Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chapter One: "$100 from Ten People and $10 from A Hundred People"

            The Great Peace March was the brainchild of David Mixner, a political activist who envisioned a group of 5,000 people walking across the country with corporate sponsors and celebrities drawing national attention to the cause of nuclear disarmament.  According to the plan he laid out, we would travel an average of fifteen miles a day en route from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., supported by an advance planning team, a medical team, public relations experts, semi-tractor trucks, a mobile kitchen, mobile showers, porta-potties, and, in the days before cell phones, a bank of pay phones mounted on a mobile trailer.  Our pastel-colored North Face tents would be organized into color-coded neighborhoods and when lit from the inside at night would form a huge, glowing mandala from above.  Each marcher would raise $3,235—a dollar for each mile of our trek—from personal sponsors, and PRO-Peace (People Reaching Out for Peace), the founding organization, would match that money with corporate sponsorships.  Corporations would also provide “scholarships” for any marchers unable to raise their own money.  The march would have the backing of big names in politics and entertainment.  The media team would ensure that the message was heard nationwide every step of the way.  As a result of the march, tens of thousands of Americans, inspired by our message of global nuclear disarmament, would engage in mass acts of civil disobedience that would rival the Civil Rights Movement and, finally, bring down the bombs.
In 1986 there were no websites for easy research, so, as I happened to live in Los Angeles at the time, I decided to volunteer at the PRO-Peace office to lend a hand, but also to gain insight into the organization and gather details about the plan.  I went to the PRO-Peace office several times.  The first time, I helped prepare a bulk mailing of brochures to send to people who were interested in joining the march.  I met Simon from San Francisco, an energetic man about ten years my senior with a quick smile, a dry wit and a British accent.  He was smart and organized, and he possessed the kind of level headed intelligence I’d hoped for among the marchers.  Furnishings in the PRO-Peace office were sparse, so I sat on the floor to organize the bulk mailing by state and zip code.  Every now and then, Simon would pop by to make sure everything was going smoothly.  I mentioned to him that I was impressed by the fact that there were hundreds of inquiries from all across the country, and he added emphatically that there were requests from several countries elsewhere in the world, too.

The Route As Originally Planned
The next day my lower back was so strained that I could hardly get out of bed.  A friend suggested a hands-on healer at the Healing Light Center in Glendale.  I had never been to a hands-on healer, but my friend assured me that it would help, so I called and they said I could come right away.  I managed to drive to the center, where a woman greeted me and showed me into a small, quietly lit room.  The healer looked surprisingly normal, like a person you might see with a couple of kids in line at the grocery store.   She helped me onto the massage table where I lay gingerly on my back as she slipped a cushion under my knees.  She placed her hands lightly on or just above my body and instructed me to close my eyes and breathe deeply.   Within a few minutes, the pain started to subside.  I was amazed.  As she worked, she asked if I wanted her to share some insights into what the energy in my body was telling her.  I said sure.  She told me she saw me on the Children’s Crusade.  She said she saw me in a long line of children, all walking somewhere together.  I had never heard of the Children’s Crusade.  A past life experience, perhaps?  I wasn’t too sure about that, but after a minute or two I noticed tears spilling out of the corners of my eyes and rolling down the sides of my face.  I felt as though the healer had unlocked a secret drawer somewhere deep in my mind and a few ancient teardrops were falling out.  I wasn’t upset or sobbing, just letting the tears go.  She handed me a tissue, and as I blew my nose, I realized that the pain in my back was completely gone.  Where the pain had been, just a feeling of tenderness remained.  The healer showed me some easy stretching exercises for my back and invited me to return again in the future.  As for the visionary information, I didn’t take it too seriously, but the historical theme intrigued me, and I made a mental note to look into the Children’s Crusade as a little personal research project, just in case there was something to it.
Another day I went to the Pro Peace office to answer telephones.  Most calls were requests for basic information about the march, but one lady said she had heard about the march and wondered if we would be interested in having her son’s rock band play.  I imagined a group of teenagers practicing “Stairway to Heaven” in her basement.  She seemed like a nice lady, so I spoke with her for a while and said I wasn’t sure how our performers were being selected but that I would pass her name and phone number along to the person in charge of entertainment.  As I wrote down her name, I realized she was David Byrne’s mom.  I told her I was a big fan.  I quietly wondered if David Byrne knew his mother was volunteering him and his band to play for the Great Peace March.  She seemed pleasantly surprised that I had heard of her son’s group and that he had fans.  Whatever happened to that golden opportunity only the PRO-Peace staffers know for sure, but to have heard the Talking Heads play “Road to Nowhere” somewhere along our road to D.C. would have been a thrill… and how appropriate those lyrics would have been.
