WALK FOR PEACE AND NON-VIOLENCE
The New England Peace Pagoda will walk across Massachusetts
To Remember and Heal From the Nuclear Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and to discuss peaceful solutions for the issues of war we face today
July 30 – August 9
This year the New England Peace Pagoda’s annual Hiroshima / Nagasaki walk had three central focuses – remembrance of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and nuclear disarmament, supporting the 60,000 refugee children from Central America who are in crisis and awaiting shelter at the US/Mexico border, and stopping the siege and bombing of Gaza. We walked from the Peace Pagoda to our state capitol to meet our communities – to share prayers and messages of peace and hope, and to connect with each other.
The way a peace walk generally works is this: wake up, morning prayers, walk for anywhere from 8 – 15 miles, stop for the day. Each night we stop at community centers and establishments that are central to a neighborhood – churches, mosques, temples, organizing spaces, etc., and have a potluck dinner and discussion. We share the work that we are doing, why we walk, and the local community shares with us whatever work they are doing.
A peace walk can vary from 4 people to 400. This walk we had a core group of 5 who walked for the entire journey. At various days up to 120 people joined us to march for a period of time. With us, we carried a petition to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to thank him for making statements and saying that Massachusetts could take 1,000 of these children at the US/Mexico border and to show that the majority of people in this state want to support these children.
This was our peace walk.
Day 1: July 30 Leverett Peace Pagoda to Earthdance, Plainfield.
The first day we set off from the peace pagoda. This walk was organized by Tim Bullock – Tim did the Middle Passage Pilgrimage and has been organizing with the Pagoda since then. He spent almost two years living in Africa, doing work in various countries around healthcare and community building. I believe he lived in Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Ghana. I could be wrong. I also helped to organize a great portion of this walk.
Lauren, who has been walking since 2009 came from New Jersey. Sister Clare Carter and Brother Towbee Keyes, monks from the Leverett Pagoda marched with us. Karen, a local organizer, stayed for some of the walk.
We met up at the Peace Pagoda and started our journey from here. We walked through Leverett and drove forward a few miles to Deerfield where we had lunch at Sugarloaf Mountain. Apparently, King Phillip came to this place to look out.
It’s easy to see why. We were joined by one of the organizers from the Mass Slavery Apology who came to share with us her work on anti-racism.
We drove forward towards Plainfield, and walked the last few miles into town where we stopped at Earth Dance for the evening.
It was the last night of the Julius Ford/Harriet Tubman Healthy Living Community and they were having a dinner and performances to end the week of youth led workshops on health, trauma recovery, art, dance and healthy living.
It was an incredible way to start off the walk. Good food, music, dancing, community. We shared our reason for walking and connected with incredible young organizers from across the state.
Day 2: July 31st Plainfield – Orange
In the morning many of the youth from Harriet Tubman/Julius Ford joined us for about a mile and a half out of Earth Dance and onto route 9 in Plainfield. They left us to finish their last day at the center, and two of the organizers walked with us for another two miles.
We stopped at the Institute for the Musical Arts for lunch. The IMA is a beautiful space. We were there when about 20 young women from across the country had gathered to learn to enhance their music skills. It’s an amazing place. We shared our stories and why we were walking, along with our petition. The young women played a few songs for us, and we ate lunch.
After lunch we got back on the road and drove ahead to Orange MA where we would spend the night. We went to Seeds of Solidarity Farm where we caught up with the SOL (Seeds of Leadership/sun!) Gardeners to learn about their work. Several of the young organizers had recently taken part in the part of the anti-fracking/pipeline walk that is passing through proposed pipeline areas of Massachusetts. The youth also wrote a statement to the local media opposing the pipeline. We spent the night.
Day 3: August 1st Holyoke to West Springfield
We woke up and drove forward to just outside of Holyoke. We stopped at a gas station to begin walking, the young cashier came over to ask what we were doing. When he learned what we were doing he came about with bottles of water for us, saying, “this place needs peace, thanks for walking.”
In Holyoke we walked to the Mayor’s office where we met with Alex Morse and spoke to him about our petition. He said he is fully in support of Gov. Patrick’s idea to house 1,000 of the children in Massachusetts. He also does work with Just Communities and was a part in passing the new law that does not allow police officers to be working in conjunction with ICE.
Following this we went to Salsarengue for lunch. We ran into Don Berwick (MA Governor candidate) and then stayed to talk to Jose about his business and his politics. He shared with the walk the story of Don Oscar Lopez-Rivera, PuertoRican Nationalist who has been in prison for 30 years, and at age 71 is one of the longest held political prisoners in the country.
