(See the main Occupy the Highway blog for the latest news on the march.)
For the next two weeks, Elizabeth Flock will be reporting from the sides of East Coast roads as she makes her way from Elizabeth, N.J. to Washington, D.C. with a group of Occupy Wall Street protesters. Here’s the view from the highway:
Their feet are bloodied and swollen, even the ones who aren’t walking barefoot. The older ones are hunched over, hobbling. It wasn’t clear whether everyone would make it to the Trenton, N.J. campsite last night. The distance was 30 miles from their start that day in New Brunswick, and 70 miles from where they began in New York, farther than nearly all of them had ever walked a week in their lives.
Eric Carter, the medic, says that while no one has been seriously hurt on the Occupy the Highway march from New York to Washington, “I’ve spent a lot of time touching people’s feet.”
Carter has been an EMT for five years, sometimes for marches, and he can do a mean bandage job. He wears big Nike shoes on the march himself — maybe not the best for walking, since they lack good arch support, but he doesn’t complain.
Owen Johnson has been walking shoeless since the march began, maybe even before it started, and so Carter lets it go. But when a second marcher, 19-year-old Brandon Blood, takes his shoes off, Carter becomes suddenly parental. “Put. Your Shoes. Back. On!” Blood’s feet have already become, well, bloody, after he stepped on something metal in the road. The temperature is 30 degrees, and the ground has a layer of frost. After several miles, Blood, grumbling, puts his boots back on.
At other times, Carter is more than medic. On the first day, he was the patient, having developed the flu and forcing himself out of the march so he could sleep it off and catch up later . But at other times, he is the voice of reason, yelling out, “Don’t touch that!” more than once — one time when a marcher attempts to pick up a dead cat, another time when Blood says he’s going to cut roadkill deer into a hide to wear.
When the marchers wake up Saturday, some of them in tents provided by Occupy Trenton, others in a crumbling art studio down the block, they stumble to their feet as if they were waking up after battle. One marcher, playwright Harry Newman, 50, says he can’t go on. His big toenail is falling off, and his feet barely fit in his shoes. Although he will head back to New York today, he says he is glad he came.
“I’ve been involved in groups like this for a long time,” he said, “but putting your body into something like this, I think it gives you the hope that there can be real change.”