WASHINGTON — Weary but determined Occupy Wall Street protesters entered Washington in the rain Tuesday at the end of a 13-day march from New York that they hoped would inspire others to hit the road.
Carrying a US flag and an orange “people before profit” poster, they strolled in the Occupy DC camp in McPherson Square to the beat of drums, before going on to the Capitol building for an evening “super general assembly.”
“This symbolizes that we are a strong movement, very dedicated to our beliefs,” Cologino Rivera, 21, one of the original 20 or so marchers who set off from New York, told reporters.
Stopovers in Philadelphia, Baltimore and smaller cities along the 230-mile (370-kilometer) route lifted the final number of participants in Occupy the Highway closer to 50.
Its finale gave a fillip to the Occupy movement a week to the day after police stormed the Occupy Wall Street camp in Manhattan, throwing the nationwide movement against inequality and corporate power into crisis.
“This (march) was a sort of experiment, a kind of spearhead of something that I hope will be much longer marches,” said Mike Glazer, 26, an actor from Chicago who also walked the entire distance from New York.
“We want people to spring up marches right now in Toledo, Ohio or Fargo, North Dakota,” he told AFP just outside Washington, as his rain-soaked comrades enjoyed free coffee laid on by a bohemian cafe along their route.
“It’s one thing to stay in the park. It’s another thing to get out on the road and let everyday folks know what you think.”
Occupy the Highway reached Washington on the same day that a Congressional “supercommittee” acknowledged its failure to agree on a blueprint to bring the runaway US deficit to heel.
“Maybe they are realizing there is this lack of support (among American voters) and they’re worried about re-election,” said Danielle Longchamps, 24, who joined the march in Baltimore, Maryland.
“We need to work on making the focus about representing the people,” she told AFP as she yanked off her black hiking boots and tended to her pain-stricken feet.
Washington is the scene of two open-ended occupations that began in early October — one in McPherson Square comprising about 100 tents, and a slightly smaller one in nearby Freedom Plaza that grew out of an anti-war protest.
But unlike New York and other cities, local authorities and the National Park Service, which owns both public spaces, have held back from confronting the occupiers and clearing their encampments.
McPherson Square was nevertheless abuzz with rumors Tuesday of an imminent health inspection, while Occupy DC’s media committee said police detained “an individual” who had accused another of sexual assault and theft.
For the people of Occupy the Highway, more pressing concerns included “muscle fatigue and respiratory infections,” the welfare of a marcher hit by a car, and a proposal to continue the journey to Miami, albeit by bicycle.
When a couple of marchers posed for photos with their banner under a statue of Civil War general James McPherson, a middle-aged man leaped into the frame and suggested with a touch of sarcasm that they keep on walking “to Cuba.”
“I learned (during the march) that regardless of where you are, people are fed up with how things are run,” Glazer told AFP when asked to sum up the lessons of his road trip.
He then added: “It makes me really glad to be in this country, because people wanted to take care of us the whole way.”