At the telephone table I met Fergus from Las Vegas and a third volunteer, Allan.  Somehow, every time the phones stopped ringing, the three of us started singing.  Fergus had a Sweet Baby James voice, and Allan carried the baritone.  Soon we were singing rounds.  I always loved the way a round like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or “Frere Jacques” allowed each person to sing a simple tune that wove together with the other voices to create a complex harmony.  Rounds were a great way for people who had never sung together to get acquainted musically.  Fergus, Allan and I sang “Dona Nobis Pacem,” with its beautiful, lilting tune and lyrical prayer meaning “grant us peace,” and Fergus taught us “The Ghost of John,” a creepy campfire favorite that despite years of Girl Scout camping trips and outdoor education programs, I had never heard.  (“Have you seen the ghost of John; long white bones with the flesh all gone; ooooo-ah-ooooh; wouldn’t it be chilly with no skin on.”)  The three of us sounded great together and got completely lost in the music until one of the phones started ringing and we had to go back to work again.
            In the weeks that followed, I agreed to undertake some research for the PRO-Peace sub-group doing educational outreach.  The information I gathered helped me understand the complexities of trying to force major change in society, and it moved me to the more conservative side of the peace march political spectrum.  The assignment was to record the name of every business in every city and town along the march route with a military contract of more than $10,000.  These were companies that had contracts with the Pentagon to provide products that would be used by service personnel on U.S. military bases around the world.  I was able to access the information fairly easily at the public library, but I was stunned to find that literally thousands of businesses met the criterion.  I couldn’t possibly have recorded them all.  Furthermore, the range of businesses was enormous: companies that made dog food, embroidered badges, buttons, shoes, shoe laces, shoe polish, car parts, machinery, tools, office supplies, furniture, computer equipment, soap, deodorant, soda pop, canned vegetables, plumbing supplies—virtually every product imaginable.  A million soldiers and their families stationed around the world required the same goods we used in civilian everyday life.  As a result of this research, I came to understand two things: The nuclear weapons race was allowing us the employment benefits of a wartime economy; and, if the peace march was successful in bringing down nuclear weapons, a side effect would be to put a whole lot of people out of work and a whole lot of companies out of business.  This reality stayed with me and tempered my fervor for swift nuclear disarmament.  It moved me politically to the middle of the road among my fellow marchers. 
            By this time, I had applied to PRO-Peace to participate in the march.  The application itself was lengthy but straight-forward, with the apparent goal of eliminating anyone with major physical or mental health issues.  PRO-Peace required clearance from a medical physician and a short explanation as to why one wanted to join the peace march.  There wasn’t much room for expounding, so my response sounded a little like a Miss America answer to the big question:  I explained my view of nuclear weapons as a waste of public money and a threat to humanity, I mentioned my experience love for camping and my experience with outdoor education, and I offered my teaching abilities, novice as they were, as my contribution to the Great Peace March work force.  Beyond the paperwork, I had no idea what decision-making process PRO-Peace would employ, but within a couple of weeks I received a packet in the mail that included an acceptance letter, a fund-raising packet, instructions on how to receive mail on the peace march, and a recommended equipment list.  I felt honored that PRO-Peace wanted me.

PRO-Peace Application: Due Date Crossed Out, Presumably to Allow Time for More Applicants 
I registered with the PRO-Peace speakers’ group.  I soon received a message that a woman in North Hollywood wanted a peace marcher to speak at a poetry reading in her home.  Two poets, both women, would read, and twenty-five or thirty supporters would attend.  I arrived at the house with brochures and a wall map showing the march route.  The gathering was composed of mostly middle-aged professionals, friends, neighbors and colleagues who had taken an interest in the march.  The first poet, a Japanese-American woman, read original works that combined the Western analytical mind with Japanese style: simple and visual.  I was especially moved by her underlying message: However important or trivial our achievements seem, they are the essence of human endeavor that stand between our existence and our extinction.  Her poetry distracted me from the butterflies in my stomach.  The second poet, a woman from New York, read works about her experiences with the Women’s Movement.  Both of these women expressed with sensitivity and grace their experience of living and writing “outside” the realm of social acceptability.  Feeling myself moving into similar territory, I listened attentively to every word. 
When my turn came, I spoke briefly about my emotional introduction to the peace march and admitted that I felt a little embarrassed by the suddenness of my decision to join.  My tearful resolve upon reading “David Mixner’s Remarkable Dream” had made sense to me, but I wasn’t sure how this roomful of professionals, many of whom were quite a few years older than I, would take it.  As I looked around at my audience, however, I noticed encouraging smiles and heads nodding in agreement.  When I opened the floor to questions, many were about logistics and factual details, but everyone expressed a strong desire for the march to bring a message of global nuclear disarmament across the country to Washington.  I was transformed.  My task as a peace marcher was no longer an individual effort.  I was now connected with a circle of supporters who shared the common goal of making the march a success.  As I left, several of the women half-jokingly promised to find me on the peace march and take me out to dinner on my birthday.  The following week, the Daley Peace Group, named for the woman at whose home the reading had taken place, donated $350 to purchase the tent I would live in on the trek. 
