By Sebastian Smith (AFP) – Nov 9, 2011
NEW YORK — Ragtag, but enthusiastic Occupy Wall Street protestors, one of them not even wearing shoes, set off from New York Wednesday on a two-week march to Washington, DC.
Monitored at every step by police, two dozen activists filed aboard a ferry leaving Manhattan to cross the River Hudson to New Jersey and began their ambitious protest march.
The marchers hope to arrive in the capital by November 23 in time to protest the meeting of a congressional committee set to decide whether or not to extend tax cuts that the protestors claim help only the very rich.
Walking about 20 miles a day, and covering well over 200 miles, they plan to stop in a dozen cities and towns along the way, spreading OWS' anti-capitalist message.
"The reason for going down to DC specifically is to make sure the billionaires get taxed," said Mae Fraser, 32, toting a rucksack and jostling through the thick lunch-hour crowds on her way to the ferry.
Occupy Wall Street sprang up in New York in September with an encampment in Zuccotti Park, near Wall Street. Since then, protests have spread to a dozen other US cities as mostly youthful activists seek to highlight what they say is gross inequality and unfairness in the US economy.
The walk grabbed plenty of media attention, with US network cameras crowding to catch the protestors' departure.
Some of the protestors looked like they had more enthusiasm than hiking experience. One man pulled a small suitcase on wheels and a young man set off without shoes, explaining that his feet hurt after an accident and he hadn't managed to find comfortable footwear.
"The shoes I made are kind of falling apart," Owen Johnson, 22, said, his apparently homemade, crazy-quilt-style coat and pork pie hat also falling apart.
Despite the initially chaotic image projected by the band, the marchers bore the hallmarks of OWS' loose, but surprisingly efficient organization.
The movement says it is leaderless, but two of the marchers soon formed the others into a line to make a headcount before boarding the ferry. And although far from luxuriously kitted out, the group made sure it had enough supplies at least to get started.
"Bandages, Vaseline, cold medicine, we're well stocked up," said Eric Carter, 30, a trained paramedic joining the walk.
"We're pretty prepared. Getting a pace going and the first days, that will be hardest. The highway will be cold and the wind will be blowing all the time, but once we get in the swing, it will be really easy," he said.
The social media-savvy protestors will be blogging their adventures and one young protestor even carried solar panels attached to his backpack to power a smart phone.
Among the fitter looking protestors was Fred Pantozzi, 21, who said he had spent time hitchhiking around New England and working on farms.
He said that after more than a month living in Zuccotti Park, surrounded by protest drummers, tents, police barricades and the teeming sidewalks of Manhattan, he'd be glad to get a change of scene.
"A lot of us are in need of a respite from living here," he said. "Between the decibel levels, the lack of real solitude, the amount of stimulus, it can be a really hostile environment," he said.
Police assigned to see the protestors off were not shedding any tears.
"Low-lifers," one could be heard muttering to his colleague at the ferry terminal.
When a protestor carrying the Stars and Stripes politely walked down the police line to wish them goodbye, only one officer agreed to shake his hand, prompting another officer to say derisively: "He shook his hand -- probably catch a disease."
But there was a warmer farewell from many along the sidewalks leading from Zuccotti Park to the ferry.
"Take it to DC!" supporters shouted.
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