From here we walked. We walked through Holyoke and into West Springfield where we stopped at the Islamic Society of Western Mass. There I met with some of the young organizers who were putting together the last of their signs and flyers for the Friday Night Palestine Solidarity Rally. Since August 11th the Western MA Coalition for Palestine has been holding these rallies to call for an end to the siege and bombing of Gaza and liberation from the stronghold of Israeli terrorism. We joined the congregation for evening prayers at the masjid before having dinner and getting to know some of the elders of the community before driving to Northampton to take part in the rally.
(photos from WMCP facebook)
Day 4: August 2nd West Springfield to Springfield
Pshh Springfield Solidarity, yes!
We marched from the masjid into Springfield. On Memorial Bridge we were joined by organizers from Arise for Social Justice who stayed with us for a 10am vigil near the bridge in solidarity with the children at the border. (masslive article, photos)
After the vigil we marched through Springfield until noon at which point we went to Out Now for lunch.
Out Now is the first and only LGBTQ Youth Organization in Springfield. The incredible youth organizers came out and after hosting us for lunch marched with us to the police station, where we held a Know Your Rights training (masslive article, photos) with Attorney Luke Ryan and other local organizers. This event was co-sponsored by the Injustice Liberation Front at Arise for Social Justice.
After this training we marched through Springfield with a stop at the park, and at Nature’s Garden in solidarity with Ayyub Abdul-Alim who still remains falsely incarcerated.
Finally we had potluck dinner at the Arise office with many local community members and organizers.
After an amazing meal and music, we went to South Congregational Church for the night.
Our plan was to leave early in the morning, but…
Day 5 August 3rd Gardner
Louis Mitchell who’s heading up the church was so incredibly welcoming and kind, and spoke truth! We had wonderful conversations late into the evening and then decided in the morning to stay to hear his service.
At the church he spoke of the “Barley loaves and fishes” parable, that time when Jesus and his disciples went fishing and had only two loaves of bread and two fishes but somehow ended up feeding 12,000 people? That one. The idea was that this scarcity mentality is dangerous, and we all have enough to share with each other, with community. After the service we stayed to briefly speak with the congregation and share with them the walk and the work we were doing. It was beautiful – the church folks were sitting to eat and we were standing speaking about the petition, and before I could finish explaining an older man literally ran up to me asking to sign and turned to the rest of the crowd like, “What are you waiting for?” We shared with them our message and hung out for a few minutes before getting back on the road.
We drove to Templeton MA and walked into Gardner. We spent the night at the Gardner Seventh Day Adventist church, with visits from my family.
In the morning we set off for Worcester.
Day 6: August 4th Worcester
We drove ahead to Spencer, MA and walked from here into Worcester. On the drive we had word that the Springfield No One Leaves eviction blockade was not only a success but a kind of historic moment – after only 45 minutes of blockading the bank agreed to go into negotiations with Alex Richardson rather than evicting him. A beautiful moment!
We walked through Spencer and it was hot – so hot!
Some cop came up to us (I was highly suspicious) and very sternly asked,
“Do you have water?” we were like, “um, what?” he said again, “Do you have water?” and then, “hold on”. He walked into a nearby convenience store, bought us a bunch of waters and handed them to us, “it’s too hot out here to be walking without water” he said. So, that was cool, that he didn’t shoot us or set us up or falsely incarcerate us or anything. It’s this thing about humanity – for a moment, he found his. We continued on and another man, this time on a bike, stopped us. He offered up his auto repair place as a bathroom stop. He’s doing this bike ride to search for a cure to cancer – his sister who used to ride, recently passed. We stayed outside for lunch and then continued walking.
We arrived at Worcester State University where we met youth in the Upward Bound program which helps youth learn career skills and get into college. They were wonderful! We spent the night in Worcester State and I learned that a few streets away three people died while we were walking. Right now, apparently, there’s a bad batch of heroin going around. People keep OD’ing all over the state. Rest in peace to all who have been affected by this tragedy.
We slept here.
Day 7 August 5th Worcester to Boston
August 5th we walked about 5 miles in Worcester, drove ahead, and walked 5 more miles through Boston to our stay place.
