Day 2 Continued, Late Afternoon:
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.
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.