Monday, November 29, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Seven: "This IS Our Opening Day!"

We bade farewell to Macrobiotic Annie the next morning and headed out into the rain for a thirteen-miler through Pittsburgh.  Like Youngstown, Pittsburgh was an exhausted old steel town rusting at the edge of a lifeless river.  On the banks, two old friends fished together, though surely they could have caught nothing more than glimpses of an earlier time.  It was eerily quiet on the streets except when voices swelled inside a neighborhood bar or someone tore by in a souped-up car.  This was our economic legacy?  Depleted resources; polluted air; dead rivers; and workers tossed into poverty after an industry waned and died?  On the other hand, (Evan would gesture “on the other hand” with big, wide, open arms to show that what was on one hand in the American system was a world away from what was on the other hand in the Soviet system), it was impossible to accept the wholesale oppression of civil rights under communism.  We could only guess how many millions of Soviet citizens had been silenced, imprisoned or murdered because of their political beliefs.  Both ideologies had to change.  I wasn’t naïve enough to think that ending the nuclear arms race would eliminate unemployment and poverty, but at least it would take our minds off total annihilation and return us to the perennial problems of humanity.

Portrait: Peace Marcher
One evening we gathered on the lawn in front of an outdoor stage to hear Jim Scott, recently of the Paul Winter Consort, perform for the marchers.  The rain had tapered off, so many marchers came out to the concert.  The Paul Winter Consort played New Age ambient music and was known for incorporating the howling of wolves and the singing of whales into their compositions; I assumed Paul Scott would perform music of the same persuasion, and I was not disappointed.  He had a sweet voice and a round, mellow sounding guitar.  His songs were more structured and lyrical than those of his former consort, and he didn’t use animal sounds.  One of Scott’s songs, “Common Ground,” was about what it means to belong to a circle of friends.  It made me nostalgic for my peace march friends even though they were sitting right next to me. 
We headed eastward out of Pittsburgh along our familiar trail, Route 30, the old Lincoln Highway.  I had to make a couple of phone calls, so Tom, Evan and I borrowed a car and drove to a diner where I could use the pay phone and Evan could ingest his morning tankard of coffee and regain human form.  I phoned my brother David to wish him happy birthday, stupidly forgetting it was six a.m. in Los Angeles.  He said it was okay, he had to get up soon anyway, but I think he was just trying to make me feel like less of an idiot.  It was great to talk with him.  David had witnessed our disastrous encampment back in Barstow, so to give him a positive status report about our progress through Pennsylvania was all the more gratifying.

