Ken Martin
credit: Ken Martin

More than 50 marchers pushed through traffic on the evening of Dec. 20, traversing seven blocks from Luther Place church to Freedom Plaza. There, the People for Fairness Coalition had erected a tent across the street from both the White House grounds and the Wilson Building. Call and response chanting, led with a bullhorn, began shortly after the group stepped out of the church on Vermont Avenue.

One: “What do we want?”

All: “Housing!”

One: “When do we want it?”

All: “Now!”

Except for one joker, who answered “Yesterday!”

The chants repeated. Repeated. Changed. And repeated.

Cars honked behind the throng, led by a makeshift press corp and hemmed in by a few stragglers and one participant wheeling his bicycle. They sometimes stopped at intersections to allow cross traffic through. Other times they brought all vehicles to a standstill. A taxi going the opposite direction slowed to a crawl as the driver honked the horn to punctuate the current chant.

“Tell me why you’re in this fight … housing is a human right!”

“Tell [honk] me [honk] why [honk] you’re in this fight [honk] … housing [honk] is [honk] a [honk] human right [honk]!”

Out of his window, the driver raised a fist in the air as a show of solidarity before driving away. Other passersby ran the gamut of supportive, curious, puzzled, and “over it.”

With each new block, at least one pedestrian slowed to record the procession on their cell phone. Near L Street, an undeterred young man glanced briefly at the march and asked the other man he was walking with, “what the s***?”

K Street: one marcher told a man who appeared to be homeless about the food, supplies and camaraderie waiting at their destination: an open invitation. I Street: a group of women huddled beside a building that was breaking the wind and peered silently at the marchers over Starbucks cups clutched close to their faces. H Street: a middle-aged man asked his companions “Well, what about housing?” G Street: several mixed clusters of people forgot about crossing southbound and stood on the corner, following the demonstrators with their gazes and nodding in agreement. Finally, between F St and Pennsylvania Avenue, a middle-aged woman could be heard asking her companion, “what do their signs say?”

Upon arrival at Freedom Plaza, several organizers began speaking with the assembled media crews to clarify their message: make ending homelessness in D.C. a priority, it’s a matter of life and death. The rest of the marchers moved inside the heated tent for dinner.


For ongoing coverage of the D.C. Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day activities and others around the country, follow our Storify.