The most mundane of movements, walking is often simply a means of transportation. Yet the act of placing one foot in front of the other has the power to transform the world.

From the Movement issue (Winter 2018) of FLUX Hawaii

FLUX 2017 - Movement Cover

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The women—and men, and toddlers, and teenagers—were not walking anywhere particular that day. Although they strode with purpose, soon they were back where they began, spilling off the lawn of the Hawai‘i State Capitol, having trekked less than a mile. Distance, of course, was not a metric anyone cared about that day. The presidential inauguration had taken place just 24 hours earlier, and the Women’s March in Honolulu was one of 600 similar actions around the world, with more than two million people protesting an American president they saw as a direct threat to themselves and their values.

In Honolulu, an impenetrable layer of clouds cocooned the city as an undulating column of pink shirts and hand-painted cardboard signs stretched from the Frank Fasi Building to ‘Iolani Palace. The march had swelled beyond the sidewalk and onto the rain-slicked streets, and even during the intermittent downpours, the mood was somewhere between buoyant and defiant. We were 5,000 miles from Washington, DC, and yet in our collective motion, we became part of a global protest.

Around the world, and across centuries, acts of resistance often have taken that simplest of forms: walking. In Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit writes of participating in a protest at the Nevada Test Site, where, from the 1950s to the 1990s, the U.S. military detonated nuclear bombs. Hundreds of protesters camped on the fraying landscape. She writes, “The form our demonstrations took was walking: what was, on the public-land side of the fence, a ceremonious procession became, on the off-limits side, an act of trespass resulting in arrest.”

She continues, “It was a revelation to me, the way this act of walking through a desert and across a cattle guard into the forbidden zone could articulate political meaning.”

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Walking has long been a form of protest. Gandhi famously walked 240 miles from his ashram to the coastal village of Dandi in 1930, joined along the way by thousands of Indians. The walk became known as the Salt March, a three week-long act of civil disobedience that helped spark the Indian independence movement. In Hawai‘i, plantation workers regularly organized walkouts throughout the first half of the 20th century, like when, in May 1937, 2,500 Filipino plantation workers walked from Wailuku to Kahului to call for equal pay. More recently, in Australia, a 27-year-old aboriginal activist walked some 3,000 miles from Perth to Canberra, protesting the government’s treatment of aboriginal communities.

Even the languages of protest and walking are intertwined. The word “march” comes from the French marcher, which means to walk. Of course, soldiers marched before pacifists did, and so the language of nonviolent protest also borrows from war: The African-American men and women who marched in Selma and Birmingham were called foot soldiers.

One of the strangest aspects of the Women’s March was simply the sight of so many walkers in Honolulu. Outside the thrumming hive of Waikīkī, few people traverse the city on foot (besides the inevitable journey to and from their vehicles). Honolulu is not a walkable city. It lacks the density of New York City and the pedestrian scale of Paris. Its biggest growth spurts occurred in the 20th century, after the advent of the automobile, which arrived in Hawai‘i in 1899 and forever altered the future form of its capital. With the exception of historic districts like Chinatown, which remains one of Honolulu’s most walkable—and, not coincidentally, most attractive—neighborhoods, the city is dominated by streets designed for cars.

Recently, however, Honolulu-based artists, activists, and public health advocates have discovered walking as a medium for telling stories, combating gentrification, or simply promoting pedestrianism. No matter why we do it, walking tends to offer us something beyond its express purpose, an extra layer of experience and meaning that is all too often ignored. “It is the movement as well as the sights going by that seems to make things happen in the mind,” Solnit writes, “and this is what makes walking ambiguous and endlessly fertile: it is both means and end, travel and destination.”

Continue reading at fluxhawaii.com.

 



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