is amazng that the bus driver came to us, that he supports us, that he gave us a pep talk. But the best part is that he used the People’s Mic. That means he’s been paying attention to what Occupy has been doing. Our ideas are spreading into the lives of real people everywhere. That’s the main purpose of this march. We are succeeding!
We resume the march and Panama gets out his phone to call his mom. He didn’t tell anyone where he was going when he joined the march. He left quietly so he wouldn’t have to explain. He tells me his mom was a getaway driver for the Black Panthers when she was our age. Everyone on this march has an amazing story to tell.
May picks flowers as we walk. She wears a camouflage bandanna in her short black afro and she slides the stems of the flowers underneath it. A purple thistle, a yellow dandelion, an orange leaf.
Rapheal plays “Fortunate Son” on guitar. Fred stands next to him, wearing a pink rose in his gray wool hat. He sings along, snapping his fingers and tapping his foot as an American flag flutters around him.
We officially break our hundred mile mark today. It’s a major accomplishment.
I am so happy. Everything about this scene is perfect. My blood feels like carbonated soda, popping and sizzling with energy. I feel high. I feel like I drank 20 cups of coffee. Every amazing thing that happens is more amazing than the amazing thing that happened before it. I feel so good and so energized that I don’t even feel like I need to sit down when we take breaks, and we walk an average of 20 miles a day!
We hear the news that the Denver, Portland and Salt Lake City Occupy encampments were all shut down by the cops. We are very lucky to be here on this march. We are the mobile occupation and they can’t touch us. Be we are touching everyone we meet.
As we progress through Philly, Kelly proposes that the women of the group lead the march into downtown. She and Micheal organized this march and he has been painted by the media as its leader while the presence of women has be under-represented by reporters. She wants to show the public that this is not a man’s march, that women are strong too, and that we are capable of everything they are capable of.
Just after she proposes this, a woman stops her car and gets out. Kelly and Micheal are leading the group at that point. The woman goes straight to Micheal, takes his face in her hands, gives him a long hug and says, “Oh, the heroes! Thank you so much!” She then turns her back without acknowledging Kelly at all. Kelly looks at me and I can see her thoughts in her eyes.
The woman gets out boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts and coffee and sets them on the rear of her car for us. As we walk away, the woman comes down the line of marchers, kissing each of us on the cheek and saying, “Thank you. God bless you.”
That one cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee added to the already explosive amount of natural human energy I’m buzzing on makes me feel like dynamite. I can actually run up and down the march line instead of just walking.
Raghu finally caves to the pain in his leg and falls so far behind that we can no longer wait for him. We convince him to take a ride in the Peopl’s Taxi. As we roll him toward downtown Philly, the sky is ablaze with a pink, purple and orange sunset that blasts across the sky like cannon fire.
But as the sky darkens and exhaustion creeps in, the group unravels into chaos. We stop multiple times to have emergency GA’s about the issue of pace, the question of what to do with Raghu and the fact that we’ll be walking thru a bad neighborhood after dark. We get shuffled from one sidewalk to the next by police officers who don’t want us standing in a group talking. The neighbors call 911 because they whink we’re protesting in front of their neighborhhood restaurants. Marchers begin to get angry and yell and swear at one another. No decisions are made. We waste a lot of time.
The cops tell us that if we stand still we’ll be attacked by gangs. We move on. As we walk, Fred begins to sing and everything gets a little quieter. There are certain people in this group who never break down, never descend into negativity, never get caught up in any of the mayhem no matter what. They are the buoys of this march. Fred is one of those. He is always peaceful, always serene, always a positive and loving influence. And it is not put on. It comes from him naturally. It’s the way he is.
It is when the loud members of any group unravel into chaos that the quiet people begin to step up. They are the patient observers who step into roles of mediation when others would fight and scream. They are the ones who know that the louder you scream, the deafer everyone’s ears become until everyone around you is simply tuning you out and waiting for you to stop speaking. They are the ones who know that people listen closer when you speak quietly.
Ragu sits in the cart on the corner while most of the group goes to a donut shop to use the bathroom. He feels incredibly guilty and humilliated about having to ask others to pull him around. It’s sounds like he’s considering leaving.
By then end of the night, I still have plenty of physical and mental energy, but a tremendous pain developes in my knees. If I do anything other than walk perfectly straight on flat ground they threaten to collapse.
When we get close to Occupy Philadelphia, a huge group of Occupiers runs excitedly toward us in the street. People smile and scream greetings and give huge hugs. We march with them toward their camp, but my knees hurt so bad that I fall behind by ten blocks. Ephraim is there and he walks with me in my slow, slurring delirium, patiently listening to my nonsensical blathering.
Occupy Philly is camped around City Hall, a huge, beautiful, old buiding with all the decoration of early America. It looks like the White House. It’s well lit and imposing. It looms up over the dome tents. Philly has a bigger space than Zuccotti Park and it’s less populated. The heaps of stuff that piled up between Zuccotti Park’s tents are absent here, giving it a first impression of relative cleanliness. There are porta potties, but they are incredibly dirty, almost completely full and lacking toilet paper. The big fountain in the back of the park is shut off and it smells like urine.
They’ve prepared dinner and asked that all of the permanent residents wait until after we eat before they even get in line. But I don’t have dinner. I get a call from Garth. Raghu got out of the cart and started walking. Garth and Fred stayed back with him and fell behind by a couple of miles. They need a ride. My phone dies just after I give him directions to the site. Bill the Veteran takes me back to where they are.
Raghu and Fred are there, hobbling slowly along, but Garth is nowhere to be found. He got sick of the spectacle and left. Raghu refuses to get in the truck. We leave him. He limps into camp and hour later to clapping and cheering.
To finish off the nite, Kelly, Micheal, Pauly, Citizen, May, Patrick and I crowd together in a little tent and pass a little bottle of whiskey around while we look at Citizen’s hundreds of photos from the day’s march.
No matter what kinds of conflicts we have, this group always manages to pull thru to something positive and become a family agian. We know there is something going on here that is bigger than us, and that to argue over our petty issues is to miss out on the tremendous human energy that is working to change the world.
March Day 6 – Scheduled Rest in Philadelphia:
A bustle of activity occurs in the early morning hours near where most of the marchers have slept in their tents. A group of Occupy Philly campers rummage through the People’s Taxi, making much rustling noise but not speaking. Knowing the wagon only contains junk food, marchers are too tired to get up and stop this. All is lost upon our awakening, with only empty wrappers remaining from the hundreds of candy and pastry items that had been in the Taxi.
A news conference takes place in the Plaza at noon, discussing the upcoming construction that the city had scheduled long before the Occupation ever began. The Occupy Philly assembly voted in recent days not to move across the street to a park of equal quality that has been offered to them. This decision has led to a serious rift with a large number of Occupiers who wish to move the encampment. Sensing an eventual clash between Occupy Philly and the city, a large number of media organizations attend the press conference. Satellite news trucks line the curbs as the event takes place beside the palatial City Hall building that dominates the plaza.
Paul, the pastor of the Quaker church where we’d stayed two nights ago, arrives to deliver 22 emergency flashers. This man’s patience is remarkable considering our brief history together. He’d requested to offer a short prayer that night in the church but was asked not to by a marcher. The next morning his church had been left in rushed disarray with abandoned dirty clothing and dog feces tracked across the carpet. Yet now he returns with $150 of lights to keep us safe at night. Vowing not to repeat the same mistakes again, we will from now on awaken earlier in order to leave host buildings cleaner than upon arrival.
