Walking For Peace

By ERIC GERSHON, The Hartford Courant, January 20, 2008

PORTLAND, Oregon -- Hannah Kluger has noticed that demonstrations of peace are not always met in kind.

"I don't understand why somebody would flip off a monk with a sign that says 'Peace,'" she said Saturday as she marched down Route 17A, past frozen fields and falling-down barns and the remains of an old drive-in.

But occasional rude gestures from passing motorists would not persuade her to quit the Boston-to-Washington peace march she joined for a stretch through Connecticut.

"You can't kill ideology," said the 17-year-old.

A core group of seven peace advocates affiliated with the New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett, Mass., began a 450-mile journey at Boston Common on Jan. 6, heading south through Rhode Island.

At New London, they caught a ride to Hartford, where at 9 a.m. Saturday they resumed the trek by foot. Organizer Tim Bullock said they expect to reach the nation's capital on Feb. 14 or 15.

If Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts comes through, they'll hold an end-of-the-line ceremony in the rotunda of the Capitol, he said.

Besides marching, the group, which includes a few ordained Buddhist monks and nuns, seeks meetings with local mayors to promote a broad anti-war message that calls for diverting military funds to local humanitarian institutions, such as hospitals.

But mainly they walk, chanting and drumming, along roads and rural routes.

"There's nothing more peaceful than seeing a group of people walking along the side of the road," said Bullock, 59, a lay member of the Nipponzan Myohoji, the Japanese Buddhist order that founded the Peace Pagoda and initiated an annual "Walk for a New Spring" in 2002.

The group did not get face time with Mayor Tom Menino of Boston or Hartford's Eddie Perez. Word from New York about Michael Bloomberg was bleak. But Mayor Sebastian Giuliano of Middletown made time earlier in the week (on the group's way up from New London), and so did Providence Mayor David Cicilline.The marchers, who sleep in churches, community centers and private homes, have an easier time meeting people like Kluger. The Glastonbury High School senior said she heard about the 2008 march through a group called Greater Glastonbury for Peace and Justice.

Kluger, an honor-roll student, said she knows the walk itself is unlikely to affect war policy in Washington, but "it gets the word out."

Until this year, the Buddhists of Leverett had kept their march within Massachusetts and Rhode Island, said Sister Clare Carter, who led Saturday's march, waving a red handkerchief. This year the group decided to bring peace to Washington.

Will they walk the whole way?

No, and they don't pretend to. There's a chase car for when snow blocks the road's shoulder, or when there is no shoulder, or when darkness arrives before the next town, Bullock said. The group will go about 65 percent of the way on foot, he said.

As they do, an awful lot of motorists, some friendly, some not, will get an invitation from the sign on his back: "Walk with us Toward A Non-Violent Future."

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