The Free Our People March Enters Maryland
(Church of the Nazarene Camp, Northeast Maryland) At dinner Bob Kafka announced to the Free Our People Marchers that he had a call from the Governor welcoming ADAPT to Maryland. The March has moved from the very urban setting in downtown Philadelphia to this rural setting along the Chesapeake Bay on pace and in high spirits as the march on Congress continues.
At 9:10 this morning in Delaware Bob yelled “ten minutes” to the group as a signal for marchers to wait for someone to yell “it’s time to go.” At 9:34 the Free Our People March moved out. Following the column of marchers, with a variety of police vehicles, were two vans, one for logistical support and the other to pick-up stalled or broken-down marchers along the way.
By the time the marchers leave most of the work to break camp is done. The crew has taken down all the tents and packed them away. The city of over 50 large tents is transformed into a dozen piles of multi-color nylon bags.
“People were a little feisty yesterday,” said Lowell Aird of Boulder who is on the breakdown crew, “but we are getting to know how to do the tents.”
“Set-up and break-down is going great, real smooth,” said Cecil Walker from
the great state of Kansas, who is the ‘tent wrangler.’ “It takes about two hours to tear down and four to five to set up. I have to admit, it is going smoother than I thought it would.”
The crew averages 8 to 10 people with many more joining us in Baltimore. The crew must deal with 50 tents, 10 vehicles, two 18 foot, one ten foot trailer and a 350-gallon water tank. More marchers will also join in Baltimore so that the overall job will also expand.
“The biggest problem is getting volunteers,” said Cecil, “I have started to take volunteers like the military: You just volunteered, and you and you.”
Each day the tents are taken down and repacked with the proper poles and stakes. Typically the cots and sleeping bags would accompany the tent, but because the next stop is the summer campsite, Cecil instructed the breakdown crew to change the assembly – tents and cots together, and sleeping bags and personal items in another pile.
On the road, the march itself is an interesting thing to see coordinated. The
front and back of the column of marchers communicate on pace and issues with the State Patrol by radio. Usually, the marchers move in a single-file line, but sometime the State Patrol will ask the Marchers to “bunch up.” The group will fall into a two by two line that takes up about half of the distance from front to rear, but more space in the lane.
If someone has a problem with their wheelchair, the move to the side where a trailing van can pick them up. Often when there is a hole in the pavement or some dangerous barrier. The first available person to it will park their wheelchair over the obstruction and fall back into line at the end when everyone has passed.
As we entered Maryland and Cecil County, Denise Sarsfield met us on the side of the road with a sign cheering us on. Crossing the state line was a satisfying feeling, and it was great seeing people cheering us on along the way. Almost exclusively, the response from the general public along the route has been very positive. People are always honking and waving. As we pass through towns, there are people that stop what they are doing to urge us on. A day care center in Elkton, Maryland lined all the children along the fence to wave as the Free Our People March passed by.
Delaware had provided a truck to follow us with a large flashing arrow to warn traffic coming up behind us. We did not know what Maryland had in store for our escort until we crossed the state line and found two trucks with warning arrows waiting for us. The Maryland State Troopers provide an escort with automobiles and a motorcycle.
Clearly the long line of marchers slows traffic, but the State Troopers have made the delay as minimal as possible and very safe. Most importantly, the people delayed do not show their frustration. I am sure that there are plenty of irritated drivers, but the support shown by the public overwhelms any disapproving actions.
At lunchtime the group stopped in a parking lot and squeezed into the shade. Generally we stop for about one hour for lunch. When the marchers get to the lunch spot, accessible portable toilets have been setup and waiting for us. Lunch was a little late in arriving, but we still made it back on the road quickly.
Generally, the column does not stop once it is in route; but some long hills caused us to take short breaks on the shoulder of the highway. This allows everyone a chance to drink some water and to be ready to climb the hill together.
The Church of the Nazarene is a summer camp for youth but it fits our civil rights march needs. There were more than enough rooms, most people wanted to share their room with others. The Camp also fed us in the dining hall following the march. We had fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, vegetarian lasagna and green beans.
One third of the trip is now behind us.
- Tim Wheat