by: Amanda Armstrong on March 2nd, 2012 | Comments Off
Today was the second day of the four-day “99 Mile March for Education and Social Justice” in Northern California. The march, which started in Oakland, is stopping each night in a different town to discuss with local residents the current crisis of education and to build support for an occupation of the state capitol on March 5 in Sacramento. I laid out an explanation of what we’re protesting and why in this post.
Here’s my report from our second day on the road:
We woke up early in Richmond this morning. There were roosters crowing when the sun came up. People were waiting around for a while after getting ready for the mayor of Richmond to come address us before we left. She’s with the Green Party and, based on her short talk, it sounds like she and a couple of other elected representatives are engaged in an attempt (albeit largely restricted or thwarted) to undo the local power of Chevron. She gave a warm address to our group. The food arrived at the same time as she began to speak. It was donated by friends of a local organizer who also participated in a march almost ten years ago that went from Richmond to Sacramento.
After breakfast we marched out through Richmond. Today we were on divided highways with two lanes on each side for most of the time. We were just occupying the right lane, for the most part, so cars were passing us on the left. We traveled through a rail graveyard. At times the road became an elevated highway or went up a hill, revealing views of the bay past the industrial landscape. When we were on lower roads or flat areas, we were generally passing through working-class, primarily Latino communities, where warehouses often bounded residential blocks.
Throughout the day I thought some about how the march offers a slow-paced sketch of the social geography of the Bay Area. It was possible to perceive histories of social labor and structural deprivation on the buildings we passed, in the landscape, and in the atmosphere.
For most of the morning, the energy within the group was high. As we marched, periodically we tossed glitter on each other. The glitter sparkled in the sun. People were dancing to a mix of music including MIA and Whitney Houston. One of the chants went something like this:
Occupy, Occupy: student debt has got to die.
Occupy, Occupy: foreclosures have got to die.
Occupy, Occupy: the prison system has got to die.
Occupy, Occupy: homophobia has got to die.
Occupy, Occupy: fossil fuels have got to die.
Occupy, Occupy: imperialism has got to die.
Occupy, Occupy: capitalism has got to die.
And so forth…
In addition to carrying the “99 Mile March for Education and Social Justice” banner, today protesters started carrying a second banner: “Abolish Student Debt.”
The weather was beautiful – sunny and clear. As we were entering into Pinole, a train with about fifty cars — most of which were owned by Archers Daniel Midland — passed us on the right. We met a group of about ten UC Berkeley professors in a park in Pinole, in the renovated historic downtown part of the city. We all had a relaxed lunch of chili, salad, and corn cooked by Kelly Iwamoto and served by UC Berkeley professor Wendy Brown. The faculty — some of whom were wearing their robes — marched with us for the next couple of miles. One of the remarkable parts of that stage of the march was that at almost every intersection we went through, we set off a contagious series of honking and people calling out from their cars.
After the professors left, we started to approach a ConocoPhillips-owned oil refinery. As we got to the refinery, my eyes started to burn. Others said they could feel the air pollution in their throats. We also heard at that point that the cops were telling our police liaison that we needed to move really quickly past the refinery because the people who work there were getting off their shift at 4 p.m., and walking in the vicinity would be dangerous at that point. None of us understood why or how it could be dangerous.
The road cut right through the refinery — a massive compound with pipes, boilers, and other types of machinery. It was a sort of open-air factory. The administrative building inside the compound featured a sign that said “Last Lost Time Incident: [a date I neglected to record], 2010,” which made me think some about industrial injuries; the time that the company has in mind, as well as other times; and how our experience of time is reshaped following an injury, both for those who are injured and for those who are caring for the injured. As we marched past the compound, workers from the factory started driving down the road past us. Most of them waved, raised their fists, or honked their horns in solidarity (this was a fairly common response at the various locations we moved through today).
The area past the refinery was very hilly, and the cops started pressuring the police liaisons to make us move quickly over the hills. At this point the cops were escorting the march by driving in front and in back of it in cars. But when we got to the hilly area, they threatened to leave if we didn’t move faster. Whenever they made this threat, some people halfheartedly endorsed the idea of slowing down to help that process along. Part of the ambivalence about the escort came because there was a real question of danger on the roads, even though we were being followed by our cargo van. Today the roads were fairly large, and the march caused significant backups of traffic. We blocked intersections for some time as we passed through, all of which happened a little more smoothly because of the police escort. When we entered Vallejo, the police neglected to position the escort car in front of the march as they had been doing before, thereby forcing the marchers to manage traffic in the intersection ourselves. Doing so was initially pretty unsettling.
After the refinery, we crossed the Carquinez Bridge, marching in the pedestrian lane. The view was stunning. The water below was ebbing. There was a streak of sun reflected in the water, and I noticed that underneath us a couple of people were working to unload a boat next to a run-down pier.
We entered Vallejo on the opposite side of the bridge as dusk fell. At this point people were really starting to feel the effects of the distance we had traveled. Our legs were aching. Blisters were starting to be more of a problem. Our feet were sore. A couple of people from Vallejo joined the march — they had heard it was coming through and decided to take part. They talked about how they’ve been going to Occupy Oakland a fair amount because there hasn’t been much of an Occupy movement locally. They helped us with directions because we were starting to get a little bit confused about the navigation.
A woman called out from her porch that she had just seen a news report about us. In response someone came up with a new chant that went something like: “We’re real, it’s true — you saw us on the news.” Here’s a video from ABC 7 about the march:
Around this point, marchers and people in support roles also started to get testy with each other at times. I think that had a lot to do with the risks that we were facing on the road and how people in different roles saw and responded to those risks in different ways. Some were upset at times as what they saw as other protesters’ risky behaviors — behaviors such as being close to the lane lines.
At one point we were unsure about how best to get where we were going, so we stopped at the side of the road and ultimately called everyone together for the first General Assembly of the march. People spoke on stack during the brief deliberation. We made a fairly quick decision to split the group: some who felt ready to be shuttled to the campsite departed, and the rest of the group continued marching the rest of the way. Some of those who were shuttled were transported with help from the local Vallejo couple who had joined the march (and the couple’s friends).
The rest of us marched on the right side of the road in a two-by-two march, falling in line behind a giant sculpture of a No. 2 pencil. The sculpture, which was created by Berkeley High School students, has been wheeled all the way from Berkeley on shopping carts as part of the march. We did our best to stay together through the intersections when we had green lights. When we were about half a mile from the camp, the passenger van came by with some of the people who had been shuttled, and they shared boxes of pizza with us on the side of the road. We finally made it back to the camp at around 8 p.m. Tonight we’re staying in tents on the lawn of the Rehoboth World Outreach Center in Vallejo. Tomorrow morning we set off for Fairfield and Vacaville.