After our days out and about in the city, most marchers reconvene in the Plaza for an evening General Assembly. Most attempts at sleep are interrupted some time after midnight, “MIKE CHECK! MIKE CHECK! ZUCCOTTI PARK IS BEING RAIDED!” Marchers set up laptop computers in the People’s Taxi to display Occupy Wall Street’s livestream, showing a perimeter of robo-like officers standing motionless in full riot gear.
The stream shows 4,000 live viewers, rising to over 20,000 within the hour as the police destroy the Zuccotti Park encampment. Groups of Occupy Philly people load into cars and vans, making the middle-of-the-night drive to help defend Occupy Wall Street. Several marchers join these departing groups while others continue to sit around the livestreaming laptops for hours while making signs to express the new state of affairs tomorrow brings.
March Day 7 – Philadelphia, PA to Wilmington, DE
It takes a long time to get on the road. Arranging a car for all of our backpacks is complicated with all of the new marchers joining us from Occupy Philadelphia. At the General Assembly last night, we explained that they need to carry their possessions themselves. It is not guaranteed that we will always have a car. They seem to take it for granted. This irritates some of the longer-term marchers who had to carry their packs in the beginning before people offered to drive them for us.
Marchers collapses tents, rolls sleeping bags and have their ankles wrapped by the medic. Bill, the Vietnam War Veteran who’s been driving our bags for a few days, circles the block continuously to keep from getting towed. This confuses people who want to load up their luggage.
Marchers Pauly, May, Patrick and Micheal stayed up all night in the media tent, watching the live feed from the Zuccotti raid. They are dead tired and we have 25 miles to hike today, our second longest day in the march to D.C. The directions to Wilmington, Delaware, tonight’s destination, are lost. Micheal goes to reprint them.
It’s 10:30 when we finally file out of the Occupy Philly encampment. Making a small circle thru downtown, we stop briefly at Independence Square and the Liberty Bell.
Micheal, carrying his American flag as always, offers words of encouragement: “When you get tired tonight and things start to get difficult, just remember what happened last night in Zuccotti Park. We are Occupy Wall Street. That was my home. I’m gonna march 25 miles and I’m gonna get to Wilmington tonight.”
A mob of cops descended on Occupy Wall Street last night and cleared the whole encampment, throwing away the books from the library, tear-gassing people, pepper spraying people, using chainsaws to destroy the medical tent while people were inside it being treated for injuries caused by the police. The park was hosed down and occupied by police in riot gear. They’ve barricaded it, leaving only one entrance and one exit. You cannot enter thru the exit or exit thru the entrance. You cannot lie down or eat in the park. The Occupiers began to march thru in circles until they were too tired to continue.
I think of all the work everyone put into creating a community at Zuccotti- all of the donated tents, clothes, food, books. I think of Apollo, Ella, Grayson, Raven and Henry- the neighbors we’d gotten to know. I think of the teach-ins and meditations and musical jam session that happened all day, every day. I choke up and turn away and pace around behind the group.
If I were a cop, would I be able to destroy all that and tear gas all those people? Could I do that just because it was my job, just because I was getting paid?
As we march out of Philly, I feel an acute difference in the vibe of the group. Kelli, Fred, Brandon, May and Patrick are all missing. The light-heartedness of our rebel band is crushed beneath the weight of last night’s raid and the absence of our friends, who, after only 5 days on the road together, now feel like brothers and sisters.
Adding to the pervasive grayness is the worry that we may not have any money for food and other emergencies. The check for $3,000 that was given to the march by the Zuccotti General Assembly has not yet been cleared by the bank. And now that Zuccotti is destroyed, and all their operations have been disrupted, we may not ever see those funds.
There are about 40 marchers now. We cannot feed everyone with only the donations we’ve received on the road. Further complicating that issue is the fact that last night’s General Assembly officially agreed that all new marchers would have their food paid for.
The marchers who began in New York are now conditioned enough to keep up a relatively fast pace, and many of the Philly marchers fall behind. James, with his sleeping bag tied to a stick like Tom Sawyer, is blocks ahead with Panama Law, the drummer, and Super Melvin. They get frustrated at having to wait.
Passing by the African and Jamaican restaurants, we spot a cube of wet cement, bending across yellow caution tape to scratch Occupy slogans into it with fingers and sticks.
“Occupy on the March, 2011,” I scrawl with my fingertip. Chunks of cement stick to my nail.
A group of construction workers stands in the street, looking down at a man in a hole.
“You are the 99%!” Garth yells.
“Our taxes are taking care of you assholes!” screams the man in the hole.
“Stay in the hole,” someone mumbles nervously behind me.
The march is much quieter today, and the dynamic has changed. Pauly is no longer directing traffic, leading us across intersections with his flag. Kelly is not here, yelling passionately about how important it is to have public General Assemblies in order to spread the concept of horizontal democracy to the people. Panama’s drumsticks were stolen in Philly and we have no driving march rhythm. Brandon, our mascot is not hanging off the side of a truck playing dance music, wearing his Guy Fawkes mask. Fred is not here to sing in his beautiful deep voice which calms like a balm.
For lunch, we buy cans of garbanzo beans, salt, pepper, olive oil, bread, tomatoes and lettuce. Cologino puts the beans in a plastic bag with the spices and oil, crushing them together to make hummus. He and Jackie form an assembly line to make sandwiches. There’s also candy spread out on a blanket in the grass.
When we continue marching, I see a cop car on almost every block. My phone rings. It’s the Maryland Police department. They want to know our route two days in advance. They want to escort us into the state. The police are watching us very carefully ever since Zuccotti was raided.
I also get a lot of logistical phone calls. People want to get head counts so they can arrange food for us in Wilmington and Baltimore. They want to know if we need transport cars.
Marchers come to me with questions as well. They saw me facilitate the General Assembly last night and this morning. Somehow, being a facilitator gives people the impression that you know things.
The beautiful thing about horizontal democracy is that it allows anyone to facilitate the process. Facilitation is not a position of leadership. There are no leaders within the Occupy movement. But it is empowering to know that you can make the decision-making process for an entire community run smoothly so that everyone can benefit from it.
It’s a new feeling for me to have others come to me looking for answers. I enjoy it. But it doesn’t make me feel like a manager or a dictator. Rather, it makes me feel as tho I am more connected with all the others, more involved with the movement.
The other beautiful thing about the Occupy Movement is that it’s not just one person or static group organizing everything while a general populace just goes along with their decisions. Anybody who wants to can have a say in how projects are carried out. The only qualifications for being an organizer on any project are that you’re there and you’re interested.
We walk steadily, but make only 7 miles before lunch. After the break, the slower group falls so far behind that the fast group calls for an emergency General Assembly to discuss possible solutions for the problem. There is a lot of arguing.
“How about if we all just agree to walk faster!” Michael says.
And that’s that. Bill the Vietnam Veteran comes to pick up Lisa, who is so exhausted she can no longer walk. He tries to pick up Raghu, who’s shin split is causing him incredible pain, but Raghu refuses to leave the march. The group walks on at about 3 miles per hour. Panama, who bought drumsticks on the road, bangs out a driving rhythm.