This day was interesting. It was getting more difficult for me to walk, so instead of focusing on the chanting I put on some headphones and listened to Democracy Now. This UN rep. from the refugee center (which was really a school) that had been most recently attacked near Rafah was on discussing the situation in Palestine. He was saying that people from the school had called the IDF 33 times – 33 times to tell them that they were a school. That they were housing refugees. That they were not a militant zone. He was describing the school – these facilities, he said, are meant to house 1,000 people maximum for 8 hours during the day – a school. The situation now, he said, was at least 3,000 people crammed into these buildings. People who have called him as a rep from the UN and asked where will I be safe. People who flee violence and Israeli bombs and move into a shelter, and then move to another neighborhood, and move into another shelter. People who have moved so many times, I can honestly say now, he said, that there is no safe place in Palestine. He was explaining his confusion in how the IDF could justify bombing this place when they had called no less than 33 times to declare that it was obviously a long past capacity refugee shelter, and nothing else. Still it was bombed, and 29 children were injured, one was killed. Then another reporter, a Palestinian man came to speak about the health crisis. He explained hospitals that have long since run out of supplies and space and people in the parking lots waiting to receive care. They kept talking and it felt so hopeless. Sometime along these interviews, a man saw us walking. He had a bicycle and several american flags on the handlebars, along with bags and boxes. Silently he fell in line behind us and marched for about 3 miles. We stopped for a break and he introduced himself. He had bruises all over his face, some blood on his shirt. He said the name given to him was Jumanji, and he wore it proudly. I look a lot like Robin Williams, he said. He did. We had granola bars and some water at the base of that giant hill near UMASS Memorial (memorial or medical, I always switch them up) anyway, it was interesting, my back was really getting uncomfortable, it was actually really hot, and I thought about sitting in the van for a few minutes, riding up the hill. But UMASS was where I had my back surgery – and actually I didn’t realize it until right now, but this week will be 4 years since the surgery. I drank more water and prepared to walk.
Jumanji had been rambling a little bit, saying he had been on his way to the police station and housing to respectively report the attack that had happened the night before and — try to get housing, I believe. But when we started walking it turned into full on yelling. He took his small american flags and put them on the banner under his shoulder (he carried the front banner because he was a local) and started screaming and yelling over the chanting. Things about peace, I think, he said he was at UMASS with some Martin Luther King Jr. project in the 60s. At this point I had either stopped listening to Democracy Now because of all the trauma, or the show had ended. Either way, I was reminded of one of the workshops I attended at the Socialism conference – People’s Art and Political Struggle. I went on to wearemany.org and played it while we marched under the scorching sun up that giant hill. It was helpful and great. Alex Billet reminded us of the power of the imagination, and that it’s easier for us to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism, he’s great. He reminded me of the power of art. Remi Kanazi shared poems and pieces and the work he is doing and the successes of BDS. It was helpful to hear.
At the top of the hill, phone with a lower battery, glad to have made it, I got into the van to sit for about a mile bcoz my back was really uncomfortable and I didn’t actually have anything to prove.
I joined up with the walk a mile (or so) later as we were getting ready to separate. Two beautiful people came up to us and thanked us for walking. Jumanji was kind of revved up, and was talking about coming with us to Boston. Sometimes if people want to walk, of course, people are encouraged to walk. But it was too much. Nicely, we asked what about his bike and the things he had to do, and it was decided that he wouldn’t come with us to Boston but rather stay in Worcester. I got in the car with Sister Clare to ride him back to his bike, and we talked a lot about Jumanji and Robin Williams movies. Back at the bottom of the hill, at his bike, Jumanji was rambling phrases about ego and god and love. They were nice. Later, my friend told me they come from AA. I gave him waters and several granola bars and he was talking about how forced hugs, or given hugs, but shared hugs – shared hugs can be healing. He was ready to go, we were ready to leave, and he asked me, will you share a hug with me? I did, and he smiled, and said thanks for boosting my immune system. And then we left. And he left.
It’s so interesting that we had this interaction and Robin Williams just now has passed away. I wonder where Jumanji is…
We went to a park in Boston and stopped outside for lunch. I searched wearemany.org for the lecture on slavery and black self-emancipation, but couldn’t find it. I was disappointed, as wearemany had been so helpful to my morning, and this workshop changed my life. But I listened to some yassin gaye for a minute. We ate and talked. We moved on.
I was wearing my Freedom for Palestine T-shirt and we walked through Brookline. People seemed very reserved. No waves or honks greeted us as we marched through the streets. Another man on a bike came to walk with us for a few minutes – he had been at the pagoda many times. He asked about my shirt and told me about the big Palestinian city wide planning meeting happening that night. I told him I knew. He told me we were in Brookline, probably the place with the most Zionists around. I told him I knew. He walked with us for a few blocks and left.
It’s funny – I didn’t plan to wear my shirt that day, but I wore it, and when I was in Brooklyn I put it on one morning and my uncle laughed at me and said, let me take you to crowne heights with that shirt on. In some strange twist of events including a missed stop a long bus ride and me walking about 20 blocks, I did actually end up walking through crowne heights at night by myself rocking this shirt, staring at all the hebrew signs and buses and talmuds.
no one really said anything to me though.
Finally in our last three blocks people warmed up to us. One woman walking by started clapping, another said thank you, a few smiled in a kind of surprised and wary way – it was good to be getting more human receptivity, at least.
We stopped at the First Church of Boston and people got ready for the evening gathering. The group was going to be watching some film on the Marshall Islands and how basically the US used the island as a nuclear waste and testing site until they killed off all the indigenous people.
