Walking the walk: Boerum Hill activist marches across the country to protest US detention of migrant children

Boerum Hill advocate Christopher Swain nabbed some good reading material for his 5,000-mile walk across the country.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

A Brooklyn activist famous for swimming the Gowanus Canal is turning his attentions landward, and is walking across the country to protest the deaths of children in Federal custody at the US-Mexico border.

Boerum Hill resident Christopher Swain strolled through Brooklyn on Wednesday bearing an Olympic-style torch on his journey west to the Golden State, a 5,000-mile trek by which he aims to raise awareness to the inhumane treatment of migrant youth detained by Uncle Sam, in whose custody six children have died since last year.

“The way we’re treating these children is a crime against the spirit of the America that I know and against these children,” said Swain. “When I heard that six kids had died in my government’s custody and one of them was 2-years-old and couldn’t walk and was separated from its mom, I wanted to shine a light on this situation… I didn’t want to stand by and wait any longer and be silent.”

The advocate has previously made a splash by swimming in the the filthy Gowanus Canal and the putrid Newtown Creek wearing his tailor-made hazmat suit, which he hoped would call out the government’s failure to clean up the dirty waterways.

He started his march on Nov. 7 in Concord, Massachusetts — the birthplace of the American Revolution — before hiking south down to Kings County.

On his way, Swain visited a Westchester shelter for kids separated from their parents at the border, and claims the youngsters are clearly terrified by their predicament. 

“When you see these kids — they’re kids. They’re little and you can tell they’re freaked out,” he said.

On Wednesday morning, he lit his torch in memory of the six dead children outside the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan and read out a statement in support of children’s rights dubbed the “Declaration on Behalf of All Children,” inspired by the United Nations’ Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

He then marched across the river to Kings County via the Williamsburg Bridge and proceeded along a roughly 9-mile loop through Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, and Boerum Hill, before passing by Brooklyn Paper towers in Downtown Brooklyn and back to the distant isle across the Manhattan Bridge.

He plans to head south to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Georgia, before cutting west to the Gulf of Mexico and along the U.S.-Mexico border to California.

Walking 15-20 miles a day at five to six days a week, he estimates journey will take around 300 days and that he will arrive at his endpoint next summer — with several breaks along the way where he returns to his family in Brooklyn.

He will stay with friends along the way and hopes to stay with people he meets too, he said.

His progress can be tracked on the project’s Twitter profile, where Swain posts his location every hour.

He hopes his journey will bring the issues at the border to the fore and keep people from forgetting about it.

“We can’t let it be normalized that kids are getting lost or are being detained,” he said. “It’s a national emergency to me.”