We walk at a fast, steady pace for 2 hours then break at a gas station. I run off to a bathroom. Everyone’s moved on by the time I come out. Mike, one of the marches who began in New York, and Josh, a photographer who joined us in Philly, hang back and wait for me. A woman stops her minivan next to us and gushes support for the Occupy Movement in general and especially for the March to D.C. The rest of the group disappears into the dark distance while we speak to her. My hitchhiker sense kicks on.
“Would it be alright if we ride up the road with you just to catch up with the other marchers?” I ask.
I know I’ll never catch up by walking, and my knees scream with pain whenever I try to run.
“Oh, absolutely!” the woman says.
She piles us into her car with her father and her son and zooms us forward to the head of the marching line.
A few minutes later, Mike waits for another person who goes to the bathroom. He falls behind the rest of the group for a second time. Once again, a car stops and the driver happens to be a supporter. Mike gets another ride to the head of the line.
During my many years of penniless travel, I learned that you have to venture outside the realms of safety, security and comfort in order to discover that, for the most part, the people of the world will help you before they will hurt you. People are basically good, kind and hospitable- even in neighborhoods with “rough” reputations. This march has re-affirmed that basic truth.
We take another break in front of a convenience store, sitting on curbs, stretching, eating jerky sticks. Michel goes inside to buy water and the store owner sells him a case at cost. A man walks thru the parking lot, marveling at us.
“I’m just watchin’ these Occupiers!” he says over a phone. “They makin’ history! I love y’all!”
He fishes $20 out of his wallet and hands it to us.
“We love you too!” we all shout.
“Don’t quit!” the man says as he walks away. “Don’t give up!”
We march on for two more hours. I’m on my last drop of natural energy when we make our next stop. I can’t sit down. If I do, it’ll be tremendously painful to start walking again. I pace around in circles. I stretch.
Orlando and Eve, two marchers from Philly, notice I’m slowing down. They stick a tea bag in a water bottle and hand it to me. I make sure I’m at the front of the line when we start walking again. This way, even if I’m walking slow, it will take a while for each person in the group to pass me and I won’t fall drastically behind the whole marching line.
I drink the tea as I plug along. It kicks in after a few minutes. A sudden surge of energy sends me striding to the front of the line, where I remain for another hour of marching. Propelled by the tea rush, my body operates itself like a robot while my mind disappears into a trance, repeating the phrase, “I feel wonderful and I’m just here.” The bank towers of the Wilmington skyline loom up on the horizon. We stop beside a McDonald’s to regroup and share french fries before walking our last 30 blocks to the Occupy encampment.
My calf stings. I scraped it climbing over a rock wall. Pulling up my pant leg to check on the wound, I see that my leg has swollen severely. It bulges out like a muffin over the top of my boot. A bright red rash rings my leg just above the sock. I pull up the other pant leg to find an identical situation. My legs tingle painfully, as tho they’re full of needles.
“You should take a ride the rest of the way,” Garth says, looking worried.
“I feel like I can walk,” I say. “I’m going to walk.”
This is a 25-mile day. It’s the second longest day of the march. I gave up 3 miles short of our destination on the longest day of the march and I was very disappointed. I need to prove to myself that I can do this. I know I can. I am determined.
A cop rolls up and opens his window.
“This neighborhood coming up is pretty rough,” he says. “So stay close together. I’m gonna ride alongside you to make sure nothing happens.”
We pass blocks of boarded up store fronts and empty display windows. Everything’s out of business. I wonder where exactly the people who live in this neighborhood are supposed to “get a job.”
A group of men sits on their porch steps, smiling as we approach.
“Y’all are heroes!” they say. “You really are! Keep going!”
It is amazing that walking- the simplest and most basic of human actions- can be so inspiring and so moving. Walking is universal. It does not cost a single penny, yet it demonstrates infinite dedication, conviction and determination. It allows one to move across the earth at the speed that human beings were meant to move. It allows time for face to face interaction with the world.
Nothing shows that you care about another human being more than the act of walking hundreds of miles to shake their hand and look into their eyes and tell them so face to face.
Occupy Delaware ‘s encampment is squished into a courtyard between all the big bank towers of downtown.
By the time we reach it, my body is completely drained of energy. I shiver and sweat and shuffle pathetically over to a folding canvass chair. My heavy eyelids sink. My empty mind glitters and slides around in my skull. My teeth chatter.
Someone gives me a heat blanket. Someone else wraps me in a sleeping bag. Another person brings me chicken, pasta and applesauce. A fourth person brings me tea, water and Gatorade. Every Occupy encampment feels like home. All of the Occupiers, even before you know their names, treat you like family. We know each other, we are working together, we take care of one another.
I untie my boots. Pulling them off is difficult. I hold my breath and sigh with relief when my swollen feet and legs come free. I peel off my socks. My calves are bloated as dead bodies, and my feet are so swollen I can’t move my toes.
I cross my legs, uncross them, throw them over the arm of the chair, put them up on the seat of another chair. A billion needles stab my skin. My muscles sizzle, twitch and tighten. I get chills. There is no position in which my feet and legs feel comfortable or at ease.
A medic named Frosty, an older man with a white beard, brings in a pan of hot water and a set of plastic drawers full of first aid supplies. He cleans the red rash which now forms three-inch wide bands around both my legs where my socks and boots rubbed against them all day. He spreads an anti-biotic ointment over the ugly splotches. I swallow two pink Benadryl.
Delirium sets in as I listen to a guitarist strum softly in the chair next to me. The park lights go out. It’s midnight. A Pulitzer-winning photographer named Ricky Carioti continues to snap high speed close-range photos as he has been doing all day. He now kneels in the shadows, his steely eyes appearing as two camera lenses.
I did it. I proved to myself that I could walk 25 miles in one day- that I can do anything I want to do.
Garth arranges for us to go home with a woman named Julia for the nite. I hobble to the car. Micheal’s already asleep in the back seat with his flag and his pack. He slides back and forth as the car turns corners. I drift to sleep with my head rattling against the window.
I sit at Julia’s kitchen table with my feet up on a cushioned wicker chair. She makes me a whiskey and ginger beer. People swirl around me, talking passionately of politics. The words rot in my brain matter before I can comprehend them. I fall asleep sitting up and decide to go in the living room and pass out on the Persian rug.
Julia wakes me.
“I’ve got a bed for you. Come with me.”
She walks me up the stairs to her sister’s old room.
“I can’t let someone fall asleep on the floor. My parents would kill me.”
March Day 8 – Wilmington to Newark, DE:
Marchers are spread out among at least two private homes and the downtown Occupy Delaware encampment. The occupants of one home clean high-powered rifles and play with a massive boa constrictor while playing video games with their marcher guests. In another much larger home, marchers eat steak and eggs and sleep off the late night beverages that had been offered.
Rain pours intermittently, reduced from earlier but steadily falling as we regroup at Occupy Delaware after lunch. A few marchers are still not packed up as 2PM nears, and some who are ready want to take the day off to await better weather. The group stands in the rain locked in heated debate. At least half of the marchers refuse to consider a day off or to wait any longer. Nobody wants to be left behind, though, so in the end everyone who’s packed follows behind. As for the few who were still packing their gear, they are left to find other ways to meet up with the group later. Some consider this decision harsh while others find it vitally necessary.
