Shippensburg, PA — They call themselves “The Great Peace March For Global Nuclear Disarmament” and they deserve the grandeur of their name. Now numbering 750 people of all ages and occupational backgrounds, they have marched from Los Angeles to the local Fair Grounds where they are encamped for the night. The trek started March 1 and will end November 15th in Washington via New York City. It is the largest group of people ever to walk across the continental United States and they have the weather-beaten faces and callous feet to prove their commitment.
Why are they doing this? Why did they give up their homes, their jobs, their incomes and decidedly more comfortable way of living for nine months?
Hear their words: “The Great Peace March is a gathering of people who have committed ourselves to take a stand against the arms race and responsibility for the fate of our planet and its inhabitants. Our purpose is to educate and demonstrate a conviction that there is hope and that each individual can make a difference. Taking our inspiration from Gandhi’s march to the sea and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s marches for civil rights, we believe that by walking together, we will be one step closer to a world free of nuclear weapons.”
“We are by and large middle class,” says Franklin Folsom, age 79, a former writer. “We are trying to influence the middle class to think that there are 50,000 nuclear warheads in the world and all it will take is one idiot to make a mistake and obliterate life on this planet.”
Their nightly encampment receives local visitors who learn that all the 50 states are represented in the camp, including teachers, truck drivers, doctors, cooks, students, families, most ethnic groups, 38 children and decorated veterans representing every conflict from World War II to the present.
Their immediate objectives are (1) to immediately cease all nuclear testing while effectively negotiating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. (The Soviets have stopped their testing since August 1985). (2) A mutually verifiable freeze on all nuclear weapons development by all nations. (3) Reductions leading to the elimination of nuclear weapons stockpiles worldwide. (4) No militarization of outer space.
Through town, village and city, through farm and ranching country, the markers marched, handing out materials and petitions. I asked them how they were received. “Fantastic” exclaimed a 70 year old grandmother. “Farmers, laborers and shopkeepers came out to the roads to support us,” said a peace marcher from Vancouver. “Were there any counter-demonstrations or unpleasant scowls or epithets directed toward you,” I inquired. Very rarely, they concurred. One young man declared “I defy anyone to show that we do not represent the majority of Americans on this issue.”
They have an education bus, a media bus and a town hall bus as part of their caravan. As they approach Washington, anyone who holds an outstretched hand along the way, receives a little poster with a picture of the march and the headlines “Walk With Us, Washington, D.C., Saturday, November 15, 1986, The Last Mile is Yours.” It goes on to say “We have crossed the desert, the Rockies, and the Great Plains. 3235 miles. Come walk the last miles with us. For further information, call 202-347-0790 or write to 733 Fifteenth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005.”
These Americans deserve a great welcome by tens of thousands of their fellow citizens when they congregate at LaFayette Park by the White House and then walk in silence to the Lincoln Memorial.
They expect to remain in Washington several days to meet with reporters, editors, talk show hosts, publishers, lawmakers, citizen groups, labor and business groups. They want to have a delegation meet with Ronald Reagan who has met boxers, gymnasts, actors and an assortment of foreign emissaries. They believe they have earned such a meeting, but don’t place any wager on Mr. Reagan saying yes.
The Great Peace Marchers plan to leave their well worn shoes near The White House in a mass symbolic gesture of their arduous journey across the country they so want to preserve. “What you used to do seems to be more and more trivial as the march goes on,” said James Knight, a 28 year old Los Angeles film editor,” as he marched through Michigan. That is an insight many more people might find congenial to their own rethinking of priorities and time.