Friday, December 3, 2010

Chapter Thirty-Two: "Y'All Lookin' Good"

        The Great Peace March had been welcomed at Cal State University and Chafee College in California, Notre Dame University in Indiana, Shippensburg and Penn State in Pennsylvania, and Caldwell College in New Jersey, but at Rutgers University I had the added pleasure of sharing the rally—and the peace march—with my family.  My mother’s family had a special connection with the university.  Her brother, my Uncle Jack, had attended Rutgers and spent much of his career at the university as a mechanical engineer.  Not to be outdone by her big brother, my mother had studied at Douglas Women’s College, graduating in music with a minor in mathematics.  Jack’s wife, my Aunt Nikki, was a staff librarian at the university, and his son, my newlywed cousin, Terry, had earned undergraduate and graduate degrees there.  Terry had always wanted to drive big rigs, and Uncle Jack said fine, but first Terry had to earn his bachelor and master’s degrees, so he did.
I went into Bayonne, New Jersey, to meet up with my mother and my grandmother.  We traveled down to Rutgers together.  We drove onto the campus, but the march hadn’t arrived yet, so we walked over to the student center for a slice of pizza.  Uncle Jack arrived, and then the march arrived, so we went outside to cheer them as they walked in and gathered at the rally site.  Eli, Libby, and Annie from Ohio spotted us, and came over to say hello.  I introduced them to my family, and everyone started talking.  Between my family and the peace marchers, I felt a little overwhelmed, but Mom carried the conversation, finding out where everyone was from, and Uncle Jack asked questions about the plan for D.C.  Eli said I should give a speech at the D.C. rally.  I laughingly said, “Okay, I’d be glad to,” and immediately started imagining what I would say if I did. 
Uncle Jack introduced me to Dean McCormick, the dean of the college.  Dean McCormick told us he had called for a teacher strike after the bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam era.  It had been a tense time on the campus and a bold step for a young professor to take.  His story reminded me once again of the long continuum of peace activism in the United States.  Dean McCormick said he sincerely hoped our march would move the government in the direction of nuclear disarmament.  We thanked him for welcoming us to Rutgers.  I felt proud to be part of a family tradition on a campus that took a stand for global nuclear disarmament.
        I scrounged a few index cards and kept them in my pocket to write down ideas for a D.C. speech.  Eli had gotten me thinking about it.  Even if it would never happen, it was a good exercise to think through culminating ideas.  Now that the march was coming to a close, what did I have to say about it all?  As if in response to the question, someone invited me to participate in an upcoming radio interview in D.C. on November 11th, Veterans’ Day.  In the meantime, I read several eye-opening articles about life in the U.S.S.R.  One told the story of a Russian man whose dream was to be a photographer, but the communist system forced him to work in a factory instead.  The story brought me to tears.  The benefit of full employment under communism paled in comparison with the liberty to determine one’s own destiny; and yet the faces of unemployed Americans haunted me.  Was there something in between?  Was there something else?  The nuclear threat trumped all political and economic systems.  Both capitalism and communism would be annihilated in a nuclear war.  Maybe nuclear disarmament would free us of more than just our most dangerous weapons.  Maybe it would expose our respective strengths and weaknesses, and allow us to build better ways of life.
The next day, we walked twelve miles into Princeton.  The march was unevenly kinetic now.  Marchers came and went more frequently as the east coast provided constant opportunity for community outreach and Marcher-in-the-Home.  New marchers appeared every day, overlaying their fresh dynamism on a veteran group that was otherwise slowing down to Washington.  New marchers wanted to hear all about the cross-country trek while old marchers mustered the last of our energy to complete the remaining two hundred miles.

