Friday, December 3, 2010

Chapter Thirty-Four: "Jellybeans"

Tim, Evan, Iris, Tom and Me Crossing the DC Line
“California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah…”
In a field in suburban Maryland, a long line of exhausted, ecstatic peace marchers held hands and shouted out the states for the last time. 
“…Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa…”
The day was clear and cold.  We wore down vests, woolen hats, scarves and gloves.  But the excitement made us shiver. 
“…Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania…”
Friends, families, local activists, students, even a few news reporters came to watch the final border crossing. 
“New Jersey, New York, New Jersey…”
Mom and Dad were there, beaming with pride.  As we called out the last few states, I hesitated, knowing the final chapter was coming to an end.
“…Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland…”
Together, we took one giant step across the line.
“Washington, D.C.!”
We made it…everyone cheered and hugged one another.  We made it…everyone went around grinning and shaking one another to be sure it was really true.  We made it… everyone laughed; some cried.  Some fell on the ground; some jumped in the air; some held hands and spun around.  We made it.  I tried and failed to make sense of the moment.  There had been so many steps, so many extreme highs and lows that the final step into Washington seemed oddly uneventful.  As I looked around, the thought occurred to me that my family and friends, the people who before the peace march had known me best in the world, really had only the slightest notion of the enormous experience I now shared with my fellow peace marchers.  We had made it.  Now we had to walk into town and convince our leaders to represent our cause.  We gathered as a main march and walked to our encampment off Michigan Avenue near the National Shrine.  There we pitched our tents for the last time and prepared for our final rally.

Mom and Dad Met Us at the DC Line
For nine months, Saturday, November 15th had been the one and only date on our appointment calendars.  It seemed like a miracle that we had finally arrived at the place and time that everyone had held in mind for so long.  Our encampment wasn’t really on Michigan Avenue—it was on cloud nine.  We awoke and floated through our morning preparations.  With the patience of thoroughbreds at the starting gate, we gathered in “city mode.”  Finally, we proceeded down Michigan Avenue to our assembly point at Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park, on 16th Street.  My parents, Deanna, my nephews, Ray and Gabe, my friend Vi Murphy, and Brendan, a young friend of hers were all there to walk with me.

Coming into the Final Stretch
My Personal Welcoming Party
Somewhere were Grace and Martha.  Eileen, the woman with whom I’d spoken about the dangers of nuclear disarmament just a few weeks earlier in Carlisle, had come, too.  There were others who'd said they'd be there, though in the crowd it was impossible to know who had come.

People Brought A Message of Nuclear Disarmament from Near...
... and Far
Families Separated for Months Now Rejoined Loved Ones
I noticed a large banner from Westlake School in Los Angeles.  Ray and I walked over to talk with them.  Their teacher said they had followed our progress ever since we left LA, and the students had raised their own money to fly east and meet us for the rally.  I congratulated them and shook their hands and thanked them for coming all that way.  It never occurred to me that they might be just as excited to shake my hand as I was to shake theirs.  As we continued our walk through the park, Ray was taking in all the sights and sounds.  At one point, he stopped to get my attention.
           "I have a plan," he said.
           "What's your plan?" I asked.
         “We should take those guys who make bombs and put them in jail,” he said.
           "Hmmm," I replied, "interesting."
I thought it a plan worth putting to the test.  There were a number of police officers on duty in the park, waiting to escort us through the streets.
           "Why don't we find out what the police think of your idea?" I suggested.
           "Okay," he replied.
           We picked one out of the crowd.
           "Excuse me, officer, could we speak with you for a minute?"
        Somehow, we picked a winner, because when Ray told him his plan, the police officer listened with genuine interest.  Then he paused for a moment, and I hoped for the best, having no idea how he might respond.
        “Well,” he told Ray, “it would be even better if we could just get those guys to stop making bombs in the first place.”  I breathed an inward sigh of relief.  Ray thought about it for a minute.
           "What do you think of that idea?" I asked him.
           "Ok!" he said.
      With his thoughtful reply, the policeman had empowered a little boy to become a peace marcher.  I shook the officer’s hand and thanked him.  I glanced at his badge.  It read, “Garcia,” and I thought, I’ll always remember Officer Garcia’s name, and I did.

Wearable Peace
Concluding our tradition of small rallies, the Great Peace March procession of about 15,000 people walked down 16th Street toward the White House. We walked the first few blocks in silence.  Many held banners and signs for peace and disarmament.  Many held balloons.  Others held hands with one another.  Some rolled in baby strollers, others in wheelchairs.  Thousands of people joined together to walk the last few miles.  It wasn’t the biggest demonstration Washington had ever seen, but no group had ever walked farther to get there.  Marty hoisted Ray up on his shoulders and showed him how to make the peace sign.  Ray in turn gave the peace sign to everyone along the way, and then emphasized it again if he didn’t get one in reply.  He whispered to me that some people weren’t giving the peace sign back, but I said it was okay, that was their choice. 