The Old Lincoln Highway: "L" for Lincoln
The day’s walk was nothing but parking lots, gas stations, and miles of telephone wires.  It reminded me of a cartoon by R Crumb where the rolling, forested countryside changes first into farmland, then into a small town, and finally, into strip mall America, telephone poles and wires crisscrossing the sky.  As I walked along, I thought about what people had done to the environment here and in thousands of similar places around the nation.  I had a hard time understanding how it had come to be that in wealthy suburbia, where taxpayers had the resources to create attractive, balanced communities, businessmen and developers had somehow been empowered to cut down the woods, cover the streams, bulldoze the fields, pave the earth, string up power lines, and put people into cars and children into shopping carts. 
I had grown up in Montgomery County, one of the wealthiest counties in the nation.  Rockville Pike ran through it.  The five or six mile drive north from Edson Lane to Gaithersburg was a textbook example of uncontrolled suburban development.  One of my neighbors spent nearly his whole life testifying before the local zoning board to keep our little neighborhood intact.  Within two years of his death, every acre of land he fought to protect had been developed.  All of the streams and fields and woods of my youth were completely gone by the time I was twenty-five years old.  Not seventy-five, twenty-five.  Developers turned sparkling creeks into storm drains, deep woods into office “parks,” and shady old footpaths into concrete sidewalks.  The natural environment that had inspired a sense of adventure and wonder in my young soul had been completely obliterated.  There would be no new generation of nature lovers.  The developers had won.  In the name of commerce they had destroyed the native beauty of my Montgomery County.  Why were American developers so violent toward nature?  As I encountered the strip mall development outside Pittsburgh, my soul wore an expression like the face in Edward Munch’s The Scream.
I entered the new campsite.  A group of filthy, parasitic marchers, whom many unceremoniously dubbed “Scum Bags” after the wet, slimy, unrolled sleeping bags they left under the trucks each morning, swarmed under a picnic shelter eating food that they had strewn across the table.  Admittedly, we were all living on the grubby end of the grubbiness scale, but the “Scum Bags” had sunk to an exceedingly rank state. 
I walked past the “Scum Bag” picnic and headed to the Bookmobile, my refuge.  In the early planning days, someone at PRO-Peace had had the foresight to ask each marcher to donate two books toward filling the shelves on the Bookmobile. The resulting collection, eclectic and leftward leaning, emphasized peace studies, relationships, outdoor living, and New Age spirituality.  Some books, like the one about edible plants, made me wonder if the donor expected the peace march to be an exercise in wilderness survival.  The books about communal living hit closer to the mark.  I browsed at will and sat contentedly with the books in my lap in the quiet space under the skylight. 
Later that afternoon, a group of us hung out between the kitchen and the prep truck playing guitars and singing—Up On the Roof, Stoned Soul Picnic, You’ve Got a Friend and other songs.  Willa joined in on her congas.  Danny had returned from an unexplained hiatus and came to harmonize.  It was a carnival atmosphere.  Everyone was in an upbeat mood, perhaps for the simple reason that we had stayed dry all day.
After dinner, Evan, Tom and I walked down a quiet road to a convenience store, and sat on a curb overlooking the empty parking lot, sharing a pint of ice cream.  As we sat there chatting, taking turns dipping our plastic spoons into the container, a small truck rear-ended a car on the street right before our eyes.  In a moment’s time, Tom was at the vehicles, stabilizing one of the passengers.  Evan and I hadn’t even had a chance to stand up.  The next car down the road happened to be a police cruiser.  The officer got out, and he and Tom took control of the situation.  In a few minutes, an ambulance arrived and transported the passenger away from the scene.  Evan and I watched the whole event unfold.  After the ambulance departed and the tow trucks arrived to haul the cars away, Tom returned to us, saying, in his best Three Stooges imitation, “Ya never know, ya know?”  He said the injury didn’t add up to more than a whiplash, but he said it was lucky that the cop happened by so quickly.  I said I thought it was lucky that he happened to be sitting right here, but he brushed off the compliment.  He said he had done what anyone would; I replied that he had done much more than I could have. 
At our camp in Bedford, a local woman arranged to bring a mobile recording studio to record Wild Wimmin for Peace, who in turn invited me to record a song.  I felt excited and nervous. I chose “Come Spinning Down” because the inspiration had come to me so powerfully along the road and because it was a song about women.  I had had some experience in a recording studio with my brother’s band back in Los Angeles, so the process was not completely unfamiliar to me.  While I was waiting for my turn, I listened to the new tape by Collective Vision.  They had dedicated themselves to singing and playing together since the early days of the march, and they sounded really good.  Their cassette made me a little envious that they had honed their musical talents and skills and represented the march—and the cause—with their music.  I was unable to tap their depth of commitment, and I wondered why.  The engineer called me up.  Everyone in the room was quiet.  I closed my eyes to concentrate.  When I was done, there was a pause and then people clapped.  It hadn’t occurred to me that there would be applause at the end of the song, because to me it was more of a prayer, but it was nice to hear that people liked it.  Normally, there’s a chance to record a few versions of a song and then select the one that turns out best, but here there was just one take and no opportunity to hear it played back, so I left, high on excitement, hoping I had captured the spirit of the song. 
After dinner I got my guitar from the gear truck, and Evan and I sat on a picnic table under a shelter in the park.  I was still feeling high from my brief recording session.  We sang “Lucille” together.  His voice sounded beautiful on the harmony part.  I sang “Come Spinning Down” because he had only heard it once if he had heard it at all.  Hannah came rolling up on the grass—literally—rolling head over heels—and requested “Long Walk to D.C.,” so we sang it while Alec, who was also on our loading crew, played his bongos.  We played “Big Yellow Taxi” and had a good time talking and laughing together until another storm approached, and we put away the instruments and headed to the local lounge for a beer.  Other marchers were already there, and they applauded as we entered, and someone shouted, “The entertainment has arrived!”  We all laughed and settled into our seats just as the thunder started to roll overhead.  The rain came down in sheets against the windows, and the lights flickered in the storm.  We didn’t get around to any more singing, but we had a good time at the bar, and on the way back to camp in the aftermath of the storm, we took off our shoes and sloshed barefoot through the grass.  The mud felt nice between the toes.
On our rest day at the muddy fairgrounds in Bedford, I found myself with nothing much to do.  I wanted to write a letter but couldn’t find a place to sit down that wasn’t muddy or wet, so I wandered over to the Great Peace March Wimmin’s group meeting.  Theirs was a tight-knit affinity group, not to be confused with the Wild Wimmin for Peace singers, and on that day they were engaged in some heavy “processing.”  Emma from Utah and Willa invited me to join the group, but the others quickly voted for me to leave.  I was in no way involved in their issues and was completely comfortable with their decision, but it occurred to me that perhaps some of our affinity groups had become essentially “closed” groups.
 I wasn’t looking to join a conversation; I just wanted to find a dry place to write a letter.  I wandered to the finance bus and then to the middle school bus, but it seemed every “indoor” space was being used.  Finally I met Joel from Boulder.  He said he had quit Collective Vision, the peace march band.  Joel was an excellent conga player, an important component in the rhythm sound of the band.  I asked him why he had decided to quit.  It was taking up too much time, he said, and it was taking him away from the mainstream of the march.  He asked if I wanted to play music, so we hung out in his little bus and he taught me one of my all time favorite songs: Bird Talk.  It was a Joel original, with a finger-snapping swing beat and a happy melody.  Appropriately Joel, the lyrics were whimsical and natural, all about the birds and the trees and the animals in the forest, ending with, “Bird talk, bird talk, so much fun to me…”
Toward evening, I shouldered my laundry bag and walked across the street to the local Laundromat where my fellow marchers had been washing and drying and folding clothes all day.  Every washer was washing; every drier was tumbling.  I was lucky to find an empty machine.  I purchased a little box of soap powder from the vending machine on the wall, put a load into the washer, closed the top and fed in the quarters.  As the water began to fill, I walked over to a young woman, the only non-marcher in the place and obviously the owner, and said hello.  “It looks like you might make more money today than you have since you opened,” I suggested.
 She looked at me with an incredulous expression on her face.  “This is our opening day,” she said.  “We just opened for business this morning!” 
I burst out laughing.  “Oh, my gosh,” I said. “This is the best grand opening ever!” 
She really did seem stunned.  I gave her a big hug.  She told me a little about herself, and I told her a little about myself.  We quietly watched the evening news and shared a bag of potato chips while the marchers kept dropping quarters into the brand new washing machines that, like the peace marchers themselves, kept right on agitating.
At a gorgeous site near Breezewood, Pennsylvania, Mother Nature treated us to a beautiful sunset.  What a gal.  We sure needed a hiatus from all that rain.  It was October 4th, Rosh Hashanah, and the kitchen crew served a delicious matzo ball soup.  My circle of friends ate together like a family, sitting on the ground with our bowls on our laps.  There was a Board of Directors meeting to discuss the dissolution of the Great Peace March as an incorporated entity.  In less than six weeks we would be in Washington, and within a few days after our arrival, the Great Peace March would cease to exist.  Wind and rain sent us into our tents after dinner and continued all night.  Hunkered down, I wrote a little song with a simple melody:

