Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign
Thursday, May 31st - Thursday, June 13th 2018
Kensington, PA - Washington, D.C.
Diary, Part 2
I DIDN’T GO TO WORK TODAY… I DON’T THINK I’LL GO TOMORROW
It doesn’t take long without easy access to amenities to become dishevelled, grumpy, sweaty, sore, and in unclear ownership of certain possessions. Other problems that I face when I am marching come to mind on day one: spending an introductory period formulating a super cool contribution only to talk myself out of giving it; finding myself right in front of march security guides shouting in my ears; the chanting, and the discussion about how damn corny it normally makes protesters sound (a discussion that rarely takes place).
We pass a poster for a hip hop festival in Philadelphia that night, Roots Picnic, with an enviable line-up: The Roots, Rapsody, Badbadnotgood, Sun Ra Arkestra. I can’t wait until our own festival next weekend. Like victory, it seems a long way off.
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ALARM CLOCKS KILL DREAMS
We wake up on the church floor of another American town named after a rich English playground (Oxford, PA). The feelings of physical pain and fatigue that I have in my back, feet and calves at this point are similar to ones that I’ve had during particularly brutal employment periods (eg. Party City, the most evil company that its ever-widening market will allow. If crude oil became a hot party supply beyond its use in endless plastic products, they’d be Chevron). I have to wonder if the teens here, sleeping later than 6:30 or 7 even as the noise in the room rises, are partially doing so because “work” hasn’t yet trained them out of more natural sleep cycles.
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Not waiting until the artists meet us at Dupont Circle, the participants entertain themselves. Music is everywhere here. Folk singalong hootenannys take place of an evening, in measured doses. Poor News Networker Tiny moves back and forth throughout the single file of marchers, streaming interviews and broadcasting hip hop. A rendition of Rich Man's House by supporter Sandra Rivera becomes an unofficial anthem. Rage Against the Machine and reggae boom from the support van at appropriate stops. We listen to Flesh and Blood by OT The Real: the soundtrack for last years film of the same name starring Mark Webber, son of PPEHRC National Coordinator Cheri Honkala. You might know her best as the Green Party’s Vice Presidential candidate for 2012. It’s a good job for all of us, as Philadelphia’s OT says in the song, that money doesn’t equal love. But it is nevertheless at the heart of everything in our current reality: a fundraiser to house participants of this march, and pay expenses from the march, is taking place on “independence day” in St. Petersburg, featuring certain-age childhood favourites P.O.D., Lit, and Alien Art Farm. Capitalism: you’ve been struck by a smooth criminal!
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We’ve made it to Maryland. Walking up and downhill on an increasingly narrow shoulder, with school buses and logging trucks on the left and ankle-breaking gutters on the right. Marching is not always a fluffy activity…
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We stop to rest on the highway by a billboard that says the average American wastes 290 lbs of food a year. “I’d like to dispute that,” says our travelling comedian and wiseman Standup Steve. It’s been a tiny scream in the mind of eco-warriors like me, but we’re wasting food on this trip due to generosity. We have more than we need, which it’s fair to say is not a normal state of affairs for most here. According to a recent study, those with healthier diets rich in fruits and vegetables tend to waste more. That’s not particularly surprising, if you consider that healthier diets are linked to higher incomes, and higher incomes are linked to burning through more resources.
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THE GLASSES AGAINST THE CLASSES
You see the need for a radical economic approach to environmentalism when you come to terms with the fact that, small conscientious choices aside, people generally consume as many resources as their incomes allow. There are a few exceptions: currently, it’s only when you have money that you can regularly afford organic food or a non-leaking, remotely efficient house fit for human habitation. But that house will still likely be bigger and thus filled with more stuff. The bottom line is that any solution to the environmental crises that are currently converging to punch the global poor in the face is going to have involve much better levels of income equality and some form of wealth redistribution. $15 an hour and lowered shareholder profits, for example.
We trudge along often busy roads breathing in the fumes of car culture. So much of American activism is directed at getting the attention of motorists isolated in their vehicles, peering out from behind sunglasses. The immediate damage of dead possums, turtles, other “roadkill,” and the obvious danger we face marching alongside them, is just one thing to hate these machines for. Cars are directly linked with the capitalist system that makes us poor. Look at the Reclaim the Streets movement of the 1990s. Communal space is given over to places where folks sit alone, off to ruggedly get their own bacon, feeding the mindset that as individuals we don’t need other people to survive. The private vehicle becomes your best friend. It’s antithetical to the movement of empathy and love that many in this crowd wish to build. When we aren’t marching on a sliver of land permitted for pedestrians, we are clawing back a sliver of space from both cars and capital. Getting that pinky toe of interaction that slips through the atomisation - the supportive honk - should be just a start.
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Part 1 of this series can be read here.