Blog Post: Walk 1 Cape Cod Canal
Step by Step
Watching the rushing water flowing through the Canal, I feel the current pulling me downstream to see what is around the bend. The Canal unfolds slowly to reveal its true nature. I believe that will be true of exploring Cape Cod by foot, one step at a time.  To be on a pilgrimage is to go on both an inner and outer journey. So begins my walks around Cape Cod during the summer of 2020. I choose to use this time during the COVID-19 pandemic to explore racial and social injustice right here on the Cape, as well as undertake my own work to deepen my awareness of my privilege and the connected responsibility to both make and support change.  I stand at the end of the Canal near the Sandwich marina with three other white women and think about the weeks ahead: I will be walking to touch each town on the Cape, with an open heart and inquiring mind, to see beneath the surface of our beautiful, tranquil peninsula and understand more fully what life is like for Black, Brown, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). My sister Marie is here with me, and I am grateful for her support today and all days.
I start today with a blessing: to acknowledge the lands on which I will walk belong to the native peoples, the Wampanoag. May I honor those who have walked these lands before me. May I be open to listening and reflecting through a process of inner and outer exploration. May I be changed, my commitment to eradicating social justice strengthened and my work around anti-racism informed for the future.
Reflecting on my first walk a few days later, what did I see and hear that enriched the experience and my learning?
  • We explored our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to ask important questions about life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
  • What rights exist for all peoples? What rights are denied?
  • When did Black, Indigenous and People of Color give their consent to be governed- when their lands were taken from them? When they were in chains in slavery?
  • “All men are created equal”. If the use of the term “men” in 1776 included all people as it normally did that would mean women and those enslaved and the natives who were here before the Europeans colonized these lands would be covered by that term. Why does “men” sometimes mean all people, and in the case of our founding Declaration only mean white, privileged men?
The Declaration of Independence declares the people have the right to abolish the government when it becomes destructive to the preservation of their rights. Isn’t that essentially what people all over this country and the world are protesting about in 2020?  At another rest stop, I read part of the essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones, “The Idea of America” from the 1619 Project in New York Times Magazine.
Slavery started in Virginia, 157 years before our Declaration of Independence. It was ingrained into the foundation of American colonies with the labor of Black and Brown people providing the “machinery” to fuel the fortunes of white America that continues to this day. “The United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie…the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst.” It took a violent civil war to end slavery. What we have not done as a country is truly reckon with the legacy of slavery that continues to exist today in every aspect of our lives: our economy, health care, housing, employment, education, government and so on.  We walked into a headwind for the morning, stopping to watch the herons catch fish and share our stories related to democracy. I thought about how BIPOC are always walking into a headwind, being judged through unconscious bias and discriminatory practices inherent in our systems. We caught up on each other’s lives along the way and would pause as the church bells tolled or a ship when by. I was reminded that walking the Canal on a beautiful day in the middle of the week is a privilege that many people don’t have due to the demands of work and family.  At one point in the conversation, near the Aptucxet Trading Post, we talked about the protests going on around the country and how terrified we were to see what happened in Washington DC- a president clearing the plaza in front of a church through violent means for a photo opportunity with a Bible. I share with my friends how watching that night unfold on tv had a profound impact on me. I went down to the beach and created a video of me stating the Preamble to the Constitution, and that we are an imperfect constitutional democracy not a dictatorship. I posted it on Facebook to take a stand.
We the people, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Crossing the Bourne Bridge late morning to walk the Sagamore side of the Canal found me above the Canal looking out to Buzzards Bay and wondering about the lived experiences of all people who call Cape Cod home. We gathered at the park near the railroad bridge and reflected on Frederick Douglass’ address on July 5, 1852 “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” We listened as his descendants spoke Douglass’ truths:
“I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mind. You may rejoice, I must mourn…”
The powerful and passionate voices of the children who recited these words resounded deeply within me. My friend Linda and I continued our walk to Scusset Beach, a shared history of over thirty years in higher education together. We reflected on what has changed, and what is left to be changed. We spoke of 2020 as a time like 1968 and the early 1970s, where people across the country are doing the work to change our institutions and ourselves. We spoke of our roles over three decades as mentors and sponsors of others, people of color and white, and reminded ourselves that we need to continue to do more now.  We reached the end of the Canal and celebrated our accomplishment of 13.5 miles with a yoga pose, Warrior II. I’ve taken a photo of Warrior poses on many of my travels, and the strength, grounding and rising up from the core of one’s being symbolized our first walk today. Remain open to the experience.
Please join us for any of the next 7 walks on Wednesdays throughout the summer. Each walk will highlight different places, people and historical connections to broaden our perspectives. As one participant said this week “I never walked the Canal before and the opportunity to reflect on these issues while walking is a gift”.
Walking is the best way to get out of your head”. Phil Cousineau