Marching Orders

It’s the day before the People’s Climate March. You could still decide to go. I don’t like marches, but I am going, partly because I know there are people who want to go and can’t — can’t find childcare, can’t afford the bus fare, don’t want to burn the jet fuel, don’t walk well, have to work, fear police brutality, and on and on and on.

Here’s the story of the last march I marched with. It originally appeared in Witch Fingers (DEMVNS), conjured by Xander Marro. The italicized part at the bottom is a witch song, a ritual, a spell.


Yesterday at the training, the street medics said they’d be marked with red kerchiefs and duct-tape crosses, and the lawyers said they’d be marked with neon green hats. I picked up Annette, my rideshare, between Broad and Elmwood. In the McDonald’s parking lot while she went in to get coffee and juice, groups of three or four people sat or stood around. Signs in the window across the street: CASH FOR GOLD, WE ARE FOR FREEDOM, FREE FREE SYRIA, PRIVATE PROPERTY.

People at the Park and Ride had signs too: NO MORE CARBON NO MORE COAL!, THE FOSSIL FUEL ERA IS OVER, GREEN JOBS GREEN JUSTICE IN SOMERSET. They lifted them out of the trunks of their cars and held them low; it wasn’t time to brandish them. We introduced ourselves to each other—where we live, what we do for work. I’d obeyed the emails, handouts and verbal cautions by dressing white-neutral: black jeans, small sneakers, solid-colored t-shirt, no extra jewelry, sunscreen, sun hat, cotton socks. Armor of approvability, circle of salt and compliance.

A school-bus driver drove us to Stop and Shop to pee and then to a park ringed with small trees and brush, where we clumped at the front and were sparser at the back. A very young woman made introductions into the microphone. The guy whose name was on the emails spoke about heat waves in Moscow and wheat shortages in Egypt. A union organizer spoke about just transitions. Everything everyone was saying was true, but they weren’t saying it for its truth so much as for its power to move—the spell they hoped it would be. We stirred. A baby kicked her fat legs. People slipped into the bushes to pee some more. A woman sat in a wheelchair handled by her partner, holding their sign: WE ARE SICK WITH ASTHMA, CANCER / WE ARE SICK OF GREED + COAL. As if these things were ingredients, elements to include or sub out one by one to test for the best combination, or to frown and wonder why it didn’t work this time.

A woman named Paula was introduced and climbed up to the temporary stage, wearing a bright green t-shirt (Keeper of the Mountains). She listed the men in her family, the ways mining coal had made them sicken and die. She told us that “the best water in the world” now runs black and orange. As she spoke there was a shift, a wrench and then a flow. She cried, “I won’t give you my children to feed those furnaces,” and we cried tears from a crowd of eyes, enough eyes to say we were crying.

But then two men got up and sang bland songs. Voices separated, varied in volume and hesitancy. Someone behind me shouted, “We wanna march!” and that might’ve become the incantation if we had repeated it, louder. Instead the people onstage dragged the people in the crowd through two more songs. Then the marshals (neon yellow shirts with reflective stripes) asked for volunteers to break down the stage and lined the rest of us up along the fence, red shirts (indicating the intention to be arrested) toward the front. We turned a corner out of the park, walked past a few people sitting or standing in front of their houses and a few officers with walkie-talkies, and crossed an overpass of poison ivy, bittersweet and virginia creeper.

Standing in a ring or walking through a tunnel of green growth, strength and weakness crowd together and drain apart. Officers in pairs—sometimes two cops, sometimes a cop and a National Guardsman—stand in the middle of the road. Traffic backs up. We walk on the sidewalk. Songs and chants emerge pallidly and die. A series of blue box buildings and chimneys comes into view, and what looks like an actual hill of coal. Without anyone saying “spread out” or “come on up”, our line changes shape, from column to crescent. Redshirts are at the front, hard for those at the other edges to see and hear. They hold hands and step forward.

With other people in the crowd, I cheer, in case it helps. One of the demonstration marshals, wielding his bullhorn, turns us around, and I don’t see them taken, if they go stiff or limp or move in the same way, more or less, that they moved up: freely, tractably, agreeably, except for this one thing.

As we walk past the large rocks that frame the plant entrance, a woman sitting on one of them says, “We don’t want you here. We’re paying for you to be here.” I know what she means, in a way; in another way everybody is paying for everybody to be everywhere all the time. It’s the attempt to concentrate and displace the cost that makes it cost so. The sky is turning to brass. I see and wave to and then hug D, who used to be my student; I pass her the pecan container. She talks to me about the work she’s doing, paid and volunteer, and about people we both know. We feel convivial but there’s a limit. She flinches when the woman on the rock calls out: making a separation? Or just seeing the one that’s there?

I want to know what the sound is that’s easier to let out than to get back in. When I tell about this demonstration later I’ll seem half-abashed; I’m already imagining it that way. The part of the crowd I am sips warmish water from a nipply bottle, knowing that unless we can imagine something else our chants will die away and so will the underthemes of bugs in thickets, birds in maples, worms in leaf litter and larvae in bark and the microbiomes in our intestines and eyelashes, and nothing will replace them.

D says to a boy walking near her, “You need to get to the Providence station? Kate’s taking me, she can give you a ride.” I say sure, but while we’re waiting for the shuttle bus, he slips away and texts her that he’s found a ride all the way back to Boston. It’s not until we’ve rendevous’d with Annette and merged on to 195-West that she dilates on his merits—how dreamy he is, how sterling his politics—and bangs the knee that could’ve hovered a few inches from his knee if only, if only, he’d ridden with us.

I remember that feeling exactly, and I tell her so. Annette asks who D’s talking about and then says, “Oh, I don’t know him. If I did, I’d put in a good word for you.” What a strange sense of proportion and connection this reveals or presupposes! And what I said is almost as strange—each of us as if in her own private oven.

At home, I eat rice and reheated greens, drink beer, put perfume on, burning everything as I go. What did I think would happen? Did I think the temperature would instantly drop, that the next day would dawn fair and clear, that the tiny repairs would be free to begin and would make themselves felt, like a canopy of ferns laid over the whole earth? In my side, my liver as heavy as ore.

Put your body on the line.

Put yourself on the line.

Settle with local law enforcement where the line is.

Examine the body for marks.

They can be seen.

Put your body on them.

Feel the line change.

Feel it bulge your throat.

Give tongue.

Be resolved, like a chord.

Dress decently.

No, tear your clothes for bandages.

Think of everything that might happen.

No, throw consequence to the four winds.

Be old, nearly dead, beyond caring.

Have someone to call.

Drink lots of water, but remember there are no bathrooms at the site.

Think of all the plays whose engine is the desire to bury the dead.

Reenact them.

Disturb the peace.

Pay the price of admission.

Destroy property during unlawful assembly.

Be the gaffe, gaucherie, knot in the thread.

Don’t lose that piece of paper.

Threaten economic injury.

Be mindful, be respectful.

See the bail commissioner.

Be merciful.


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