New York, NY–The first Occupy National Gathering had just come to an end, and occupiers lined the fence surrounding Independence Hall, waiting to depart on the Guitarmy 99 Mile March from Philadelphia to New York. The march would take seven days, but I was only able to accompany them for the first three.
We made our way through some pretty unpleasant areas on the first day. Hours after the march had begun, we hadn’t even encountered the smallest park. There wasn’t even an attempt to recreate nature. Someone made an observation that we had lost our connection to it. “We paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” they said, making reference to Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi. We usually drive though cities so quickly. It’s harder to recognize what you’re missing when you move so fast. We slowed down time that day, and it was really unsettling seeing just how much we’ve paved away the beauty of this world. The last time I remember feeling that out of touch with nature was when I first walked the streets of Florence, Italy, where the streets are so narrow that they can’t even line them with trees. It leads me to ponder what was behind the drive to almost totally remove ourselves from that which gives us life.
We encountered many people over those first three days. Some people would look on us with an air of total confusion. “Why would anyone walk in this heat? What are these people doing? Are they crazy?” Then, there were those who would look on with curiosity, look on as if they were searching for something and didn’t fully realize that this was it yet. They were undoubtedly intrigued. They wanted to know more. I was able to pass out a flyer for my blog in those situations hoping that they would pull up the web address and come to see the real reason why 70 people would march 99 miles in that heat, why we felt it so important to bring our message to the road. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t have the time to really relay that message in person.
Of course, we encountered a handful of people who felt the need to throw pure venom. A car would pass throwing phrases like, “Get a job” or “Take a bath.” One man even honked at us just to give us the finger. One’s first reaction to this might be anger or retaliation, but I just get sad now when I witness this because it’s so uninformed. The ones who are confused or curious are half awake or in the process of waking up, but the ones that are that angry are still so deep in slumber that it really demonstrates how far we still have to go. Luckily, those people were the exception.
I would say a good majority of the people we encountered responded in a very positive way. Some were overcome with joy at the sight of Occupy. The sound of horns honking in support of us was quite frequent and definitely uplifting. People would often smile and throw their arms up as we’d pass. The first of three encounters that had the most affect on me was where a man strung a hose out of his basement window to give us a break from the heat of the day. He told us, “I’m too old to be out there with boots on the ground, but I’m grateful that you guys are doing it.” A woman at his house offered their bathroom to the marchers, and he decided to march a mile or so with us, getting a taste of what he longed for and supported from afar. The second incident was when a young girl and her mother were running cold water out to us from their refrigerator, and the third was when we passed a bar with all of its windows open, and people came to the windows to cheer and wish us success. It was amazing to see the faces of the people who struggle with us and clutch to hope that this might bring the shift that they’ve so longing for.
There were occupiers from all over the country on the march, as well as an indignado from Spain. Among the marchers were occupiers from Houston and Portland and New Haven and Los Angeles and Philadelphia and New Jersey. All would form a real bond by the end. There was tension in the first few days arising from some miscommunication and the lack a horizontal structure that occupiers so long for. We’re all still learning how to walk. People made some mistakes, but every time we have the courage to put ourselves in these situations that can be uncomfortable, we learn from them, and that will make us more prepared for some of the things we might have to face in the future on a much larger scale.
It’s beautiful that some put so much of their time into putting such an action together, and it’s extremely beautiful that we are among people who refuse to just be taken care of. Occupiers want to have their hands in it. They prefer horizontal rather than hierarchical. It’s important that everyone is able to contribute and play a role in society, and for that week, the march was a society. Like Zuccotti, as I’m sure other occupations around the world, building a functioning society is not done without its tribulations. I wish I had been able to stay for the entire march to watch that evolve.
Another challenge that the community faced was the serious mental instability of one of the members. It was clear that the trauma this person had experienced living in this dysfunctional world had really had a debilitating affect on her. She was poised for confrontation. Even saying something nice to her at the wrong time would provoke an insult, and at times when she would come to you and seem in a better state, the littlest thing could trigger her and send her into a rage. In the time I was there, I started to observe things that would mitigate here. She liked to cook, and she liked to sing. She even expressed during one of her moments of clarity that she needed to keep busy to stay out of her head. It would have been a real sign of progress if the community had been able to keep her on and encourage the activities that made her feel good about herself. Unfortunately, she was given a bus ticket to New York. Perhaps it was too difficult a situation to really give her the time and energy that would have been required. I really feel that the movement needs to work at creating a safe and empathetic place for people like that. This society that we’re fighting against has created a lot of dysfunction and instability. I think Occupy was probably the most accepting environment she had ever been in. At times, she begged us to work with her condition. I think a great deal of healing could come from an environment that really took the time to do so.
It was overall a really beautiful experience, and nothing to me brings beauty in a way that music does. The first night at the farm, we had a concert. It was a time that we really got to see our old and new friends shine individually. Each person brought their beauty to the experience, a collective beauty that erupted when we reached the Staten Island Ferry Station. An Occupier from Houston belted out the beautiful lyrics from a song called One Day by Matisyahu, and the rest of us sang along. I can’t imagine a more relevant song for our current situation. It was a beautiful moment. The energy and love and passion and determination all swam together in a colorful symphony. Everyone was beaming with joy, accomplishment and hope.
On our arrival to Zuccotti, the marchers sang it again to all of the New York occupiers who came out to welcome them, and for one day, we were able to again experience the vibrancy and energy of our occupation at Liberty Square, and it will not be the last time. The NYPD can harass us. Congress can make laws to try and stifle us. They can even incarcerate a beloved member. We will not stand down. This revolution is happening. Embers of it can be seen in cities all over the world, and each step we take forward brings us closer to a time when it’s a blazing inferno of love. The members of this march took a lot of those steps, and I am honored to have been able to share some of those steps with such beautiful people.
– Stacy Lanyon –
Photos by Stacy Lanyon. Check out Stacy’s website, At the Heart of an Occupation, which profiles individuals of the Occupy movement.