Marcher Citizen’s professional camera is destroyed by the rain. There is no pace vehicle or luggage shuttle, so veryone struggles to keep their pack’s dry. Some marchers squeezing both themselves and their packs into single plastic ponchos, resulting in odd hunchback appearances. Today more than ever, we are a motley crew.
After 2 hours a supporter finally meets up to shuttle our luggage on to the destination. The only thing in sight at breaktime is a McDonalds. The manager paces nervously as we drip a layer of dirty water throughout the restaurant, our crudely plastic-wrapped packs lying everywhere. This stop ends up turning into a full one-hour meal break, leaving the vegetarians very unhappy as they had not been able to eat. Some will later split off from the group to eat elsewhere and become lost for the evening’s remainder.
Light rain still falls at 8PM as we enter the college town of Newark, Delaware. A few young supporters unfurl a “Welcome Marchers” banner on the sidewalk. Vehicles waiting near the downtown post office ferry us 7 miles to the Limestone Presbyterian church, where a gymnasium facility awaits complete with showers. The day began homeless, with the prospect of sleeping on the roadside possibly becoming a reality for the first time. The church came thanks to a local supporter who spent nearly her whole day talking with churches all over the region. This had apparently been the only one that showed any interest whatsoever and the offer had only been finalized late this afternoon.
Kitchen volunteers serve up vegetable soup while baking cookies. The heat is turned up high enough to dry everyone’s belongings overnight. Lucky. Lucky. Lucky.
March Day 9 – Newark, Delaware to Havre de Grace, Maryland:
The bloodied face of our former marcher Brandon Watts shows up across international media outlets, reportedly arrested for stealing a New York City police officer’s cap and throwing AAA batteries. Brandon had made a last minute decision to join the march just as it departed from Zuccotti Park on November 9th. He carried only a Guy Fawkes mask- no backpack, coat or other gear.
Brandon then made another last-minute decision the night before last when Zuccotti Park was being raided. As many marchers had crowded around a laptop watching the Zuccotti livestream at Occupy Philly, he jumped in a carload of protestors headed back to New York in the middle of the night. Although Brandon’s boyish 19-year-old ways often greatly annoyed more mature marchers, he served as a mascot of sorts whose absence has been noticed by all.
We vote to alter our route, avoiding the former Klu Klux Klan stronghold town of Rising Sun while also shaving several miles off the total journey. Considering the diverse nature of our marchers, many considered to route to pose a safety threat. This decision to reroute leads to many logistical challenges over the next two days as all plans and accommodations must be changed.
Church volunteers provide continental-style breakfast foods as marchers clean up the church gymnasium that served as home overnight. Supporters ferry us back to downtown Wilmington, a process that takes till late morning. No rain today, just a chilly gray dreariness. That in addition to a general lack of media and supporters along today’s march leaves almost everyone in low spirits. Huge gaps form among the 40-something marchers, with the front eventually being up to a mile ahead of the rear. No longer following the status quo of all marchers being in sight of one another, a debate rages among us for over an hour.
The emergency meeting begins outside a little gas station surrounded by farm fields and forest. The manager asks us to leave the property so we move across the street to an open grassy area. Two police cars soon arrive, the officers saying that this grass is owned by a nearby veterinarian’s office who has also asked us to leave. Moving on down the narrow rural highway a third time, we assemble near a taxi office that’s operating from a shabby little taxi-sized building.
As is usual with issues concerning pace and spacing between marchers, no real solution is found and the discussion itself enrages many who see it as a waste of valuable daylight walking time. The meeting does at least serve to bring the ends of the march back to within sight of each other, but morale remains at a new low into the nighttime hours. This negativity leaves room for paranoid speculation about mobile phones malfunctioning and certain unidentified sport utility vehicles that have been spotted more than once along the route. A marcher says that the trucks could contain US federal agents who are monitoring or interfering with our phones. A few other marchers express interest in the idea.
The highway narrows further as we near the little town of North East. Police cruisers return, threatening any marcher who crosses the white shoulder line with arrest. A marcher breaks down into exhausted tears and is placed inside a pace vehicle. With most of our funding still not accessible, we sit in the cold outside a supermarket making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. A giant fake roadside fireplace, of all things, brings us back to life. Apparently built to draw attention to a new subdivision, we gather around the oddity to record photos and video.
A man outside of a big box store demands that we not display our “corporate” American flag, on which the traditional white stars are replaced by popular logos such as the McDonald’s golden arches and the Nike swoosh. The flag holder complies but another marcher picks the corporate flag back up, saying, “It’s my right to protest. You can’t make us put our flag down.” A third marcher steps in, one of the oldest amongst us, “Please just put it down just for now out of respect for this person.” The new flag holder refuses, marching on with the pole hoisted atop their shoulder. This is not the first instance of flags drawing negative public reaction. On at least one other occasion someone has asked that an American flag be picked up off a lawn, a tradition that everyone has since been vigilant of.
Anticipating our arrival, the Maryland Department of Transportation has two buses waiting by to carry us over the shoulderless Havre de Grace toll bridge, a one-mile span across the Susquehanna River. For days the Maryland State Police had been somehow obtaining the mobile phone numbers of various marchers and calling to coordinate this river crossing. There are also police waiting on both sides of the river. An officer who is on foot and out of uniform walks with us several blocks to the destination, an old church near the Havre de Grace police station. A uniformed female officer stands at attention next to the open church door, greeting each protestor. An escort squad car parks in front of the building. All protestors enter the building and the cops close the door behind us, smiling. “They’re going to burn it down!”, a someone jokes
Having changed our route at the last minute, getting this church again comes as a matter of pure luck. Otherwise we would have spent this 30-degree night at a state park in tents, something that many marchers simply to not have the gear for.
March Day 10 – Havre de Grace to Joppatowne, Maryland:
I tiptoe gingerly, aiming for the few specks of white linoleum that peek thru an obstacle coarse of bodies in sleeping bags. It’s 7am and the one-room church is still dark. Pauly and Merielle sleep in the kitchen, almost underneath a cupboard. There’s no hot water in the bathrooms, so I brush my teeth and wash my face in the big stainless steel sink, hoping the noise of running water will not wake them.
Everyone else begins to rise. We eat muffins, drink coffee, get bandaged by Eric, the medic. On a corner piano someone plays the kind of jazz I’d expect to hear in an old Charlie Chaplin film.
When the sleeping bags are stuffed and the packs are out on the porch we all join in on a frantic cleaning campaign. After having left the Bristol Friends Meeting an embarrassing mess in Pennsylvania, we now fulfill our vow to leave each host’s space cleaner than it was when we arrived. I take out all the garbage while others sweep and put away dishes.
By 9:30am, the place is sparkling and the whole group is assembled in the sidewalk, ready to march. A couple of cops wait outside too, watching us as always.
“Mic check!” Merielle says. “I just wanted to use the People’s Mic for a moment of unity… This one is called ‘False Kings.’”
She reads a poem she wrote and we repeat after her, line by line.
“Why does it feel so good today!” Orlando says, as he and I pull the People’s Taxi down a sunny sidewalk shaded by orange leaves.
