Outside the Tastee Sub shop on Route 27 in Franklin Park, a group of about 50 people dressed in heavy coats and hiking boots were discussing the democratic process.
Signs proclaiming "We are the 99%" and "The Real Citizens United" lay on the ground or propped against a fence. Several helped direct traffic in and out of the small parking lot, while others policed the grounds making sure that all trash was collected and that the area was cleaner than when they arrived.
The group, the majority of whom have spent time in Zuccotti Park in New York as part of Occupy Wall Street, is making its way south to Washington D.C., where it plans to protest in front of the so-called super-committee on deficit reduction.
"It is symbolic of the times," Jason Coniglione, one of the organizers of the march, told me as his colleagues began packing up Friday after lunch. "And it is the antithesis of our movement. We have a problem with giving 12 people that kind of awesome power over the budget. It is anti-democratic."
The Occupy Wall Street protests have been criticized for lacking a message, but the protest is the message. It is not about a specific set of policy prescrriptions, but about raising awareness about the flaws in the current system.
The movement's chief slogan--"We are the 99 percent"--sums up the ideological underpinnings fairly clearly. The goal is rather simple, the protesters say: Free the political system from corporate control and return it to the 99 percent who lack the resources to play in what protesters view as a corrupt game.
"We want an end to the financial and political running of the bulls that is goring the American people," says Ephraim Cruz, a marcher from the Bronx. "It is financial first because the financial sector has corrupted politicians. It is political second because politicians have been complicit in the destruction of the American dream."
Political dysfunction is at the heart of the economic collapse that has left one in six Americans out of work or stuck in part-time jobs when they want something full time and it has left many in the movement distrusting both political parties.
Rather than become paralyzed, however, the folks camping out in Zuccotti Park and marching through Central Jersey on their way to the nation's capital have decided to take their democracy back.
It is that sense of hopefulness that drawn Gil Fox, an artist from Woodbridge, to find ways to help. He has made a few visits to New York, but has not been able to participate regularly. He decided to lend his assistance to the march and is helping the protestors transport their gear along its New Jersey route. He says he decided to become involved because he was impressed with the discipline of the protestors.
"A lot of our generation got into the hedonism of hte '80s and became greedy," the 50-year-old says. "This is different. Compassion is what's really important and that's what this is about."
Coniglione, who lives in New York, joined the Occupy Wall Street encampment in September and also participated in Occupy New Orleans, said the group embarked from Zuccotti Park on Wednesday with about two dozen marchers. The group doubled in size after a , which is the point, he says. People are busy and many can't make the commitment to camping out in New York or Trenton, but they can participate as the movement moves south.
"We are bringing the protests to people's back yards and giving them an opportunity to come out and participate," he says.
As the group started its march, people stopped to take photos and drivers beeped in support. The marchers waved signs and two large American flags, making it clear that they view their mission as a deeply American one.