The “99 Mile March for Education and Social Justice” has continued to wind through Northern California, forging connections with each community along the way and creating new spaces for discussions about the current crisis in all levels of public education. For more information about why we’re marching, please read this post.

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A protester reads a Walt Whitman poem as the 99-Mile March for Education and Social Justice gathers to depart from Vacaville to Davis (traveling, as before, with a giant sculpture of a pencil). Credit: Creative Commons/Peg Hunter.

Here’s my report from our third and fourth days on the road:

Saturday — the third day of the “The 99 Mile March for Education and Social Justice” — was relatively low-key. Before setting off, we took some time in the morning to hold the second General Assembly of the trip and discuss our group decision-making process and some logistical issues. We also had an extended discussion about the upside-down American flag that one of the marchers has been carrying. Ultimately the group came to consensus to ask him to tape the slogan “Education in Distress” onto the flag to clarify its message, because the upside-down flag is a code for distress.

We then gathered at Solano Community College for a conversation with some students who had provided us with lunch. We went around the room and explained why we are marching and what inspired us to get involved. Some Solano Community College students talked about how cuts to classes have turned four- or five-year plans for graduation into seven- or eight-year plans. Some people talked about the debt loads they have been taking out or paying off. Others talked about marching for their younger siblings or marching for currently undocumented students. It struck me how the ground of the march was being articulated and also stretched: many of the reasons people gave for their participation pointed toward broader social conditions and political struggles than a narrowly understood understanding of the struggle for public education.

For most of the day we marched on freeways or trails that cut between people’s backyards or were adjacent to the highway. Our view was often blocked by fences, and sometimes people would wave or call out to us from their rear windows or porches. We ended up walking for a number of hours after dark on access roads and trails. We ultimately arrived into Vacaville, where we were offered food and a place to stay at a local church. We were also joined by a number of Occupy Vacaville activists, one of whom marched with us for the last couple of miles, carrying a set-up tent.

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Marchers gather for a group photo with friends from St. Paul's United Methodist Church, which sheltered the marchers in Vacaville. Credit: Creative Commons/Peg Hunter.

We started out from Vacaville early this morning. People were in good spirits but were dealing with more serious soreness and blisters on this fourth day of the march. A couple of people decided to take off their shoes and walk only in socks to avoid aggravating their blisters as much as possible. Initially we passed through residential neighborhoods and commercial areas, but soon we were in the countryside.

Generally today we traveled through farmland, zigzagging first east and then north and then east again along Route 80. We made good time throughout the day, though we spent a fair amount of time for lunch resting and talking with a group of people who had driven up from the Bay Area to take part in the final leg of the trip.

The day was marked by scattered heckling. At one point a woman standing in her door shouted, “I’m an American citizen; you all aren’t” and waved her hand as if to shoo us away. Later a man standing in a field addressed us on a bullhorn, telling us we should get jobs. He also said we were lazy, which provoked some laughter within the group. At another point, a group of young people told us to get a job. Sometimes people in cars flipped us off as they drove by. Overwhelmingly the people we passed expressed support, but the scattered heckling gave the day a sightly colder edge.

Some of the most meaningful and fun encounters occurred as the sun was setting and we were walking along a road heading east. At one point, we saw a man walking with a child on his shoulders all the way across a field to meet the march. When he got to the road, he joined a woman holding a young child in her arms. Some of the members of our group paused and spoke to them. That encounter was reminiscent of some earlier moments, such as the time when we passed a woman holding a young girl’s hand up to wave at us for the whole time the march went by. Later down the road, a marcher passed out pamphlets for the capitol occupation in Sacramento tomorrow, speaking in Spanish with people who had gathered in their driveway.

As we approached Davis, I was thinking some about how meaningful it was that the route of our march linked together two UC campuses whose occupations and assembled students had endured severe police repression last fall, and where significant student strike actions against debt and privatization had been staged.

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Credit: Creative Commons/Peg Hunter.

Thinking back to the gathering on Saturday at Solano Community College, however, I also started reflecting on how this march, which was organized largely by San Francisco State students, was not primarily a UC action. I remembered how, when the group gathered on Saturday to articulate what we were marching for, many supporters and marchers talked about how — as community college and CSU students – they were unable to complete degrees or credit requirements within a reasonable number of years because of recent severe cuts to course offerings. Some talked about working multiple jobs to pay for tuition or about facing devastated job markets upon graduation. Some also talked about the severe inequities at the K-12 level that have reverberated throughout the entire education system. This multi-day action brought students from different sectors of education together in a way I haven’t experienced before. I hope the bonds forged on the march will enable us to continue to build more thoroughly cross-sectoral education movements.

As we entered UC Davis, the energy of the march grew. As we moved through the campus, we started chanting louder than we had all day. Some of the chants included “No cuts, no fees: education will be free,” “We demand (we don’t ask) education for the working class,” “This movement’s unstoppable; occupy the capitol,” and “We won’t stop; we won’t rest – education’s in distress.”

People from Occupy UC Davis and other friends and supporters of marchers had set up extra tents for us on the UC Davis quad where the local Occupy movement encampment is located, so when we finally arrived, we marched into an area dotted with roughly forty pitched tents. Local Occupy members were playfully hiding in the tents when we arrived, and they emerged from the tents to an exhilarating scene of rejoicing marchers in the quad. Occupy Davis had prepared an abundance of amazing food, including homemade tamales, pasta salad, rice and beans, green salad, pecan pie, and apple pie. After dinner we met briefly to discuss plans to build a mass occupation of the capitol in Sacramento tomorrow, and then most of the group headed to bed.

We encourage anyone within commuting distance of Sacramento to come protest for public education tomorrow. There will be a mass march beginning at Southside Park at 6th and T Streets at 10 a.m., a rally at the capitol at 11 a.m., a general assembly and nonviolent direct action training at 3:30 p.m., and a rally on the north steps in solidarity with the “Occupy the Capitol” action at 5:30 p.m.

Postscript — A Bestiary of the 99 Mile March:

We’ve had many curious encounters with animals at different points along the way — particularly on our third day, since we were walking on so many parks and trails. I thought it might be interesting for me to enumerate these encounters.

* On the second day we saw a group of four wild turkeys running along the side of the road with what looked like neckties of feathers. At one point one of the turkeys lost its way and had to chase after the group up the road. When they re-converged, everyone cheered.

* After we passed by the oil refinery on the second day, we entered into a small valley where a group of sheep were grazing on an enclosed pasture. The pasture was surrounded by single-story houses and looked barren.

* On the third day, when we were having trouble finding the trail head, a jack rabbit ran out of the forest and along a fence that had a cutaway entrance to the trail head.

* As we were marching on the third day we passed a group of cows that came over to the path and licked one of the marchers on the hand. Everyone called them “Occu-cows.”

* Down the greenway a little bit there was an orange cat with scruffy fur sitting on a downed panel of the fence. She ran under the fence when we approached.

* At a couple of spots along the greenway there were massive, lightly colored, quirky bird feeder/birdhouse contraptions that had wacky, iron, painted birds affixed to them.

* At night, as we were walking down an access road, off to the right there were the sounds of frogs croaking while we could hear the sounds of highway traffic to the left.

* Just as we entered an area of farmland, we passed by a small farm with more than two dozen peacocks that were running around the farm and jumping on the roofs of farm buildings. They were being chased by a group of cats on the farm.


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