WASHINGTON — Drenched, blistered and weary, a few dozen Occupy Wall Street protesters arrived Tuesday in the nation's capital after a two-week, 240-mile march from Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan.
The marchers, many wearing hooded ponchos in a steady rain, walked into the Occupy D.C. encampment, where fellow protesters lined up outside their tents and greeted them with cheers, applause and hugs. Organizers said the march, which they called Occupy the Highway, accomplished their goal of taking their concerns about income equality and corporate influence in politics on the road, including to rural communities that previously had little exposure to the movement.
"People who had never heard about the occupation, heard about it," said Owen Johnson, 23, an artist from North Pownal, Vt., who walked the entire distance barefoot.
Johnson, who suffered a few cuts on his feet but still managed to keep up with those wearing hiking boots, said the march was a profound experience.
"It's very much about personal growth," Johnson said. "My feet have grown. They've spread out."
The march covered about 20 miles a day. Participants spent a few nights at protest encampments in other cities. They also slept on college campuses and in the homes of supporters, churches, a music studio and a community center.
About two dozen people left Zuccotti Park for the march, and while not all of those made it to Washington, by the final day the crowd had swelled to more than 40, organizer Kelley Brannon said. The crowd size fluctuated throughout, as some joined the march for brief periods.
Not all made the trip unscathed. One had to quit because of shin splints, others because of illness. A marcher was hit by a car Monday night but still made it to Washington. Eric Carter, 30, an emergency medical technician on leave for his job in New Orleans, served as the medic and said he re-taped about 5 to 10 pairs of blistered feet a day.
Some were simply unaccustomed to putting their bodies through such an ordeal.
"I was questioning whether I would be able to make it the whole way," said John Aldous, 23, who walked the entire distance. "I felt like my legs were going to fall off. I had to look down to make sure they were actually still moving."
The march was timed to coincide with the conclusion of work by the congressional deficit-cutting supercommittee. Participants wanted to push for an end to Bush-era tax cuts that they benefit only the wealthy. The supercommittee announced Monday it had failed to reach an agreement, and marchers said they weren't surprised.
"It was set up to fail. They were never going to get anything done," Aldous said.
The marchers were planning to protest outside the Capitol later Tuesday. Beyond that, their plans varied. Some planned to return to New York, others to stay with Occupy D.C.. Some hoped to stay on the move, visiting different Occupy encampments.
"Right now," said marcher Bo Han, 29, "I just want to have a nice turkey dinner."
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