Thursday, July 26, 2012

Turn Against War walk!

The rain came sideways and water pooled on the Glacial Drumlin bike path somewhere between Cottage Grove and Lake Mills, Wisconsin. As I walked on the gravely surface, hail as large as peas suddenly pelted me from all sides. Despite wearing good quality rain gear, I was soon drenched. It was the second day of the walk titled “At a Global Crossroads: Turn against War” that I had joined at its start in Madison, Wisconsin, on May 2nd. The goal was to arrive in Chicago, the end point of the walk, on May 18th, two days before the beginning of the NATO summit.

But on that wet day, my goal was not Chicago; it was one step at a time. I was determined to continue, despite my wet feet and the pain in my legs. When I saw a large lake shrouded in the mists of a rainy day, I knew that my day’s walk was about to come to a conclusion. Because of a detour in Cottage Grove, which added two and a half miles to the walk that day, our group of six individuals ended up by walking nineteen miles. Most of the walk was on the bike path, through beautiful wetlands and wild weather.

As soon as I arrived in Lake Mills, I was driven in a support vehicle to the home of our host family for the night. Support vehicles carry luggage, food, water, and tired walkers. At Darryl and Sheila Pope’s home in Lake Mills, I found ease of discomfort in a warm bath and happiness in clean, dry clothing and in conversation with friends, old and new, and in a home-cooked meal. We talked about the Afghan Peace Volunteers, a group of young people from the Bamiyan region of Afghanistan who have committed themselves to nonviolence in country that has known only war during the past 40 years. Very few Afghans remember peaceful times as 68 percent of all Afghans are under the age of 25. Kathy Kelly, one of several coordinators of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, the organization that sponsored the walk, has visited Afghanistan six times. She has become well acquainted with the work of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, who range in age from eleven to twenty. We talked about our experiences of the day as well: the stormy weather, the birds, and plants that we found on the trail, including the flowering trillium and the invasive garlic mustard (a weed that crowds out more desirable plants on trails, on the side of the road, etc).
During the two and a half week long walk, I saw substantial rainfall on only one other day. On that day, a Sunday, the group was walking on the bike path between Dousman and Waukesha. I heard the ominous sound of rolling thunder and saw that the sky was dark, as if it were dusk, even though it was midday. The thunder’s roar came closer and was accompanied by lightning, and the rain came sideways in sheets. I was walking with Barbara Hoffmann, a music teacher from Appleton, Wisconsin. As it poured, we sang rain songs and Noah’s Ark songs and a medley of other songs. Eventually, the storm ended and daylight emerged in the forest.

During the walk, we traveled through forests, two large cities (Milwaukee and Chicago), farming communities, and small towns. We walked through three college campuses: Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin; Marquette University in Milwaukee; and Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. We walked along quiet streets and along wide roads, busy with the movement of cars and trucks and the business of fast food restaurants and “big-box” stores. We saw farmhouses and silos and horses. We walked past bodies of water as large as Lake Michigan and as small as the Bark River, a tributary of the Rock River in southeastern Wisconsin. We carried signs that called for an end to the Afghanistan war and to drone strikes that have killed many civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan. One of our walkers, Jules Orkin, carried a Veterans for Peace flag. That flag inspired much interest from passers-by, especially from veterans. At 73, Jules, a retired book store owner from New Jersey, has participated in many walks for such causes as an end to war and a nuclear free future. He said that he averages 1,000 miles per year.

We ate lunch on beaches in northern Illinois two days in a row. We couldn’t see the other side of Lake Michigan, which made it possible for us to imagine ourselves on the ocean. Our beach lunches delighted everyone, but no one was more delighted than Saoirse Grady, our youngest walker at nine years old, who, with her mother Ellen and her aunt Theresa, joined our group for a few sunlit days.

When we entered Milwaukee and Chicago, people from those communities walked with us for a day or two. In the cities and in the suburbs, we walked through parks and neighborhoods and business districts. We saw interesting architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright and other well-known architects. We saw newly planted gardens and public sculpture projects. In Highland Park, Illinois, we walked down a street in the central business district that was decorated with glass mosaic mushrooms, large butterflies and dragonflies, and poetry. These decorations were installed on May 10th as part of Highland Park’s Magic Garden Walk.


We also took the time to reach out to the communities that we were visiting by offering presentations. Kathy Kelly shared stories about life in Afghanistan as she observed it during her visits to the Afghan Peace Volunteers. She shared videos of Afghan youth being interviewed by Hakim, a doctor from Singapore, who has lived in Afghanistan for approximately 12 years. Buddy Bell, who organized the walk, discussed the history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).


We walked into the City of Chicago on the morning of May 18th. After a press conference, we attended the Nurses United rally for universal health care in Daley Plaza. It was an energetic protest, complete with singing and dancing and nurses dressed in Robin Hood-style outfits. The nurses were calling for a Robin Hood tax to help pay for health care for everyone. We were watched by hordes of police in a variety of uniforms, representing a number of different police agencies. Included in this large representation of law enforcement was the National Guard.

On the night of May 18th, I returned home. I did not stay for the larger protests of the next few days. I let my walk be my statement for peace and human rights. For me, it was truly the journey, rather than the destination, that made all of the difference.  I am grateful for the hospitality of the communities and the host families that we visited along the way. We made new friends along the way and it is these new friendships, as well and the support and encouragement of family and established friends, that make the time and effort of the walk worthwhile.


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