            In the meantime, I sent the word out to everyone I knew that I would be walking across the country for global nuclear disarmament.  I needed to raise $3,235 in personal sponsorships.  I naively thought that my family and friends would all agree with my views and support the cause in spirit if not in sponsorship donations, and most did.  I was surprised, though, when a couple of family members sent notes, albeit beautifully written, saying that while they supported me, they could not support the cause.  It seemed incredible to me that people I knew personally, even members of my own extended family, wanted to keep the nuclear arms race going, but I didn’t have time to discuss the issue with them, and I wasn’t inclined to change their minds for fear of alienating them.  My immediate family responded with wholehearted support, some padded with a note of concern for my safety or skepticism about the viability of the plan, but all with a common theme: Go forward—but keep your eyes open.
My sister Cassie kicked into gear.  Unlike me, Cassie was, by nature, a community organizer.  She kept the social scene percolating.  She brought people together and galvanized them, sometimes just toward having a good time, but more often toward personal and political change.  When I told her of my plan to join the PRO-Peace March, she promised to give me her full support and suggested a fund raising idea: “I’m going to raise $100 from ten people,” she said, “and $10 from a hundred people.”  Over the weeks that followed, Cassie sent out letters to everyone she knew and ultimately catapulted me within striking distance of my goal.  Because nearly everyone we knew within a few degrees of separation was on Cassie’s list, we further agreed that I would send newsletters from the march, and she would mail them to everyone on the list. 
In Los Angeles, I had sung back-up vocals in my brother David’s band, “Mumbo Jumbo,” where a woman named Trudy Mays was the other back-up vocalist.  Trudy and I had gotten to know each other over the months of singing and performing together.  When she found out I was going to walk across the United States, Trudy announced that she would throw me a PRO-Peace March shower.  “Since we don’t really know if we’ll ever get married or have kids,” she explained, “we should throw ‘showers’ for the other big events in our lives.”  I loved the idea.  Trudy invited a whole roomful of mutual friends, and everyone brought something I needed for the march—flashlight, socks, toiletries, Band-Aids, a penlight, batteries, insoles, Neosporin, sun block, a water bottle, a giant box of tampons—all the sundry notions on my equipment list.  One friend, Jason, presented me with his Swiss Army knife, a dear possession, and asked me to take it and use it on the walk.  Trudy’s shower was a thoughtful, imaginative gesture that connected me with a second circle of friends and fed the rising tide of support that was now moving me forward.
            I was in pretty good physical shape before the peace march began.  I wasn’t overly athletic, but I power walked or jogged for exercise a few times each week, maintained a relatively healthy diet—as long as there was no Breyer’s mint chocolate chip ice cream in the freezer—and kept fit.  We were scheduled to depart on March 1, 1986, so I had about six months to get used to walking twelve to fifteen miles a day.  The warm southern California winter left no room for excuses.  I followed an exercise plan of walking at an aerobic clip around my neighborhood for an hour or so every evening after work, and then taking longer walks on the weekends to get used to the distances.  Endurance would be more important than speed, I figured, which was good for me as speed was never my forte. 
Andy Cleveland and I had worked together during the year I’d lived in California.  He was the one who tossed me the story about PRO-Peace and the march.  We worked in the copyright department at Warner Bros Music, he as a file clerk and me as copyright coordinator.  We both loved music but agreed that most of what came through the office had little real artistic value.  It was commercial music—Muzak, he said.  We did get excited about a few new songs.  I loved being on the copyright team for “We Are the World” and the last Talking Heads album, “Little Creatures,” and he proudly filed the paperwork on Madonna’s latest hit.  Andy was short with blonde hair and round, metal-rimmed glasses.  He smoked Eve cigarettes.  He had a dry sense of humor and a cynical outlook on the world, but he was resourceful and creative, and although he doubted that people would ever end the arms race, Andy knew that the peace march was important to me.  He suggested we go hiking in the hills north of Los Angeles. The network of footpaths above Malibu provided a good workout as they wound through the shrubs and up the hills to a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean.  My first time out, I inadvertently walked into a large patch of poison oak.  I couldn’t believe my stupidity.  I had had oak poisoning before.  The rash lasted for weeks and was far itchier and more painful than poison ivy.  I scrambled to get away, but I could see that the leaves had already brushed up against my legs.  As I waded out, I reprimanded myself.  “Ok, that was really stupid, but you do not need this experience right now.  You don’t need to suffer to get ready for the march.  You do not need a case of poison oak.  Skin cells, protect yourselves against the toxins.”  At home, I jumped in the shower and quickly scrubbed my legs several times to wash off the oil.  Whether it was mind over matter or the good, hard scrubbing, I couldn’t be sure, but, miraculously, the poison oak rash never appeared.