“It’s probably just that we actually got on the road on time today,” I say. “And we managed to get the place really clean too.”
Panama’s drum beat leads us thru the cheery suburbs and out onto the highway. As we cross a large intersection blocked off by cop cars, one officer looks at me and Orlando with a smile.
“Thanks for marching,” he says.
My heart jumps.
“Thanks for your hospitality,” Orlando says.
“That’s the first time a cop has thanked us for marching!” I say.
I’m reminded that we are doing this for everyone- including the cops. They are not all here to destroy what we’re trying to build. They are not our enemies. They are human beings, doing what they have to in order to survive and support their families.
Cameras orbit us like flies as we march. The press is thick today. A helicopter hovers above the highway, looking down at us. People come out of their places of business to watch us pass. At a car dealership, a salesman asks us what we’re doing.
“Alright, well, f*** you boss!” he jokes. “I’m goin’ with them!”
A soldier drives by in his camo fatigues, leans out the window, shouts, “Thanks for walking! And while we’re at it, let’s stop these f***ing wars too!”
We notice a flag shop on the other side of the highway.
“Mic check!” someone shouts. “How do we feel about spending $30 on a Peace flag?”
Hands go up in the air, fingers fluttering. We send our luggage transport car to the shop. Soon a gigantic tie-dyed flag with a Peace symbol waves above the heads of the marchers.
“You know,” John says. “I like the peace flag, but I’m not sure about the tie-dye. I feel like it says, ‘Hey, peace, man.’ I would like it more if it just said, ‘Peace.’”
During a short break, a supporter stops with a car full of sandwiches. We lounge on a patch of grass and eat. Reporters take this opportunity to conduct interviews.
Shortly after we begin walking again, Turtle shuffles up to me on his painfully blistered feet. He’s a short fellow, very young and eager to be helpful and involved.
“How do you talk to the press?” he says. “I just did an interview and it was my first one and I feel like I said all the wrong things. I was totally incoherent!”
“Just tell the truth and make sure they know you’re speaking only for yourself,” I say. “You’ll get used to it eventually. And don’t worry- when you’re nervous, your brain sees everything in a skewed way. You may have said something really eloquent without even realizing it.”
After having lived in Zuccotti Park for only two weeks, the press no longer fazes me. On any given day there, I was interviewed and photographed at least a dozen times by students, documentarians and big news organizations. Once the novelty of that wears off, you become comfortable enough to speak your mind and not care what anyone thinks about it.
Turtle’s nervous concern is endearing. It shows how enthusiastic he is about the march, how much he cares about getting the right message out to the watching public.
I come up behind Lisa as we walk. Tiny gold cymbals are attached to her thumbs and middle fingers. She taps them together in rhythm with her footsteps. The tinkling belly dancer chimes create a trance-inducing music that floats my mind away from my body and makes walking feel easy and weightless. I slow down and march behind her for over an hour just to stay near the bells.
For lunch, we sit on cushions of long golden grass, eating amazing sandwiches donated by a supporter named Ryan. I take off my boots and socks to cool my feet in the fresh air. They’re tired and aching, but I don’t mind anymore.
Our shadows lengthen and stretch in the early dusk. At the crest of one of the many rolling hills, a middle-aged man waits for us. He thanks us as we pass, handing out Xeroxed copies of a hand-written letter.
“Get one of these to the White House or Congress for me,” he says, giving one to Garth and me.
We read as we walk. The handwriting is like a child’s. The sentences are badly punctuated and many words are misspelled. The word “Graduate” it spelled “gradgiete.”
There’s some snickering from the marchers. It’s as tho some professional author were deliberately writing in a southern hillbilly accent. But the humor wears off quickly. This letter is in earnest- profound upon understanding. It makes me sad that a grown American man is so poorly educated, that his best effort at composing such an important letter to the White House sounds like that of a 7-year old child. I feel sorry for him, and salute his knowing compassion with all my heart.
Dusk turns toward darkness as we rally at a Dunkin’ Donuts on the edge of Joppatowne, our destination for the night. Someone buys us a box of coffee and we take a break, filling every table in the place as well as the sidewalk out front.
Our shelter for the night is a home in a maze of suburbs. Exhaustion sets in as we march thru the quiet neighborhood. People stare out their windows at us as two marchers get into a shouting match. Realizing that is not the way to announce their presence in a new town, the shouters put off their differences until later.
We arrive to find our packs piled high in a room off the entryway. Except for a few couches, the house is basically empty. The table off the kitchen is piled high with sandwich fixings, chips and salsa, soda, cookies and other food. We dig into it without hesitation.
The many rooms in the house offer separate sanctuaries into which we can all spread out. Garth and I make our bed in front of a big screen Television that dominates the downstairs livingroom. It’s a dark, quiet escape from the loud swirl of activity upstairs. A few other marchers come down there too, but most fall asleep right away.
Someone reads from a news feed on his phone: “The NYPD says it is unsafe for churches to house protestors.”
“At no point in history have people not been able to claim sanctuary in a church,” Knoxville says.
They are really trying hard to exterminate this movement.
Occupiers from Liberty Park(Zuccotti) call Liz’s phone. We put it on speaker and gather around. They tell us that 35,000 people marched on the Brooklyn Bridge the day after the raid, that protestors piled up the police barricades that surrounded the park and jumped on them like a trampoline. We cheer. They tell us the police took hundreds of phones from jailed demonstrators, claiming they’d been lost.
Despite the raid, Occupy Wall Street remains alive and active. They can take away our books and our tents, but they can’t take away our convictions, our drive, our determination. When they took down Zuccotti park, they built up our solidarity.
I hear a jam session going on upstairs and I can’t help but join in spite of my tiredness. I sing in harmony with John and Jackie as Alex plays the guitar. We do “I wanna hold your hand” and “Fire and Rain” to resounding applause.
The nightly General Assembly begins at 1am. By this time I’m too exhausted, retiring to my downstairs nest only a few minutes later.
March Day 11 – Joppatowne to Baltimore, Maryland:
A group of slower marchers, including Lisa, Turtle and our new Medic, Frosty, leave early today so they can get ahead instead of being left behind.
The house is a disaster when I wake up. It takes me an hour to put away all the leftover food, clean the table and counter tops, wash all the dishes by hand and scrape grime off the stove.
We’re hovering on the porch and driveway with our bags, waiting on a last check of the house, when Citizen, our resident photographer, makes a disheartening announcement.
“Mic check!” he shouts. “Last night during the General Assembly, my wallet was stolen from my pants!”
It had around $200 in it. We vote to reimburse Citizen out of the march fund.
“People will think they can steal money and it won’t matter because the General Assembly will just reimburse them,” Mike says. “I want Citizen to get his money back, but that’s a dangerous precedent to set.”
We also find that a few of our marchers disappeared during the nite, leaving behind their backpacks. No one knows for sure where they went.
A car passes us as we march out of the cookie-cutter neighborhood full of big, clean suburban homes. The driver opens his window and asks what we’re doing.
“We’re marching to D.C.,” someone says.
“Oh, you’re those wackos!” he replies.
“Yep. We’re those wackos.”
“Get a job!” he shouts.
“Get some originality!” I shout.