Walking Down 16th Street...
...toward the White House
Thousands Became Peace Marchers for the Final Stretch
By the time we reached the Soviet Embassy, the silent walk had ended and we called out “Mir y druzba!” the Russian words for “peace and friendship,” to the bystanders on the sidewalk.  This being a Saturday, it was unlikely that the embassy was open or that the bystanders were Russian, but some smiled and waved back just the same.

Smiling DC Cops
A few blocks farther along, we passed a counter-demonstration of a dozen or so people carrying “Peace Through Strength” placards.  Their signs in the shapes of gravestones were printed with various places in the world where communism had done its worst: Poland, Lithuania, Tibet.  Our human river flowed past them with a chanted message in return: “Strength through peace, strength through peace, strength through peace..."
        We continued through the business district, crossing K Street just a few blocks north of the White House.  The tall buildings and city streets were fairly deserted.  Saturday was a quiet day for a demonstration in Washington, D.C.  

Counter-Demonstration Voices Were Heard, Too
They Had More Signs, but We Had More People
At Lafayette Square across from the White House, many marchers left pairs of shoes hanging along the fence as a symbol of our long journey and our demand for nuclear disarmament.  I would have left mine, but I had only the pair on my feet.  We re-grouped and continued to the Lincoln Memorial, our final rally point.  The marchers crowded up to the steps of the Memorial and the demonstration spread a ways down the reflecting pool toward the Washington Monument and the Capitol beyond.  It was cold, and everyone padded from foot to foot to stay warm.  The program of singing and speeches was, for me, a blur: Casey Kasem; Ralph Nader; Collective Vision.  There were no words to match the occasion.  We needed neither encouragement nor inspiration.  If someone had taken the podium and said, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” I’d have clapped and cheered just the same.  We had completed our trek.  In my mind, we had earned the right to demand nuclear disarmament.  Peacefully, of course.  

From the White House to the Lincoln Memorial
Up the Steps of the Lincoln Memorial
The Final Rally for Global Nuclear Disarmament
November 15, 1986
Eventually the sun set behind the Lincoln Memorial on the last day of the Great Peace March.  Marchers found their way back to camp.  My parents had invited a group of us back to their house, walking distance from the rally site.  Everyone was exhausted and overwhelmed.  It was hard to know what anyone was feeling or thinking.  In my mind, there were no soft edges.  I tried to keep my thoughts afloat, allowing them to surface only momentarily, like a Magic Eight Ball, so they wouldn’t hurt too much.  We drank warm, sweet tea, ate the buffet that my mother had prepared, and shared the last waning hours in conversation.  The peace march was ending, and my cup was overflowing.   