Training Outing: The Long View
            On another hike with Andy, I accidentally tripped over some rusty barbed wire in an open field.  It sprang up and scratched the back of my leg.  As soon as I returned home, I walked to the health clinic at the end of my street and got a tetanus shot that would carry me through the march.  I then spent the next few days imagining the symptoms of lockjaw until I figured the danger had passed.  Perhaps I was a bit accident prone on my training outings, but each incident reminded me of safety concerns that I would have to keep in mind out on the road across America.  I would be living outdoors day and night, and I was becoming more aware of how to protect myself from the elements and stay healthy. 
A man named Rodney Bryant, who had made a solo walk across the country, gave a seminar at the PRO-Peace offices.  Rod shared insights into the practicalities of life on the road: reasonable distances to walk per day, stretching exercises before and after walking, and what essentials to carry.  He swore by Rockport shoes (I chose Nike Airs), and he talked about the best posture for walking, especially the importance of stepping heel-to-toe and swinging the arms liberally and comfortably.  I listened to his advice and started to develop a long-distance walking style.  I paid attention to my natural walking rhythm and noticed that mine was not a left-right, left-right military step but a left-right-left, right-left-right waltz rhythm.  The three-quarter time energized my pace and centered my body over my legs.  I was going to waltz across America. 
Within a few weeks of the march, I joined a ten-mile walk-a-thon.  My goal was to pace myself on a flat walking surface with few hills, and the neighborhoods in North Hollywood were the perfect testing ground.  I didn’t try to walk quickly, I just kept a steady pace, arms swinging comfortably, stopping to stretch my back and legs from time to time.  I completed the walk well within three hours with only minor muscle and joint strain, giving me the confidence that when the march began, I would be able to keep up with the pack.  I estimated that the walk-a-thon equaled about two-thirds of a full day’s walk on the peace march. 
The walk-a-thon concluded at North Hollywood Park in the shade of several towering, gnarly eucalyptus trees.  I noticed a statue at the center of the park and walked over to find that it was of my childhood heroine, Amelia Earhart.  It struck me as a funny coincidence.  When I was young, I wanted to be just like Amelia Earhart.  She was a good role model for a tomboy.  Beyond her daring in aviation, I had heard that Earhart also designed and sewed her own clothing for comfort and practicality.  Those beautifully cut trousers and bomber jackets were her own designs, custom tailored to fit her bold pursuits.  Earhart’s tragic final flight aside, her courage to challenge the limitations set by others inspired me.
In February, I stopped volunteering at the PRO-Peace offices and focused on getting myself ready to go.  By this time I had given up my job as a substitute teacher at Widney High School in Los Angeles.  At the time, I lived in an apartment just south of Hollywood with my older brother, David.  David was a real adventurer.  As a kid, he was always on a mission—exploring the neighborhood, climbing the huge pine trees in our front yard to look out over the city, or trespassing on the nearby university property just to see if the cranky old caretaker would come out and yell him off the grounds—with me tagging along whenever it was his turn to look after me.  When it came to the peace march, David acted as a sounding board as I planned my way toward departure.  He gave me feedback that allowed me to think through the likely obstacles but still keep the larger political and personal goals in mind.  Whenever I tied myself into a knot of doubt, he would patiently wait for my litany to end.  “So, are you gonna do it?” he’d ask finally.
“Yeah,” I’d sigh.
And he’d give his definitive nod that said, “Okay, then,” and go on to another topic of conversation.  For David, the answer was either black or white.  He couldn’t see the point of flopping around like a fish out of water, gasping over a lot of “what if’s.”

Post Card In My Journal
I packed what anyone would for a 3,235-mile walk through the desert, over the Rocky Mountains, across the Great Plains, through the Midwest, over the Appalachians, into New York City, and down the urban East Coast: a week’s worth of underwear and socks, several t-shirts, a couple of long sleeved shirts, two pairs of pants, long johns, two pairs of shorts, the woolen pullover sweater that my mother had knit for me, a down vest stuffed into a little stuff sack, toiletries, sun block, bathing suit, towel, an am/fm Walkman and a handful of cassette tapes, batteries, a warm hat, gloves, scarf, a bandana, rain cape, water bottle, and Jason’s Swiss Army knife.  I also brought along my guitar—in case I found myself with nothing to do.  What I didn’t have were sunglasses, rain boots, rain pants and a really good rain jacket.