Portrait: Peace Marcher
Princeton was orange, of course, but also yellow and scarlet and ocher and tawny and burgundy and sienna and all the warm colors of autumn.  Tom was waiting to hear from two college friends who might take us in for the night, so I didn’t set up my tent.  Instead, I walked to the nearby village across a lovely little bridge over a river that shimmered in the early twilight.  The village of Princeton seemed to have a uniform dress code.  Women wore pleated woolen skirts, turtle neck shirts, cable-knit cardigan sweaters, knee socks and loafers.  Men wore button-down collars, crew neck sweaters, corduroy trousers and penny loafers.  I had never seen so many preppies in all my life.   
Jack-o’lanterns flickered to life along the main street.  Halloween decorations festooned the shop windows; Indian corn hung on the doors.  I strolled along, window-shopping, and stepped into a hat shop to buy a black, woolen beret.  With the cooler temperatures, wool seemed like a good idea.  Townsfolk milled around, taking up good spots to watch the Halloween parade, and I joined the crowd.  Finally, the pageant began.  Little ninjas, witches, baseball players, and ballerinas streamed by as we clapped and cheered from the sidewalk.  An Incredible Hulk pulled a red wagon with his tiger baby sister on board.  A man standing next to me started speaking to me completely in French, explaining that the French feast of St. Barbara in February was la meme chose—the same thing.  Maybe it was my new beret -- or my past life on the Children’s Crusade -- but for some reason I understood every word he said.
Back at camp, I collected my gear and headed out for Marcher-in-the-Home with Tom's college friends, Charlotte and Carolyn, who lived in a nearby townhouse community.  They were relaxed and welcoming, and we hung out in their kitchen making supper and talking about college days.  Nostalgia carried them back to memories of mutual friends, familiar places, and the professors they liked best.  I had been to three colleges in five years, so I hadn’t experienced the cohesive bonded that Tom and his two friends shared.  When they asked about my college days, I explained that after deciding to drop my music major at Colorado College, I spent a year studying in London and then returned to Washington to finish at George Washington University.  I admitted that had only a couple of college friends and that I had never gotten to know my professors beyond the classroom.  I chose not to mention that while I’d had some great experiences during my college years, most of them had little to do with actually being in college.  The three of them stayed up until long after the dishes were washed and put away, and longer still after I bowed out and went to bed. 
In the morning, Carolyn and I talked for a while.  She was a nurse at a hospital in New Brunswick, and she was struggling in her professional life, frustrated that so many doctors ignored the advice of nurses, who, after all, were also medically trained and spent far more time with the patients on the hospital wards than the doctors did.  She said when she had dreamed of becoming a nurse, she thought doctors and nurses would cooperate, but she had rarely seen it actually happen.  The idealism that had brought her to nursing had already begun to fade.  Carolyn said she envied the community we had established on the peace march, one of authentic cooperation.  I explained that the peace marchers weren't always as cooperative as we appeared and told her about the dress code and the kitchen strike.  We had a good laugh about that.  As a "thank you" for her hospitality, I gave Carolyn the lapel pin I’d been wearing.  It read: “Don’t Mourn, Organize.”

Legs, Not Arms
Tom and I returned to camp at Princeton.  It was Halloween.  The park was gorgeous—huge, flat, spacious, and surrounded by woods of autumn colors.  As if that weren’t enough, a nearby lake reflected the colors, only upside down and with the cloud-scattered blue sky at the center.  As I walked through camp I came upon Bill dressed up for Halloween.  He had wrapped himself in an orange rain fly to impersonate a Buddhist monk.   Anyone who knew him would have gotten the joke immediately.  Bill had started practicing Zen meditation on the march.  His Spirit Walk in Utah, his retreats away from the march, and his solo hike along the Appalachian Trail were all inroads into spiritual discovery.  He was dedicated to meditation practice, but he also had a fabulous sense of humor—about Zen and everything.  On the one hand, he probably yearned to wear the saffron robes of a real Buddhist monk.  On the other, he was no more than a common devotee wrapped in a big piece of orange nylon, looking for a chuckle.  “Oh, my god, Bill!  That’s perfect, just perfect,” I laughed.  But Bill looked worried.
“Is this funny?” he asked.  “Is this really funny?”
“Are you kidding?  It’s hysterical!” I replied.
He seemed only slightly relieved.  When I asked what was wrong, he explained that he had approached one of the Japanese monks but had been met with a cold shoulder.  Bill was disappointed and worried that he had offended the monk.  We both knew that in Zen Buddhism, self-deprecating laughter is seen as a release from one’s worldly attachments.  Bill was hoping that he and the monks might share a laugh about their common path, but his joke had fallen flat.  Maybe the monk was offended or maybe he didn’t have a sense of humor—or maybe he just didn’t have a clue about Halloween.

Journal Entry – October 31, 1986
Frost expected tonight.

