Walkers arrive in Trenton in search of peace

BY MATT FAIR, New Jersey Times, March 16, 2009

TRENTON, NJ (USA) -- Two dozen peace activists made their way into Trenton yesterday as part of the 55-day Walk for a New Spring.

Put together by the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order, the walk involved people who set out from Leverett, Mass. on Feb. 13 and expect to arrive in Washington on April 8. They found lodging at the Stony Brook Quaker Meeting House in Princeton on Saturday night and the Slovak Community Home on Centre Street in Trenton last night.

"Quaker meetings are offering hospitality and overnight lodging both here and in Burlington," Bill Strong, a member of Princeton Meeting said.

"It's a witness for peace," Strong said. "They are highly committed to something that seems rather scarce in the world and so they take it upon themselves to do 55 straight days of walking," Strong added.

According to Tim Bullock, an organizer for the walk from Leverett, Mass., the walk is in its eighth year.

"I'd like to see a new reality in the United States," Bullock said. "Because we're a superpower there's a certain arrogance and a certain belligerence in our attitude. Our security cannot be maintained through might." The walk was originally organized as a response to the increasingly violent world that emerged after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent American military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"After 9/11 there was a lot of fear," Clare Carter, a Buddhist nun from Leverett, said, "But now I think people are really hopeful, and the responses we get are hopeful." Among the walkers are a number of Buddhists monks and nuns, some of whom are Japanese natives, who have committed themselves to bringing their message of peace to the United States.

"There's a reason the Buddhists are leading the walk," Betsy Adams, a walker from Leverett said. "The only two atomic bombs that were ever dropped fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so the group has been dedicated to preventing other such atrocities around the world."

"Walking is our method and also our prayer," Jun Yasuda, a Buddhist nun from Grafton, N.Y., said. "Prayer has the power for miracle, so when we walk, step-by-step, we see a lot of miracles."

According to Bullock and Carter, these miracles come in the form of the support they receive from the communities they pass through every day on their route, from the free lodging they receive to monetary donations and pot-luck dinners to give them strength. And as the group made their way down the Princeton Pike towards Martin Luther King Boulevard yesterday morning, they received honks and waves of supportive motorists who passed them as they walked.

 "One person can't do all (we seek to accomplish)," Carter said. "The change that is deeply needed we all collectively have to carry forward. The people we have met on our way have been doing that, but we all have to be encouraged to carry the walk forward."

In Trenton the support came from Theresa Fitzgibbon, a member of the Slovak Community Home who offered the space for the walkers to sleep and prepared dinner for the group.

"We could all share the Earth," Fitzgibbon said. "We are one human family, we could share the Earth and all have good work if we all work together. War is about money. When people go to their jobs and make weapons, we will find a reason to use them. If the people who make weapons would plant trees or teach people, the world would be a better place."

Many of the walkers are veterans of similar peace walks, including a walk that went from the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland to Hiroshima to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb.

Also among the walkers are a group of first-timers, teenagers who have chosen to dedicate their young lives to the pursuit of peace.

"There's a lot of people that I see every day that are against nuclear weapons and want to end war, but I've never seen anyone actually take any action," Kieran O'Sullivan, 14, of Worcester, Mass., said. "I didn't want to be like that."

Upon reaching Washington, the group hopes to meet with national leaders, including President Barack Obama, to share the stories and hopes for peace they have encountered on their route. The group has sent a letter to the White House and has also contacted their local legislators in Leverett to arrange meetings on nuclear disarmament.

"What we would like to do is to bring the messages that we have been gathering as we move through the communities," Bullock said. "We'd like to bring these messages to our leaders."

Undeterred by rain, snow, or the cold, the group averages 15 miles a day at 20 minutes per mile and they don't plan on stopping until they reach their destination and achieve their goal.