That’s usually the only thing our non-supporters can find to say to us. If they were paying attention, they’d know that at least half of us have jobs, and that big part of our protest is the fact that there are very few jobs to be had. I advocate actually knowing what’s going on before commenting on it or judging it. That way you’ll have something intelligent and informed to say, and you won’t sound like a mindless parrot.
Another heckler car goes by. As the driver jeers at us from inside it, a clip-on American flag falls from his car window onto the road. Garth picks it up and waves it. The driver comes back, gets out of his car, yanks the flag violently from Garth’s hand and shouts, “Idiots!”
Suburbia is more hostile than any of the “Bad Neighborhoods” we’ve walked thru. These are the people whose American Dream is turning into a nightmare. They still want to believe that shackling themselves to debt in order to get a cut-rate education, a house a car and a television is the way it has to be. They are not the 1%, but they desperately want to be. They are always close enough to taste it, but forever too far away to touch it.
They have everything they’re supposed to have, but their lives are a constant struggle. They are still working hard and they do not want to think, even for a fraction of a second, that their work is in vain, that they will never be a part of that coveted upper echelon. They do not want to open up their eyes for fear that they will see that they’ve worked their whole lives away in order to become something that they will almost surely never become.
If an alternative society is possible- if there is another way to live- does that mean all the time and energy they’ve spent almost-but -not-quite achieving the American Dream was a waste of time?
Contemplating this question when your life is already half over could drive a person mad. No wonder they don’t want to peel away the layers of upper middle-class American Life and find out what’s really happening. Who would want to pick apart a life they’ve worked so hard for just to find that its very foundation is nothing but a thick layer of rot and deceit?
Out on Highway 40, a chorus of encouraging honks lifts our spirits from the dredges of the weird morning. We pass a flea market and an elderly man runs up to the chain-link fence with a small flag. He hands it to Bo over the barbed wire.
While we walk, a CNN Radio reporter follows us. Kelly tries to get me to go talk to him.
“We need to represent women!” she says. “And I’ve done way too many interviews.”
She walks me over to him. He’s already talking to Garth.
“You should talk to Sarah,” Kelly says, “She’s amazing.”
He’s not interested. He speaks only to Garth.
I walk with Pauly instead. We come to the subject of taking basic comforts, like hot showers and microwave ovens, for granted. He tells me that when he was a kid, the bathtub was outside. He had to get water from a well and boil it and pour it in the tub in order to bathe.
A woman driving a red SUV stops us at an intersection to say thank you and give us $20. This kind of support is something I will never be able to take for granted. I still can’t believe this is all really happening.
When we stop for lunch, a man stops in a red truck that reads “We are the 99%” across the windows. He unloads tons of sandwiches and fruit. A couple of women come over and donate a box of Girl Scout cookies. Merielle meets a homeless man named Jim and invites him to eat with us.
“This is why we’re walking,” she says as she introduces him to us.
Dusk springs up behind the falling sun as we walk across the border of Baltimore. A young man stops his truck on the highway shoulder and runs toward us, waving a $20 bill.
“I’m the workingman!” he proclaims. “I support you and I hope you win!”
At a gas station, a large-bellied middle-aged man stops us.
“Do not go up that hill!” he warns. “They will kill you! This little stick you have will not protect you!” he gestures to John’s flag pole.
The Baltimore neighborhood we’re about to walk thru is supposedly the most dangerous we’ve yet crossed thru. People keep telling us to avoid it at all costs. This man is by far the most dramatic. One thing my travels have taught me, though, is that people like to perpetuate their claims to fame. Even if they are famous for something negative. And if someone has done nothing else worth claiming in their life, they will claim the reputation of the city they live in.
“Less talk! More walk! Less talk! More walk!” some of the marchers begin to chant.
We continue along our planned route.
James walks next to me, striding evenly and calmly with his walking stick, an ever-present look of serenity on his face. He has traveled much of the world with no money. He’s walked more than any of us. He started the march in NYC and has felt no pain and made not a single complaint on this whole trip. James always sits quietly just outside the group, always watching, but never getting caught up in any of the arguments.
He knows a lot about the world and life, but he doesn’t make a big deal out of himself, and he’s always willing to speak with whoever approaches him. Except for his tall, lanky frame and his beard and short black dread-locks, the first word that comes to mind whenever I look at him is “Buddha.” He is a well-traveled wise man and one of my very favorite new friends. When everyone else is being dramatic, you can always go to James for a straightforward picture of reality, based on nothing but life experience.
“So what do you think, James?” I ask him. “Are we gonna die?” I say it with a smile, because I have an intuitive feeling that we’ll be just fine, but I want to know what he thinks of all the drama.
“That dude back there don’t know nothin’ about the hood,” he says matter-of-factly. “He did not look hungry. That dude sittin’ at McDonald’s with the holes in his shoes looked hungry.”
Simple and straightforward. How does anyone who’s never gone hungry know anything about what it’s like to live in real poverty?
A fellow in a postman’s uniform stops to give us a $25 donation as we get closer to the city limits.
As we approach the “Welcome to Baltimore” sign, I ask Merielle what she thinks about walking thru bad neighborhoods.
“People have a lot of fear in their hearts,” she says. “But one thing I’m learning on this walk is that the people of my country are mostly good, but they’re stuck in difficult predicaments that other people keep them in.”
A desperate human being, even if they are inherently good, can be a dangerous human being. And American society, as it currently is, makes sure that many people are kept unnecessarily desperate.
We snap a couple of group photos in front of the Baltimore sign and move forward. We pass thru one of the most dangerous parts of Baltimore without a single problem. It is quiet and no one says a word.
A group of people from Occupy Baltimore meet us in Patterson Park. For the first time, we have arrived at our destination ahead of schedule. A few press and onlookers loiter on the edges of the group, so Kelly and I facilitate an instructional General Assembly.
During the GA, a cop interrupts to tell us the park is closed. A bunch of us surround him, making the “Point of Process” sign that the GA uses to tell someone they’re speaking out of turn or off topic. The cameras record it all.
Our numbers swelled by the Baltimore people, we march into downtown. All of a sudden, Kelly, Melvin and I decide to take the streets. Leading everyone down the center line with our fists in the air, we chant “We are the 99%!”
We march straight at oncoming cars, flowing between the lanes. Traffic stops in the sea of shouting people. Police officers begin to follow us, blocking intersections. I turn around and walk backwards, shouting chants to the crowd of marchers behind me.
The force of our energy is explosive. It makes me walk faster and scream louder. Nothing else exists. Not exhaustion. Not the pain in my feet. Not the hunger in my stomach. I could march twenty more miles on this energy. I feel strong and I feel alive. Nothing can stop us.
We make a detour to attend a rally about homelessness in front of City Hall. The minute I sit down, my feet begin to hurt again and tiredness creeps into my bones. But I like the feeling. It means I’m living my life to the fullest, taking advantage of every moment. It means I’ll be able to sleep well tonight.
At Occupy Baltimore, we get plates of food and wait for all our backpacks to arrive. At the end of the Baltimore GA, they ask a couple of us to talk about the march. Melvin and I tell a couple of stories. When that’s over, we celebrate shoeless marcher Owen’s birthday. He’s 23 today. The GA presents him with a huge cake. There’s a weird wiry piece of something stuck in it. Kelly found it on the side of the highway. Each of its branches are decorated with little notes we wrote him while we were walking. The whole group sings him happy birthday. Fireworks blast off behind the tall buildings of Baltimore.
