During Holy Week last year I was on the Sacred Peace Walk from Las Vegas to the Nevada National Security Site, formerly the Nevada Test Site, i.e. the place where we did our atomic-bomb testing for decades. I blogged about the walk beforehand, filled up a couple notebooks during it, and neglected to write about it after finishing.
It was quite a week: walking 12-15 miles a day on the shoulder of I-95, using a teetering portable toilet hitched to a truck, pitching a tent in patches of prickly pears, spending a couple nights in a pagan temple across the street from the Air Force base where we pilot armed drones in foreign lands. There was a lot of hand-holding (literally), a lot of circling up, a lot of sharing of feelings, a lot of hoping for peace. Which, to an urban cynic, might sound like a nightmare. It was not. It was kind of transcendent, in the strict definition of the word. I largely kept my phone off, except to post the occasional Instagram. I largely was alone with my thoughts, except when I caught up or drifted back to chat up a fellow walker. There were about 25 of us. We were on an intentional physical trajectory. Despite my interloper status, I was accepted by the group. One woman, after we got to know each other over the course of the week, concluded that I am an "indigo crystal child." So I've got that going for me. Which is nice.
This year's peace walk is underway; in fact, some of them are probably being arrested right now. in an act of solidarity from my current position, off my feet and slouching at a think-tank panel on the U.S. defense budget, here are portraits of walkers from last year, with a quote or two. Except for Toby's, I took these photos as each person finished the 56-mile walk.
Felicia, 39, Berkeley, Calif.
"Younger people think this activism is passé. They look at you like you’re from Mars. On my first walk I was 35 and I’d never thought about nuclear weapons. By the time I got home I felt a sense of shame because I’d never spent any time and didn’t care about the issue. ... The desert is a drawing salve. 'Yeah, what do I believe?' You might be surprised after a walk like this."
J.R., 20, Las Vegas
“I do this for my generation. To be an example for them. To live for them.”
Toby, El Cerito, Calif.
“If everyone who was against war would occupy a military base once a month, we could stop this. It’s not that much work. People have a lot of power. They’re just not using it.”
"I was in D.C. jail for a Witness for Torture action, and a young, buff Iraq vet said, 'Why don’t you care about our boys?' Then, when it was just him and me, he came up to the bars and said, 'I have the same nightmare every night. It’s raining blood and bodies and some of them get stuck in trees and some hit the ground and my girlfriend wakes me up screaming. Do you think war fucked me up?'"
Mary Lou, Las Vegas
“The time is this very minute. This very very very minute.”
Seamus, 56, Los Angeles
"Most people would say. 'What do you accomplish?' Especially since the majority of this walk we’re not encountering people. But I feel I’m doing something."
Vera, 25, Las Vegas
“I’m here with you guys," she said while a group of walkers planned a nonviolent action at Creech Air Force Base that would lead to arrests. “I hadn’t thought of it, but the seed has been planted.”
Leo, 71, San Diego
"It's shoestring morality. I’ve had my ass shot at in war. I’m a patriot. I’ve paid my dues. I’m not out there because I’m a peacenik. I have better things to do, but this is important. I’m voting with my body."
On Good Friday, most of the walkers processed to the real finish line, inside the test site. They were promptly arrested for trespassing on federal land and promptly released after being fined $637 each ($500 bail, plus $137 in administrative fees).
There are sad and strange and weird and wild stories to tell about the walk, but right now I'm saving them for the book.