Give me your hand, I will hold true.
Give me your song, and I will sing it to you.
Give me your truth, and I will listen.
Give me your faith, and I will follow through.
Give me a chance to stand by you.

The next day’s walk was a nineteen-miler through the rolling Appalachian Mountains, the mist heavy with the scent of pine and fallen leaves.  Everyone seemed “up.”  People were talking about “forty days to go.”  We were taking on the occasional new marcher, easily identifiable by the fresh GoreTex, creaseless walking shoes, bright, white socks, stylish haircut and the taking of lots of photographs.  I walked with Christine, a therapist from San Francisco, who had joined us the previous week.  She asked about group dynamics—how marchers got along and what they did about it when they didn’t.  Basically, I said, the interactions on the Great Peace March were the same as those of people in any community, but the context accelerated and intensified many relationships.  I told her we had marchers who were trained as mediators and described some of the issues that had come up earlier in the march.  I told Christine it was good that she had come to walk with us for a few days so she could experience the community for herself.   We passed the time in a conversation that ranged widely but settled on the possibility of linking biofeedback with synthesizers and computers.

Christine had two children my age.  It was weird to think that I was walking with someone old enough to be my mother.  I hadn’t gotten to know many of the older people on the march, or any other time in my life for that matter, primarily because I usually felt a little intimidated by people older than myself.  With a few exceptions, grown-ups, especially those I had encountered in school and university, seemed impatient and demanding and authoritative.  But Christine acted like a peer.  Unlike most of the older adults I knew, she let me know that I had something to offer her.  Naturally, she asked me to take some photos of her along the way, and I gladly obliged.  Coming around a slow bend in the road, we noticed the old Suburban station wagon that belonged to the Collective Vision musicians up to its hubcaps in gravel on the runaway lane.  The Pennsylvania state police were talking with them and taking a report.  Collective Vision had evidently lost their brakes coming down the mountain, a frightening situation to be sure, but by all signs, no one had been hurt.  
At that moment, I heard my name being called, so I said goodbye to Christine and scanned the side of the road.  A friend from D.C. who happened to be driving through Pennsylvania found us and stopped by for a visit.  It was a miracle she found me, and I was glad she did because she was one of the most upbeat people I knew.  Hillary was a close friend of my sister’s and had contributed to Cassie’s fundraiser.  She was thrilled to see that the Great Peace March had made it this far after all the trouble we’d had getting started.  She couldn’t stay long, but before she hopped back into her car she promised to spread the word that we were headed for the East Coast. 
After lunch, Marty, Georgia, Bill stood on the front porch of a country store sharing dessert: a bag of M&M’s.  I called them by their Mexican name: “Dos Emmes.”  We headed out on the walk again until we spotted—Grace!—waiting for us at the side of the road—with her brand new Volkswagen Jetta.  It was a great surprise to see her.  True to her Detroit colors, Grace introduced her new car as if it were a member of the family.  Marty, Georgia and Bill continued walking while Grace invited me for a test ride into McConnellsberg.   We walked around town, visiting the antique stores and second hand shops, as I filled her in on the latest news.  Each antique store was a little adventure back in time.  One item that really amazed me was an old Victrola still in perfect condition that played 78 rpm records just as it had a century earlier.  We ate at a local diner and talked more about the march, our families and mutual friends, and school.  Grace was on her way back to D.C. and couldn’t stay, so we waved goodbye as she pulled out and headed down the road. 

