A Protest in Hartford

A scene from the March for Jobs, Justice, and a Livable Planet in downtown Hartford.

This story was published in “State of the Capitol,” a former weekly blog about urban life and culture from my year living in Hartford, Connecticut.

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The drivers on I-84 must have seen the line of bright winter jackets and cardboard signs moving beneath the overpass, but who can say? I saw them, down in Bushnell Park, marching across the lawn from the Capitol to the end of my view behind the concrete barrier. They were moving faster than I was—than we were, the hundreds of us in traffic, making no progress—but after perhaps two minutes, watching them through the streaming exhaust, the end of the line had not yet come. I sent my brother a text: “I see you guys. Going to park up the way a bit.” There seemed at least as many people marching as cars trying to merge. I would guess that the other cars saw them too. Nothing catches the human eye like a crowd—thrilling, ominous, magnetic crowds. The trick is that they must be seen in person.

They’d reached Union Station by the time I’d caught up. A man on the steps was wrapping up a speech through a bullhorn, his face obscured by picket signs. “Environmental Racism!” “Yes to Jobs and Justice!” “100% Clean Energy Future!” “NO DAPL.”  Hundreds of signs ran down the block and across the far intersection. I found my brother in the middle of the pack, holding a sign he’d made himself: an Earth First! fist between the words, “PEOPLE; PLANET.” No wrench. We greeted, and then the line was moving again.

They called themselves the “March for Jobs, Justice, and a Livable Planet.” Who could disagree with that? To millions of Americans, the worth of such things would seem self-evident—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, version 2016. Distilled to a slogan, or perhaps a meme, it would earn a billion Facebook shares; on the streets of Hartford it will get you about two hundred people. The shortage boils down to what’s in a name. Jobs—but what kind? For what pay? Justice—but for whom? A livable planet—but when, and for how much longer? As with any movement, fewer people will ask these questions than pledge support to the notion of answers. Even fewer will heed the first word: “March.” Two hundred people was not going to cut it in the version of 2016 we’ve been given. For their part, the people on the streets of Hartford had brought all hands on deck. Coalitions of environmentalists, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, LGBTQ rights activists, and organized labor all gathered as one, unified as much by a new and powerful common enemy as by the recognition that the world they seek is the same. In such a world, a gathering like that could be called a celebration. In this one, it’s a protest.

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