(Note: This posting was composed by multiple marchers and so contains distinctly different writing styles.)
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.
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.