Journal Entry—October 6, 1986
We are camped in a beautiful, high field in a valley about twenty miles west of Shippensburg.  Windy day.  A hawk soars, tilts, wavers and soars again above a distant field.  Marchers trickle in ahead of the main march.  Oddly, in this pastoral setting, there is no sign of livestock, but two dogs frolic on the lawn of a nearby home.

Daniel Berrigan and Mitch Snyder spoke to us during lunch break.  I had heard of Daniel Berrigan.  He was a Catholic priest and an activist against the Vietnam War, but I was a youngster then, and I knew only that he had been a radical Catholic who had been arrested for civil disobedience.  He had recently founded “Plowshares,” an organization dedicated to eliminating nuclear arms.  I was more familiar with Mitch Snyder because he had done hunger strikes to draw attention to the plight of the homeless in Washington.  He had established himself as a hero to some, a thorn in the side of others because he took his hunger strikes into some of the most affluent neighborhoods in the city.  In his talk to the peace marchers, Berrigan advocated civil disobedience as a means of protest.  He got me thinking about whether civil disobedience would divide our camp or unify it; whether it would advance our cause or hinder it.  

Daniel Berrigan
It seemed to me that the effectiveness of civil disobedience was situational: you sit at the counters at the soda shop; you march to the sea to make salt; you remain at the front of the bus; you step over the line at the Nevada Test Site.  You pinpoint an unjust law, and you break it; or you block a specific unjust action.  The Great Peace March had the potential to become a strong force for civil disobedience, but the Americans I’d met by and large were not interested in bringing about change in this way.  Again and again, I heard people telling us to “bring a message to Washington.” I was less interested in breaking laws than I was in pressuring Congress to pass new ones that would end the nuclear arms race.  Nuclear test ban legislation was already being debated in Congress; I wanted to target and build on that groundswell.
At times like this, when fellow marchers cheered the radical perspective of Berrigan and Snyder, I felt like a conservative.  I didn’t see our leaders as adversaries.  To me, they were people just like us; people who would respond if we demanded their attention.  Maybe it was because I had grown up near Washington, D.C., and congressmen and senators lived right in the neighborhood.  Besides, it seemed hypocritical to seek openness with the Soviet Union and then maintain an antagonistic relationship with our own leaders.  It wasn’t that I disparaged civil disobedience; I just thought it was a grave act to go against the rule of law, a last resort to be used when all other means of communication had failed, and one that could backfire if employed before all other efforts had been tried.
On the other hand, I agreed completely with Berrigan and Snyder that the Great Peace March needed to focus on our central purpose—global nuclear disarmament.  They were right that while marchers had many other issues they wished to address—apartheid in South Africa, Native American land rights, restoring our rivers, animal rights—we couldn’t do it all, and to try to do so would weaken the reason we had come together in the first place. 
For me, our secondary message, if there was one, was in what we had learned by living together as a community.   While I wasn’t keen on a collective vision, I was most intrigued by our collected wisdom, the experiences that together made the Great Peace March unique.  Some marchers said that “Peace City” was their first “real community.”  It seemed to me that this idea was related to our message of global nuclear disarmament.  Our group had done one simple thing.  We identified a serious problem and were using our lives to solve it, joining many thousands of people all around the world who had, as the saying goes, made their lives speak.  The Great Peace March community was unique but not all that unusual.  In some ways, it resembled the original Christian communities based on a message of love, another dangerous, powerful, radical idea.  As the end of the peace march neared, many of us were asking ourselves, “What more can we do with our potential to create communities?”
Another thought that Berrigan and Snyder raised for me was the question of leadership within the march.  The peace march hadn’t bred any outstanding public spokespeople.  It was almost taboo to suggest that one person among us might speak on our behalf.  Each of us viewed him or herself as a spokesperson for the march, and that was as it should have been.  Nevertheless, it surprised me that there was no one among us who, by native talent and temperament, if nothing else, had evolved as a spokesperson.  I had hoped that one such person would make a memorable speech when we arrived in Washington.