It's 4:15 a.m. at University Mall in Chapel Hill on Saturday as cars carrying concerned citizens begin to fill a row in front of Dillard's. Wrapped in blankets, bound with backpacks and powered by hope, they huddle together waiting for the charter bus to arrive.
They reminisce about past marches they've attended in Selma alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and in Washington to establish a holiday in his name. Few were able to sleep Friday, and those who did couldn't shut their eyes for long.
But some causes are worth sleep deprivation, shoulder-to-shoulder treks on the Metro and 11 hours round-trip in one day.
New jobs, access to education and affordable housing fit the bill for thousands of environmental, civil rights and union activists last weekend who rallied together in front of the Lincoln Memorial for the One Nation Working Together campaign.
"It's not just a trip, it's a journey; it never ends," says Eugene Farrar, a former Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP chairman and a bus captain for the march.
"Jobs? Yes. Racism? No. Attacks on immigrants have to go," the masses chanted as they shuffled from the RFK Stadium parking lot to the Metro stop.
"Mama, mama, can't you see, what Obama has done for me?" they cried once aboard.
Signs suggested that "tea parties are for little girls and their imaginary friends," urged Congress to "stop robbing the middle class to pay the rich" and dubbed the Tea Party, Republicans and Fox News "the axis of ignorance."
"I hope people look at this mall, because this is what America looks like," said Al Sharpton, speaking to a group that came from as far as California, Colorado and Texas, full of both the affluent and underprivileged, old and young, first-generation and longtime Americans. "It's time to bail out the American people."
Other causes—veganism and saving kidnapped children in Japan, for instance—also were sprinkled among the crowd. By and large, though, the rally stuck to its message: Obama is trying to solve the economy, but he needs help.
"I think this was historic, but it was just the tip of the iceberg. This needs to turn the nation into action," says Fred Foster Jr., Durham NAACP chapter president, adjacent to the statue of Lincoln and flanked by a couple dozen from the Bull City.
"If we go to Washington, and we march for your jobs, your education, your justice, you should be willing to get to the polls and take someone with you."
As the many "I Am Voting" hats worn at the rally stated, Election Day is Nov. 2.
"This is a movement, not a moment," Farrar said as the bus began the return trek to Chapel Hill. "This is the torch-passing ceremony, right here, right now."