November 1st was a chilly cold morning.  I awoke to find Danny and Maria in my tent.  They had crawled in during the night because they were cold or too tired to set up their own tents. Neither of them was awake, so I got ready for the day and went to breakfast… my hundredth bowl of oatmeal, and it still tasted good.
Today’s was a sixteen-mile walk into NE Philadelphia.  I walked through suburban Philly with Tom, who wasn’t feeling well.  Toward the end of the walk Evan, Tom and I stopped to rest along a footpath near a creek.  Tom went ahead to camp, and Evan and I stayed and talked endlessly, as usual, about whatever came to mind.  At the moment it was old TV shows, including the Star Trek episode about the alien kids with no emotions or ethics.  At the same time, we watched two boys at play by the creek some distance away.  A bully and his two pals arrived on the bridge overhead and threw stones at the boys playing below.  It disturbed me to see the children taunting and annoying one another, but no one seemed to be getting hurt, so we didn’t intervene.
We resumed our walk toward camp and soon ran into the two boys who had been playing by the creek, along with two of their other friends.  They stopped and we talked with them for a few minutes.  In the course of the conversation, they told us that three of them had fathers who were prison guards.  I had never thought about the children of prison guards.  A flood of questions came to mind.  Did they think about their fathers at work?  Did they worry for their safety?  Did their fathers tell them stories about the inmates?  I couldn’t ask, of course, but I wondered as the boys took off on their bicycles and we continued walking. 
A little farther down the road, a boy came out of his house to show us the letter he had written to President Reagan and the letter he had gotten from the White House in return.  We read the letters with genuine interest and told him we were proud that he had taken the time to share his thoughts with the president.  I said I thought more people ought to do what he had done.  He was beaming with pride by the time we wished him well and said goodbye. 
As we walked into camp, Marty greeted us and asked if I wanted to join a small group who would be speaking and playing music in a prison the following day.  I wondered aloud if it might have been the one where the boys’ fathers worked.  I felt apprehensive about going into a prison, but the fact that I had met the children of some of the guards made it seem a little less remote.  It seemed like a rare opportunity, and I trusted Marty’s judgment, so I agreed. 
November 2nd was a sixteen and a half miler into Huntington Park in Philadelphia.  I was in an excellent mood as we marched through a poorer section of North Philadelphia and many people, mostly African-American, came out to wave and wish us well as we passed by.  People came to the sidewalk to say hello and shake hands and slap high fives or hold a quick conversation or tell us, “Y’all lookin’ good!” or wish us luck or give us Halloween candy; and we had no police presence to prevent us from interacting.  We had lunch in a downtown square where local college students joined us for an informal rally.