A neurologist/record producer donates his house to us. A few local people shuttle us there in cars. It’s a labyrinth of a house, so we all easily fit inside. Three floors full of oddly-placed rooms and passageways, all painted in bright rainbow colors. Painted branches and leaves crawl along its ceiling and shelves. There are chapbooks, strange manifestos and weird art everywhere. The furniture is straight out of the Jetsons. Mike serves as DJ, blasting good music throughout the house. We dance and sing and drink wine that was brought there for us. I would love to meet the owners of this house, but they are on vacation. We record a video and send it to them via email.
I feel so good, surrounded by incredible people, amazing music, a beautiful house. I love being a part of the atmosphere this march has inspired. I do a little jig in my chair, grinning from ear to ear. Michael laughs at me.
“I just really like my life!” I say. “I love this so much! I can’t even explain it!”
“I know!” he says.
It just seems to get better and better as each day passes. There are only two days left of this march and I do not want it to end.
Day 12 – Scheduled Break in Baltimore:
The home owner’s vinyl records play all day over a high-end sound system with speakers located throughout the main floor and backyard. An entire central room is dedicated to vinyl, with many thousands of records filling shelves up and down every wall. A steady all-day rain keeps the outdoor music from being heard, though, as few marchers venture from their refuge for any other reason than a cigarette.
Our media group sets up office for 10 hours in a second-floor child’s bedroom who is out of town with the family. It’s the only room with a somewhat-clear desk and relatively quiet atmosphere, where some 7000 words are composed. Most socializing takes place in the kitchen/dining area, largest open space in the house, while the more restive marchers watch movies and sleep throughout the basement and second floor. One thing is certain, there is more life in this home today than any other home for many blocks away. This is a day when the stresses of the road melt away and discussing those experiences from a comfortable distance bonds us strongly as a group. One of our major lessons learned as a marching unit is that a relaxing break environment is vital to morale and unity.
An NYCmarch2DC Twitter update photo shows many luxuries including pizza and beer in the kitchen at dinnertime. This further offends some Baltimore Occupiers who are already upset that very few marchers are spending the day with them downtown at the McKeldin Fountain Plaza encampment. A group of nurses is there to treat our feet but almost no marcher patients show up. Those most in need of treatment decide to take care of themselves or be treated by the marcher medic in the home rather than expend energy commuting to the encampment.
We do apologize to anyone who was offended and recommend the following solutions to any other current or future marching groups: When taking an off-site break in a community that has an Occupation, open channels of real-time communication with the Occupation and choose marcher delegates to visit the site. If no delegates are up to spending an entire day there, then work in shifts. As for communities that do not have an active Occupation site, there will still often be small groups or individuals interested in meeting with marchers. In this case, the best solution is to invite them to come to you. If that is not possible then use the delegate system.
Above all, marching serves as an outreach. Marchers should consider it imperative to make themselves available. In small communities without active Occupations, marches may be the locals’ first-ever personal contact with the Occupy Movement. Whether they be rural first-contacts or urban reinforcements, do not miss such vital opportunities.
Concerning Alcohol: Overnight hosts will undoubtedly insist on offering this to marchers from time to time. In that case, encourage them to provide beverages of a low alcohol content. Establish a culture amongst the marching group that it is unacceptable to drink until drunkenness. Pace yourself, remembering that even a very slight blood-alcohol level will maintain an elevated mood. In the words of a popular high school lecture series, “Just Say Know”.
March Day 13 – Baltimore to Langley Park, Maryland:
The more energetic marchers pass through the house knocking loudly on every door at 6:30AM, “It’s the time we agreed on getting up. Let’s clean the house so we can leave on time.”
Bodies slowly begin to rise from every bed, every floor, everywhere. Someone has apparently even been sleeping in the downstairs bathroom all night with the door locked.
Marchers are just beginning to pile their packed bags outside at 9AM and we have yet to say our goodbyes to Occupy Baltimore, or even to fully arrange our rides there. Today’s schedule had been changed during a GA very late last night, upping our walking miles to 31 so that we may have more visibility in D.C. tomorrow by arriving earlier. Seeing the clouds thickening, knowing the journey will continue hours past midnight, even two New York City marchers take the train ahead to conserve energy for that final important day.
Two marching women recognize a big man who joins the group downtown. They refuse to continue, knowing he has been accused of assaulting Baltimore women. One female marcher stands in the big man’s way and he pushes through her rather than passing to her side. This prompts a few male marchers to block the man’s path. He takes off his gloves, acting as if he’ll fight but instead walking around the men. He follows the march for a short time then disappears.
The sky does not unleash its wetness until lunch, at which time the manager of a supermarket requests that our meals be consumed away from the front doors. The rain is not an instantly drenching one, but a nonstop light dripping that will continue throughout this epic journey. It’s a somber moment when the trusty People’s Taxi must be left behind just a day away from our destination. The hills are simply too big and the marchers too tired. Upon our day-two impromptu purchase of the Taxi, a following reporter had stated, “That will be in a museum someday.” Now we may never know…..
A car accidentally knocks marcher Citizen off his bicycle at low speed, slightly injuring his ankle but not enough to keep him from riding on. Still some 16 wet miles to go after dark. Moral is low with very little media presence, few honks and virtually no Twitter communications. The New York City marchers who’d earlier taken the train are the owners of our primary Twitter phone, and they didn’t know that most other phones in the group were incapable of using the service.
Not until after midnight does the march enter the Washington D.C. suburb of College Park, missing a turn and becoming lost for an hour. It’s two hours later before arrival to our last-minute-arranged host, the Casa de Maryland in Langley Park. They provide a tiled room at the rear of a massive multi-use brick building that resembles a private mansion. What happens next would not best be described as “4 hours of sleep”, but rather “4 hours of unconsciousness”.
March Day 14 – Arrival to Washington D.C.:
A number of police cars await our 7:30AM emergence at the rear of the huge brick building. We are rejoined by the 2 New York marchers who yesterday took the train. Rain still falls as half the group remains behind to continue resting while the rest march onto the University of Maryland campus. Noticing our route alterations days ago, UMD students had become concerned that we would not be passing through as planned. Occupy UMD organizer Todd Waters posted the following plea in a comment to this site:
Hey guys! ……. Occupy University of Maryland has been raising money and organizing a kickass welcome with several other student groups participating and providing much of the leg work. This is the first time we have been able to get widespread support for the occupy movement on campus and it has changed the attitudes of many of the students who were on the fence. Furthermore, many students want to join you on the final leg of your march to the capitol.
With this in mind, today’s meeting with UMD students is a very special occasion. They welcome us with delicious humus breakfasts wraps, more than we can eat, at a Food Cooperative located within the Stamp Student Union building. They join us for a public GA in a lobby outside the Cooperative then march on with us towards the city.
Six miles away at the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station, the marchers who had earlier slept in meet back up with the rest. The number is doubled yet again by supporters who have come to join this final leg of the journey. A student named Bonnie delivers lunch as we crowd together underneath the Metro platform, avoiding the rain. She’s missed three classes and has a test tonight, working in her kitchen since 7AM to prepare more food than we can eat.
