the ministry of lengthy walks

occupy the highway

i went down to zuccotti park to see the marchers off, to chat with them a bit, to approximate and internalize their faces. this was not, in its conception, to be a terribly unusual use of a morning for me, but the project proved more complex than anticipated.

i’d prepared, of course, for the expected obstacle of my persistent and debilitating shyness with a self-administered pep-talk while ferrying across the east river (“it’s okay, people are nice, no one knows anyone before they do, etc.”). but i didn’t realize how substantial the liberty plaza encampment had become since my last visit. while obviously necessary to withstand the coming winter (which now seems, like zuccotti’s management company, to have called off its offensive against the protesters at least temporarily), the proliferation of tents and semi-permanent structures has left precious little room for sitting and drawing.

what slender space remained was in high demand, as an unkindness of ravenous reporters crowded their cameramen onto the steps below the infamous if inscrutable red thing, where the marchers were gathering. (cameras seem to promote a similar hierarchy to cars, the operators of the largest ones feeling implicitly entitled to spacial preference.) i shifted my position often to keep subjects in view and to avoid (not always successfully) being stepped on.

i mention all this only to suggest that you think of the accompanying sketches as impressions rather than likenesses (but deep impressions, left by deeply impressive people).

sarah prepares to occupy the highway

the marchers, though demographically diverse, share a tendency toward excited smiles and awesome hats. they seem also to share the impression that the country is in the process of “waking up,” and that they are its courtesy call. some were giddy at the preposterousness of what they were about to undertake, while others presented the relieved confidence that comes with finally finding one’s appropriate home, a community to support what you were up to anyway.

sarah belonged clearly to the latter camp. because she projected a demeanor perhaps more approachable than that of your average activist, she was a favorite of the newsfolk. she explained, patiently, repeatedly, the importance of witnessing the nation’s occupations in person, eloquently articulating the march’s hope to bring the movement more intimately to less urban locales (where, despite social media and the various technological marvels through which we embrace them, outreach has proven more difficult). america, she felt, was ready for the message they were bringing it; people were “ready to stop working jobs they hate” to sustain lives that don’t make them happy.

for sarah, the principle was easier done than said. she had tried, she assured me, having a home, sleeping in the same bed from one day to the next, settling in and down. but it didn’t suit her, and for more than ten years she’d been happily transient. three years ago she met her equally telegenic boyfriend garth, who had similarly “dropped out of society,” and they have lived ever since united in perfect peripatesis. (they relay their joint pursuits at pursuing nothing.)

garth prepares to occupy the highway

delayed by the unexpected media onslaught and the swelling of their numbers from seven to twenty-five in the preceding twenty-four hours, the marchers were already behind schedule by the time their ambulations began. and yet they were determined to get to elizabeth, where a generously offered roof awaited them, before calling it a day. with only two planned days of rest (at the occupy philly and occupy baltimore camps), their schedule could suffer few liberties and still deliver them to d.c. in advance of the congressional super committee’s imminent deadline.

remember the super committee? this is a march about the super committee.

after finding “ken from new jersey,” with whom the marchers had become acquainted via, and on whose parents’ floor they would sleep that night, they set off, circling the square by way of farewell. “come see us off!” they called to the assembled crowd, who readily accepted the invitation.

“who wants to take this bag?” intoned a middle-aged, conservatively attired jewish couple, lugging a bulging sack alongside the protesters. “it has a tent, a sleeping bag, a warm coat…”

a marcher suggested they bring it down to the comfort station, where such donated niceties are freely distributed to occupiers as needed. “no, we’re giving it to one of you,” they informed him. “you don’t realize it yet, but someone’s going to need it.” (if they’re following the march’s twitter feed, they saw their concerns vindicated a few hours later, but i don’t suppose they required any such confirmation.)

the swarm of marchers, media attendants, well-wishers, and gawkers became somewhat dispersed as they tried to negotiate the already bustling sidewalks. “wait, did they go that way?” a scattering of voices began wondering, but everyone asked seemed to share the question. which ferry was it they were walking to, anyway, and how were they getting there? the march had been hastily organized, many of its participants having only become aware of it in recent hours, and this information had not really been disseminated.

the fine gentleman atop this post (whose name i foolishly failed to record) was separated from the pack. he started off one way and, seeing no signs or heavy packs or bulky video equipment, reversed course. he expressed heart-breakingly deep disappointed, so i was happy to see he caught up with the procession before it crossed the hudson.

what happened next, they can tell you themselves, but things seemed to be going well. unrequested police escorts ushered the marchers from municipality to municipality, as truckers honked and onlookers cheered. the first day was not without incident, but they all arrived safely at ken’s parents’ house in elizabeth, where tea and a warm jacuzzi awaited them, and where they held the march’s first general assembly. so far, so good.

so let’s go. we can meet up with the marchers on monday, their day off in philadelphia, and join the second leg of the trip, walking and drawing and blogging our way to d.c. i know and share your reservations; we’re too busy, too broke, too committed and settled and old for this sort of thing. we have rent to pay and cats to feed. but we should probably do it anyway. as they say, we’re only going to be old this once.

i’m prepared to be this irresponsible; i just need a travel buddy. let me know if it’s you.

occupy the highway

[ i’m actually not certain if this gent was a marcher or a fellow well-wisher; i didn’t get a chance to talk to him. UPDATE: confirmed: he’s on the march. ]

more on occupy wall street:
the play’s the thing ○ the culture and community of the occupation
mic check ○ impressions from my first visit
occupy sunday ○ how i came to be preoccupied with the protests


  1. kelley says:

    The last drawing looks like Pauly. He is (now was I guess) a marcher and an amazing person!