Philadelphia Rally: Residents of All Ages...
Speaking Out...
in Support of... 
Global Nuclear Disarmament
I joined Georgia and four other marchers heading to the Buck’s County Jail.  I couldn’t even imagine what to expect.  Rev. Larry Davis, our host, picked us up at camp in his van.  As he drove, he explained that the six of us were coming to the prison as guest speakers at the weekly prayer meeting, a favorite time for those inmates who attended.  Most of the inmates were serving sentences of two to ten years, some for serious crimes like armed robbery or rape.  Male and female inmates were not generally allowed to be together in the same room; the weekly prayer meeting was an exception to the rule.  We would follow a program of prayer, songs and stories, and Rev. Davis would be in charge. 
Though our host spoke calmly, the worst possible images came to mind.  Foremost were the photos I remembered from the Attica prison riots in upstate New York.  I also recalled a television program called “Scared Straight” that my sister Cassie and I had watched when we were teenagers about juvenile delinquents whose rehabilitation included a field trip to Rahway prison in New Jersey to be harangued by hardened offenders.  It was not a peaceful feeling to know that in a few minutes I would be in a room with a similar class of criminal.  On the other hand, except for a school trip to the county courthouse in fifth grade where the tour guide pretended to lock Timmy Moran in a cell, I had never been in jail, so I was curious, too.  The guards at the front desk “processed” us as they took our jewelry, identification tags and belts and sent us through two sets of heavy security doors that closed loudly behind us.  Now we were on the inside. 
 Reverend Davis guided us down a brightly lit corridor, and as we walked along, I glanced into some of the rooms.  One appeared to be a recreation room.  I caught a quick glimpse of a television set mounted high on the wall, colorful, molded plastic chairs and some exercise equipment.  It didn’t look half bad.  I was picking up a strange feeling of familiarity.  All at once I realized that the interior of the building—the lighting, the furnishings, the carpeting, the colors—strongly resembled my junior high school.  That struck me as ironic.  I didn’t know which was more peculiar, that this prison looked like a junior high school or that my junior high school looked like a prison.  I half expected to see Miss Schumer or Coach Wallace come walking up the corridor asking to see my hall pass.  We entered a small classroom with a table at the front, an upright piano against one wall, and chairs arranged in three or four rows.  A low divider split the room left and right, one side for the men, the other for the women.  We had a few minutes to get organized before a guard led in the inmates.
   As the men entered, Georgia sat at the upright piano and played Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” setting an upbeat mood.  I was relieved that the prison guard stayed and stood attentively at the side of the room.  The group of about twelve men crossed the front of the room and found their seats to our left.  The first thing I noticed was how young so many of them looked, how old so many of them looked, and how respectful they were of us and of the prayer meeting time.  After a few minutes, the women entered and sat to our right on the other side of the divider.  Most of the women appeared to be in their twenties, but their behavior was like that of unruly junior high school girls.  As soon as they were seated, the women tried to make eye contact with the men.  A couple of the young men returned their glances until Larry calmly got everyone’s attention and led us all in singing “Amazing Grace.”  We followed a program of songs and stories and readings.  The men were attentive and polite.  They listened and sometimes nodded or muttered a quiet word of agreement.  I sang a few verses of “Come Spinning Down” as a kind of prayer, and I taught everyone “Stand With You.”  The inmates encouraged us by calling out while we were playing.
 “Sing it!”
“Lord have mercy!”
 Their calls moved me to sing more soulfully.  When everything on the program had been read and sung, Rev. Davis brought the service to a close and invited the inmates to ask questions and share insights.  They very respectfully broke the ice with humorous opening comments about our cross-country trek.  It occurred to me that, like the rest of America, these inmates knew how to make us feel welcome in their home.   The time went very fast, and when we were done, the women went out first, and a group of men formed a line to shake our hands and, much to my surprise, ask for our autographs in their prayer books.  One man asked if I could write down the words to “Stand With You,” in his book.  It was humbling to realize that our walk across the country was, perhaps above all else, an awesome expression of freedom.  When the inmates blessed us on our journey, I felt truly blessed.

Journal Entry—November 3, 1986
Rest day in Huntington Park in Philly.  Gorgeous, warm, sunny day as I write this.  Feel like writing a newsletter.  No typewriter.  A Red Cross blood drive comes to the march and sets up in a pavilion in the park, so I give blood.

Election Day.  Evan, Tom and I walked into downtown Philadelphia and wandered around the city.  I bought Miracle at Philadelphia, a book about the creation of the U.S. Constitution.   As we crossed a traffic circle, we witnessed a young driver crash her car into another vehicle.  In a blink of an eye, Tom was in the street helping the drivers.  No one was seriously hurt, but the young woman was hysterical, sobbing and shrieking that her father was going to kill her when he found out she had crashed his car.  Tom got her attention and calmly convinced her.  “No,” he said, “your father is not going to kill you.  He's going to be glad you're okay.”  Then he added, almost light-heartedly, “This car isn’t as important to him as you are.”  She listened to him and regained her composure.  We stayed until the police arrived a few minutes later and then continued on our way.  I complimented Tom on his ability to calm the young woman, but he didn’t think it was a big deal.  He didn't seem to notice that he had a unique talent for bringing peace to people in distress.  
In camp, marchers were talking about civil disobedience upon our arrival in Washington.  The Department of Energy, which administered the Nuclear Test Site in Nevada, was one possible target for demonstration and arrest.  I didn’t have any objection to people getting arrested to make their point if they wished, but I had qualms about the general public viewing them as representative of the whole peace march or of the thousands of people we had met along our way.  I also had doubts about the effectiveness of civil disobedience in conveying our call for nuclear disarmament.  People demonstrated in the nation’s capital all the time, and Washingtonians were pretty blasé about demonstrators getting arrested.

Invitation Flyer
The idea of a Great Peace March “ripple effect” was of growing interest to many marchers.  We wondered if our presence in towns and cities had any tangible impact on the population.  A week or two beyond Philadelphia, word went around camp that the crime rate in the part of the city though which we had passed had dropped by fifteen percent in the week after our visit.  It was a compelling piece of data.  I had no way to confirm its accuracy, but it made me wish we had been able to gather similar information all the way across America.