Walking to Cleveland

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Walking, Cleveland, RNC
Walking, Cleveland, RNC

RNC Part One of Four

RLn Editor’s Note: Drew Philip, a freelance writer with Belt Magazine with photographer Garrett MacLean, in the grand tradition of Alexis de Toqueville and Woody Guthrie walked to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and talked directly and plainly with the people along the way. Philip documented what he learned in a four part series published on Belt Magazine’s website.

This post was originally published on July 6.

By Drew Philp
Photos by Garrett MacLean

“I think I will do nothing for a long time but listen . . . ”
— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

It’s always the kids who have the courage and innocence to ask, “Hey mister, are you camping?”

“Well, kind of, little man.

After noticing my giant hiking pack, an excellent prop for walking the countryside when you want to start conversations, three little boys followed me on their bicycles, all shoeless. I had just stopped at Super Greenland supermarket in Dearborn, Michigan, for some fresh mango juice, and was on my way to Hemlock Park in the eastern portion of the city, for a nap. Our conversation was informal.

“I’m walking to Cleveland, the city, so I can talk to people along the way about what their hopes and dreams are for the country.

The Big Gathering

There’s a big gathering of people there, called the Republican National Convention, and they are about to elect Donald Trump to be their presidential candidate. He’s said some real nasty things about some people and I want to know if they’re true and if other people believe them too.”

The biggest boy asked the questions. One of the smaller ones had a large hearing aid wrapped around his ear. All looked at me, sheepish but honest.

“But are you camping?”

“Well, yeah, sometimes.”

“You’re not going to stay in a hotel?”

“I don’t think so, but I might sleep in a motel some night if I get real tired.”

“Then where are you going to sleep?”

“Wherever I can.”

The conversation repeated itself three times that day, almost verbatim and always with children: with some kids who were lighting firecrackers on their lawn (After hearing about the trip one asked if I wanted to light one. I declined, as I’d heard Dearborn had banned them due to the drought.) and once again in Hemlock Park after a boy in a white shirt with an American flag print had just walked dripping from the “splash pad,” a kind of lovechild of a giant sprinkler system and a jungle gym.

All of the children were Arab, and depending on the sect it was the day before Eid, or the breaking of the fast of Ramadan. No one observant was eating or drinking, even water, during the daylight hours, until the Iftar meal at sundown. It was also the Fourth of July, the celebration of America’s independence from England, freedom in general, and political upheaval in particular.

Although many adults gave me quizzical looks as I hiked through their town and I spoke with a number of people, both young and old, it was only the children who approached me first to inquire as to where I was going and how.

Continue reading here

Read Part Two of Four here.

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