Friday, March 26, 2010

Walking through Buffalo with Walk for a Nuclear-Free Future

On my first day walking with the Walk for a Nuclear Free Future 2010 Northern Route, we walked from the east side of Buffalo to downtown. Afterward, we headed north through the city and into the town of Tonawanda.  We spent the night at First United Methodist Church in the city of North Tonawanda, close to the Erie Canal.
Much of the east side of Buffalo looked devastated, with broken down buildings and vacant, waste-strewn lots. That is a common sight, unfortunately, in many American cities. The inner cities were left to their fate when many city dwellers moved to the suburbs.
In downtown Buffalo, we made a few brief stops. One of those stops was at the Erie County Holding Center, described by the Erie County Sheriff's department as a "pre-trial, maximum security detention facility." That's kind of a fancy way of saying that the detainees in that jail have not actually been convicted of any crime. This facility has had some serious problems in the past few years. Recently, it has been on the news on a regular basis because of the shockingly high suicide rate.

I remember when I spent a night inside the Erie County Holding Center in January of 2003 after an anti-war protest at the downtown Air Force recruiter's office. It was a bizarre, almost surreal experience... being in downtown Buffalo, yet being completely separated from the life of the city. I was on a holding room with a group of other women. We had thin mats to place in blue plastic "boats" on the floor. These were our "beds." The lights were never turned off. It seemed like a waste of electricity to me. Despite the bright lights, the Erie County Holding Center was a very dismal place.
I spent only one night there. I cannot imagine the hopelessness that people must feel when they are in there for an extended period of time. 
We, who stood outside of the jail, hope that those inside know that they are not alone.
From the Erie County Holding Center, we walked to City Hall, which is a very interesting art deco structure in the middle of downtown Buffalo. We were greeted by Mayor Byron Brown, who expressed his support for our walk and for the message of peace and a nuclear-free future that we are carrying throughout New York State in anticipation of the Nonproliferation Treaty talks to be held at the United Nations early in May.
After we left City Hall, we walked north on Elmwood Avenue though Allentown. This is one of Buffalo's historic and well-maintained neighborhoods. It is full of interesting little shops and older houses. We were enthusiastically greeted outside of an Elmwood Avenue by a teacher and her students. They gave us a peace flag. The teacher said that she was very supportive of what we were doing. "It's for them," she said of the young students, who were happily running and playing during their outside time.
We continued north and stopped for a lunch break at Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church. That church maintains a soup kitchen, called "Loaves and Fishes," five days a week. People who need a meal are always welcome to get one there. We set up our meal well after the Loaves and Fishes time. It was a nice space to eat.
Another highlight of our day in Buffalo was our stop at the Japanese garden at Delaware Park. The Japanese Garden was designed in 1970 and completed in 1974 as an expression of the friendship between Buffalo and its sister city, Kanazawa, Japan. It was relandscaped and rededicated in 1996. It's a great place to relax and it's also good for photography and for drawing and painting.
We just stayed there long enough to look at the beautiful garden and to take some pictures.
We continued north, heading out of the city. Eventually, we left Erie County and entered Niagara County. The last highlight of our day was the wonderful potluck meal provided to us by the ladies of First United Methodist Church in North Tonawanda.
It was a wonderful day in many ways. People with whom we came in contact in Buffalo were very warm and friendly and supportive of us and our message. I was thrilled to share both the beautiful and the struggling parts of Buffalo with my new friends. And the weather was glorious. It was a warm, sunny March day. It was a great day to walk and explore and to share a positive message of a nuclear free future.

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