The Great Peace March at the Lincoln Memorial
Most marchers stayed in D.C. for several days following our arrival.  Some met for a rally at the Capitol.  Others conducted civil disobedience and were arrested in a demonstration at the Department of Energy.  There were several smaller actions but no single effort that brought a unified message to our leaders. 
My father worked some magic on our behalf and arranged an appointment for four of us to visit with Kenneth Adelman, Ronald Reagan’s Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.  Adelman welcomed us at his office where we, dressed in our peace marcher garb with worn shoes, unkempt hair and weathered skin, sat on comfortable sofas around a coffee table.  As was the case in the offices of all Republican appointees in Washington, on the table sat a jar of jellybeans, President Reagan’s signature sweet.  Danny gestured toward them and Adelman gave him a nod, so he opened the jar and took a handful and munched them as we talked.  I silently chuckled.  Leave it to Danny to co-opt the jellybeans.
        Adelman invited us to share our views and listened as we each spoke in turn about our walk and our mission and our message.  Adelman replied by saying that global stability relied on parity in the nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.  He believed that the nuclear arms race was keeping the world from dissolving into chaos.  I was startled when Adelman added that we, the peace marchers, were some of the most dangerous people in the country.  The four of us countered that our nuclear policies had created a world where our own children doubted they would reach adulthood.  We said that the proliferation of weapons that could easily bring about the extinction of the human race was itself causing chaos.  We said that the nuclear arms race was neither a viable foundation for national security nor a viable legacy for our children. 
I didn’t have the sense that we swayed Mr. Adelman’s views much, but I hoped we had impressed upon him the fact that a huge number of Americans were fed up with the nuclear arms race and wanted it to end now.  Adelman was frank and firm, attentive but unwavering.  We left hoping that we had planted a seed of peace.  It was the best we could do.  I was thankful for the opportunity to speak with someone who, were he so inclined, was in a position to stop the nuclear arms race.  At least Mr. Adelman knew now that the Reagan administration’s policies would not go unchallenged.  As we departed the agency, Danny shook Adelman’s hand and said, “You’re blowin’ it, man.”  Adelman appeared to take it in stride. 
The students at the Maret School invited me and my march friends as guest speakers.  Grace made all of the arrangements so we could visit as many classes as possible.  In the final assembly, we gathered in the theater.  We pitched the tent—the one the students had donated to the march—on the stage.  Students and teachers filled the seats and half a dozen marchers sat at the edge of the stage.  I had been in the theatre many times, but it felt a little strange to be a guest speaker on my own home turf.  Still, I was excited to be returning to the young people who had sent me off on this trek in the first place.  In a brief speech, I thanked the students for their support and reminded them that it had been their candid discussions in the eighth grade humanities class that inspired me to think about what I could do to end the nuclear arms race.  The other marchers introduced themselves, and we took turns answering questions and sharing stories.  One student wanted to know whether we thought the peace march would do any good.  To this we replied that we hoped we had talked to enough people along the way to raise awareness, but we admitted we really didn’t know for sure.  I hoped that by our presence we were proving that adults really did care about their future and were doing what we could to end the nuclear threat.  At the end of the assembly, we officially returned the tent to the school.  
The next day, I joined a small group of marchers who spoke at Sidwell Friends School.  Their student-run peace organization had followed the progress of the peace march all the way across the country.   The students were informed and politically active leaders of tomorrow’s peace movement.  Their views were very much aligned with our own, and, not unlike our meeting with the Society of Friends near Des Moines, our discussion was about not whether but how to dismantle the nuclear weapons. 
My cousin, Martha, invited me to speak with the students in her religion class at Gallaudet University, America's renowned university for the deaf.  Martha’s students were welcoming and inquisitive.  She had invited an interpreter so that everyone could relax and communicate easily with one another, and we did.  I had never realized how difficult it was for hearing impaired students to stay abreast of current issues and news events.  In the days before the Internet, closed-caption TV news was  not widely accessible, and reading the newspaper was time consuming, especially for a university students with busy study and social schedules.  Consequently, many of the students in Martha’s class asked questions of a more general nature about the nuclear arms race.  Facts that would have been out of my reach when the peace march began were now at my fingertips, so, in addition to talking about my peace march experience, Martha and I filled in the informational gaps.  The visit was tremendously rewarding, and I wished we’d had more time together.
Slowly, over hours and days, the peace marchers trickled out of our campsite on Michigan Avenue.  Friends resisted saying goodbye.  Groups huddled in big tearful hugs.  The click-click-click of tent poles being dismantled echoed across the camp for the last time.  Marchers rolled up their sleeping bags and tents and pulled their green crates off the gear trucks, loading them into cars that would take them to a strange place called home.  With thousands of people milling around, most of whom were unknown to me, I couldn’t find all the friends to whom I wanted to say goodbye.  It seemed impossible that we wouldn’t be together again tonight or tomorrow or next week or next month.  I couldn’t appreciate the significance of the departure.  We had all said hello and goodbye so many times to one another and to so many hundreds of people along the road that the last goodbyes just didn’t resonate with me. 
As for my close circle of friends, we should have gone to a cabin in the mountains or a cottage at the beach or a farmhouse in a cornfield somewhere for a while.  If I hadn’t been exhausted and numb, our last few hours together might have been too much to bear. After eight and a half months and over 3,000 miles together on the road, Iris, Bill, Tom, Sheila, Danny, Georgia, Marty, and Willa all said goodbye.  When Evan said it was time for him to get into Tim’s van and drive back to Utah, I knew the Great Peace March was over. 
The last event I attended on the Great Peace March was a tree-planting ceremony in the nuclear-free town of Garrett Park, Maryland.  Because it was late in the season, we planted a tall, sculpted wooden post with the word “peace” carved into it in several languages.  Mayor Justine designated the final boundary of her longest, thinnest forest in America.  For me, the tree-planting ceremony closed  many concentric circles.  Garret Park was an easy walk from childhood home, an easy walk from my elementary school; an easy walk from the woods and fields and streams of my youthful wanderings.  I had been in Garrett Park a thousand times.  I had checked out my first library books there; attended Girl Scout meetings there; I had even stood on the main road as a young patrol guard and helped a little kindergarten girl cross safely home at lunchtime there.  The house I grew up in was a few miles away, but in a real sense, the Great Peace March was ending in my back yard.  Could there have been anything more complete than that?
        Yes, there was.  The universe winked her eye, opened her hand and offered one last, round, bouncing, synchronous gift.  The name of the street where we planted the last peace pillar of the Great Peace March?  It was Clermont Avenue.