A brief but dramatic conflict emerges among supporters just as we are about to eat. The DC Occupation has been split into two camps for several weeks. Some people want us to first visit the Freedom Plaza encampment while others insist on McPherson Square. Marchers quell the disruption by holding a private GA in a small semi-private area between the concrete Metro walls and a construction trailer. A supporter guards the only entryway to that space, keeping out the media and the supporters who had been arguing. Marchers soon emerge with the final decision not to change the original plans- we will march to McPherson Square first simply because it was the first Occupy encampment in DC.
Police ask us to move the food away from the Metro entrance because pedestrian traffic is backing up. The march moves on as many people are still chewing mouthfuls of food. More supporters emerge from various homes and businesses, dressed in ponchos and holding umbrellas to join us on this final stretch. We are now a mass of some one-hundred people, enough to take the right two lanes of Rhode Island Avenue. Local Occupiers struggle to keep marchers out of the third lane, saying that taking the streets is legal in DC as long as all the lanes are not blocked. Police cars often rush through the open lane, lights and sirens blazing, moving ahead to block vehicular traffic.
The 14th Street intersection is completely clogged with reporters and cameras, frantically competing for the best shots as the flowing marcher mass overtakes them. Although most of the original marchers don’t know the city geography, it is clear that we are very close. “DON”T STOP FOR THE MEDIA!”, people yell from within the march, knowing that even a few people stopping for interviews in the street will interfere with all movement.
We make the turn at K Street and there it is right in front of us…...Occupy DC at MCPHERSON SQUARE! Fourteen days and 230 miles later here it is. This is a glorious moment even for those who just joined a few blocks ago, but especially for the dozen original New York City marchers.
These few moments of passing down the McPherson walkways lined with cheering supporters will be a time that we will remember even long after our minds inevitably begin to fail us with old age. Even those who are most embarrassed by such attention are also greatly inspired by it.
As previously agreed upon by marchers, we hold a GA/press conference at the center of McPherson Square by the statue of a Union Army general that is the park’s namesake. Rain pours as mud squishes under our feet. Reporters struggle to keep their expensive equipment dry with bags and umbrellas. Marchers are crushed up against a circular fence surrounding the statue. “MOVE BACK MEDIA! WE’RE NOT HERE FOR YOU!”, someone screams, forgetting in the melee that this is indeed intended as a press conference.
Media reluctantly complies, forming a muddy gap between themselves and the marchers, with supporters gathering to the rear. We begin the event just as other public GA’s have been done, with a general overview of the GA process and hand signals. This particularly bothers a certain radio reporter who interrupts the process,
“Some of us have deadlines so we………”
Marchers cut him off, shouting back, “Point of process”, while holding up the triangular hand signal associated with that action.
The reporter yells back, “THE FIVE O’CLOCK NEWS DOESN’T WAIT!”, then sullenly looks away as the GA overview continues.
He and at least one other reporter attempt to interrupt in the same way on at least two other occasions but are again “point of processed” by marchers. Although silent, many other members of the media show disapproval of the overview with their eyes alone. A respectable war photographer who spent multiple days with the march will later harshly scold us for a “missed opportunity”, noting that several reporters left very early.
Future marches may wish to internally discuss their relationship with the media at great length. Is it more productive to hold the media captive for the GA process or consider them active members of the GA and comply with their consensus? As for our group, we decided that exposing the media to the GA process was paramount. Groups that choose to consider them active full participants in the GA may need to establish special procedures in the event that the process is sabotaged.
A heckler pushes his way into the GA crowd, strategically timing his shouts between our “mike checks”.
“OCCUPY IS A HOAX!”, he screams over and over again, “FOLLOW THE MONEY!”
Several Occupiers gather to block the heckler from moving in further, thankfully saving us from an uncertain well-publicized scene.
Individual marcher reportbacks are the GA highlight, brings both the speakers and onlookers to tears. Injured marcher Raghu, who’d left us some days ago, briefly returns for one of the most emotional reportbacks.
McPherson Square Occupiers escort marchers to a big brand new standing-room tent immediately after the GA. “We put this up just for you”, they explain, “This is your embassy”. After a short break there we march on some blocks to Freedom Plaza, home of the other Washington DC Occupy encampment. Some opponents complain that the Freedom Plaza Occupiers are not the real thing, that they have a leader and a different decision making process. A quick visual appraisal of both camps leaves one with the impression that Freedom Plaza is much more organized and well-built than McPherson, but it also must be taken into account that McPherson is built upon grass that’s turning to mud while Freedom Plaza is pavement. Another obvious difference is the average ages of McPherson and Freedom Occupiers, with the latter containing a much higher number of activists over 50 years old. Freedom also has working electrical outlets, while the McPherson outlets have been shut off by the city.
Freedom Occupiers lead us into their main meeting structure, securely made of blue tarps tightly wrapped around a PVC frame. The 15-foot ceiling is reinforced with criss-crossing wires, with the tent remaining solid under wind gusts. We fill the structure with some 50 people, standing room only. Steam rises from a set of halogen flood lamps.
“The media will be asked to leave before we begin discussing protest actions”, a speaker announces, “Is there any media here?”
“I’m not media”, a young man with a huge camera on his shoulder replies, “I just have a really nice camera.”
“Who are you?”, someone asks a very large older gentlemen.
“I’m a federal whistleblower”, he replies, followed by an all-around applause.
“I’m media”, a small younger man says, “and I understand. Just tell me when to go.”
His request to leave comes minutes later after opening statements and a plywood door is closed behind him.
“Like they can’t hear us through the tarps”, someone jokes in good nature.
The steamy blue room is the ultimate revolutionary scene, suitable for any Hollywood blockbuster fiction.
Our next action will ultimately be the last official activity as a marching group. We walk one mile down Pennsylvania Avenue to the steps of the US Capitol building, its massive dome glowing white against the black-orange fog illuminated by the city’s countless street lamps. Looking far down across the National Mall, the top of the Washington Monument is totally consumed by the low sky. There are as many police as there are marchers and supporters here at the base of the Capitol Building. Both they and us move slowly and deliberately in the mist, at a distance and not paying much obvious attention to one another.
Just a handful of media still follows, including a crew from the PBS News Hour. A GA is held on the Capitol steps, facilitated by two marchers who have never facilitated a GA before.
“We will start with announcements. Are there any announcements”, a facilitator asks.
“There is hot cheese bread right here”, someone yells.
“Are there any more announcements?”……….
“No….OK we will now open up the GA for agenda items. Would anyone like to propose an agenda item?”
“How about letting Micheal talk about the Super Committee”, someone proposes. Micheal, one of the march organizers, speaks eloquently about the failed Committee for some time then answers questions. A few more people arrive to the GA from McPherson to make announcements, then there is silence once again.
“Can we get a temperature check on ending this GA”, a facilitator asks.
Twinkle fingers rise all around.
This positive human energy the world has transferred into this march shall be magnified and repaid a million times over. A long-buried seed sprouted on September 17th with the inception of Occupy Wall Street. This march was its first generation fruit. Seeds have now been sown from New York City to Washington DC, and each these seeds has been digitally cloned countless times, spread to all corners of the globe. The germination period shall now shorten with each new cycle, progressing the movement at an ever greater speed and scope. Every person on this planet shall soon realize- this is unlike anything humaniny has ever experienced.
Thank You World.