Mark Baumer was not your typical activist. The 33-year-old author and poet’s main form of protest was to kick his shoes off, walk, document, and make stories that he’d share on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. On his website Baumer spoke out against capitalism, fracking, and Donald Trump, but it was his quirky, apolitical mannerisms that captured the attention of thousands of followers.
On January 21, 100 days into his attempt to walk across the U.S. barefoot, Baumer was struck and killed by an S.U.V. Baumer started the shoeless walk from his home in Providence, Rhode Island, and made it as far as Ohio before snow and ice forced him to divert by bus to a more southern route. At the time of his death, Baumer was in Walton County, Florida, walking against traffic for safety, along the shoulder of U.S. 90, near the intersection with Laird Road. He was wearing a high-visibility vest. According to a Florida Highway Patrol report, the S.U.V had swerved out of its lane. Charges are being filed against the driver, a local woman who had a child in the car.
Five days before his death, on January 16, Baumer wrote that he was three-quarters of the way to his goal of raising $10,000 for the FANG Collective, a group dedicated to fighting fracking and supporting environmental causes, based out of Providence. As of January 26, total donations had soared to $24,580, more than double the goal. Some donors gave anonymously, but many left their names and comments. “Wherever you are, I am walking with you,” wrote Victoria Fox. Another, Pia Davis, wrote “I wish you had been able to carry out the entirety of your amazing life.”
Baumer, a self-funded, self-supported vegan who carried only a backpack and often slept outdoors in a small, waterproof shelter, had become something of a folk hero since 2006, when he first hitchhiked across the U.S. In 2010, he had a repeat journey, walking (with shoes) over 2,500 miles in 81 days and generating as little waste as possible. His short documentary-style YouTube clips of his journeys mash video footage of small town America, things he finds discarded along the roadside, conversations with locals, and his own stream-of-conscious rants about the state of the world, filmed while turning the camera on himself as he walked.
When he was not walking to raise awareness about the environment, Baumer worked as a web specialist at Brown University’s library. He self-published more than 50 books of poetry and prose. His 2016 book Holiday Meat won the 2015 Quarterly West Novella Contest.
Baumer’s final blog post, on January 21, the day he died, was eerily prescient, showing a photo of his bare toes beside the word “Killed” spray-painted in yellow on highway blacktop. “The language of capitalism” he said sardonically in the accompanying YouTube video.