A long walk

Occupy activist treks from Washington to Sacto

Art Brown close to the end of his nearly 800-mile journey.

Art Brown close to the end of his nearly 800-mile journey.

PHOTO by ken smith

Art Brown maintains a website at www.artbrownpeacesteps.blogspot.com/ detailing West Coast Walkupy and his other walks. Occupy Chico can be found on Facebook.

Leaving Mt. Shasta to walk to Redding, activist Art Brown succumbed to a temptation faced by travelers since humankind took its first steps: a short cut.

“I walked the 11 miles or so east to McCloud, and instead of taking the big loop around through Burney and back into Redding, I cut south on a forest road towards 299,” he said last Thursday (July 5) at the Chico Peace and Justice Center.

Brown—one man with a backpack, a banner and a baby cart to carry his gear—recently attempted walking 785 miles from Olympia, Wash., to Sacramento to raise awareness and show support for the Occupy movement, in an effort he’s dubbed West Coast Walkupy.

Brown arrived in Chico July 4. He planned to get a few days of rest before starting the last leg of his journey, and recalled the forest road when asked about the toughest part of his trip.

“I spent a few days climbing 10 miles a day up the worst gravel road I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. For a few days there, I was just shaking my head and asking myself, ‘What the hell am I doing?’”

It’s a valid question and one Brown had heard plenty of times before. His West Coast Walkupy is not the only walking occupation. Activists nationwide engaged in similar actions as Occupy encampments in cities and towns have been evicted or abandoned. One group of walkupiers completed a 55-day trek from Washington, D.C., to Atlanta, Ga., during which two members were arrested in Charlotte, N.C.

When Brown found himself in doubt, he dug deep: “I know myself well enough to know that I’m capable of doing what I put my mind too,” he said. “I’ve overcome some trials and tribulations in my life that have proven that to myself. People in general are capable of so much more than they believe they are.”

Inspired by “the usual suspects—y’know, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks”—Brown, an activist since 1984, chose walking as his preferred form of political expression in 2007. Prior to embarking on his current trip May 7, he’d walked more than 6,000 miles, from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean and from Mexico to Canada, on four separate journeys.

Brown walked about 20 miles daily, plotting his treks based on where he knows he has places to stay—friends, supporters, campgrounds and people he meets through the website CouchSurfing.com, which connects travelers and hosts. When all else fails, he slips off the road and camps out guerrilla-style.

Though Brown meets many people who support him, he also meets some opposition: “I get plenty of fingers, especially on other walks when I’m travelling with a group and people know what we’re doing.

“As long as I’ve been an activist, I’ve found that people who are on the ‘right’ or the other side don’t really want to have civil conversations; they mostly just want to scream something and barrel off down the road in their big diesel.”

At the outset of his walk, Brown plotted his arrival date in Sacramento for July 13, 70 days after he left Olympia. During his Chico visit, he was in high spirits and anticipated arriving a day early, though the trip was taking its toll: “My initial idea was to have some kind of ceremony, but now I think I‘ll just do a 15-minute silent prayer at the Capitol to pray they’ll gain some wisdom and guidance.” He paused and smiled, as if imagining the end of his long journey. “Then, I’m going to rest a while.”

It was not to be. On Tuesday (July 10), Brown announced on his Facebook page that he was ending the walk. In a phone interview the next morning, he explained that 100-plus-degree temperatures and a lack of lodging for the final leg forced him to stop in Marysville, just 40-odd miles from his ultimate goal. “I was too physically and mentally exhausted to deal with trying to camp illegally, but I feel I accomplished what I wanted to do and have no regrets. I’m only missing out on one day and one night of walking. And, I got to sleep in this morning for the first time in months.”

Though Chico’s own Occupy community has largely been silent since the tent at City Plaza disappeared some months ago, its members are still active. Chico Occupiers have been participating in other events, including a series of weekend-long, monthly Occupy Beale Teach-Ins focused on drone warfare. (Surveillance drones used in U.S. military actions are piloted from Beale Air Force Base.)

This Saturday, July 14, Chico activists will join others from throughout the North State at Occupy Bohemian Grove in Monte Rio. Bohemian Grove is a 2,700-acre private campground near the California coast and site of the annual meeting of the Bohemian Club, an all-male organization composed of prominent politicians, business leaders, artists and media executives. Each summer, members participate in a two-week encampment criticized by many for its concentration of power and secrecy.