I quickly grabbed some food and left to head towards the meeting.
When I did arrive the room was full – probably about 60 people were there. I recognized several folks from the ISO – someone I knew was one of the moderators. It was good – there was some confusion on how to proceed, but it was a great turnout and diverse representation, all of people who wanted to do something. I connected with various groups across Mass who are doing solidarity actions and demos and marches as well as more concrete BDS work. It was good. I was tired, sweaty, a little frustrated at the kind of red tape as opposed to everyone just facing each other and moving with an idea, but it was an incredible gathering. More and more people keep coming out. It’s good.
I got the info for a few folks and then left to head back to the church. I made it right on time – film and discussion had finished and the walkers were getting ready to head to our stay place for the evening.
We drove to the Cambridge Friends Meeting House – so many good memories in this space – and always so much respect for the Quakers who wherever they are, always hold high their integrity, morals, values, and politics. We arrived and were able to shower which in itself was a miracle. Lauren and I were feeling good and also nice and also like the youth in the group so we set up breakfast for everyone for the morning before going to sleep.
Day 7 August 6 Hiroshima Day
We woke up and set off from the meeting house. We took buses and walked to lower roxbury or upper dorchester or whichever to walk to the bio terror lab for a short vigil. I’d been reading Malcolm X’s autobiography both in Harlem and now in Roxbury and it felt — felt like synchronicity. Felt beautiful. Felt reassuring to know young Malcolm had walked down these same streets. Felt connected. Marcus Garvey said, “A person who doesn’t know their history is like a tree without roots.” So many people have been living without roots. Roots give you placement in time. They provide nutrition and sustenance and comfort in knowing that other people came before you. They tell you your place in history. Slowly but surely I continue my journey of uncovering all the debris and lies and misinformation that have cut me off from my roots and rediscover my origins and it’s incredible. I look at these places with a different understanding now and a different pride. We stopped at the bio terror lab for a while.
We continued on to city hall to deliver the Governor our petition to support his decision. That morning, on the bus to the bio terror lab, I read the news that Gov. Patrick shared that actually, these kids would be housed in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas and MA didn’t need to house them, but that over 1600 people had called in to express support. With all of this in mind, and feeling very much like he had pressure from the Federal Gov’t and this was something of a cop out, I shrugged and we continued on our way to his office. We stopped for lunch first.
His office: we met with an aide, as usual, who was friendly and gladly took our petitions. That was it, not so much else really happened. But we carried the message. This kind of anti-climactic response used to infuriate me. I used to get so angry and wonder what the point was. But I’ve learned that revolution is not some big fancy one day event. It’s a process. It takes years and years of work and education and practice for things to move. We have to organize like we’re going to see change tomorrow but move with the knowledge that it’s going to take our whole lives. That’s the thing, because it took centuries for us to get to where we’re at now – it’s going to take equally that amount of time to get to some kind of balance. Maybe, I don’t really know, it’s just an idea. But the point is we keep walking. We went back to first churches to meet up with our peoples in boston who were coming to commemorate Hiroshima Day. Walks can be exhausting and overwhelming and this was one of those days. Lauren and I stayed back to drink coffee and debrief a little bit, before returning to the walk. From 1st church the group walked to the front of Boston City Hall. it was beautiful, well over 100 people. We spoke, people from DPP and the LDB peace institute. An amazing mother who lives near Pilgrim reactor on Cape Cod, who we met a few years ago. And I knew I had to speak. I got up and shared for a minute Grandmother Charmaine White Face’s campaigns to clean up the mines and the uranium mining bill that she wrote. I spoke about nuclear disarmament for a quick second, with a reminder to all older generation folks (and here it is again) that no matter how heart breaking world ending violent impossible this seems you can’t just share that message to youth because it obviously doesn’t work and people are working a million jobs to survive, you don’t need to tell us that stuff it’s dis-empowering. Tell us facts but also solutions because this kind of consistent nuclear holocaust rhetoric does not inspire action, it inspires depression. I didn’t say it so nicely or succinctly, but you get the idea. Finally this was finished. We marched over a few blocks to join the Palestinian solidarity action that was taking place. People – Jewish Muslim Christian Catholic whatever were taking turns to read the list of names of those killed. The gathering was going to last three hours. It was really heartbreaking listening to the names of the people killed and their ages. Important public actions. These are not statistics they are people. Thank God thought Tim came back quickly with the car. This shit was so painful. How do you reconcile that? You can’t begin to heal from a wound if it keeps getting reopened, and you can’t begin to talk about peace until the violence stops. I was acutely aware that as people read the impossibly long list of almost 2,000 killed, that more people were probably dying. Anyway we started driving back to Western MA and stopped at Whole Foods for some dinner items. It hit me hard – my back – and I stepped outside to be alone in the parking lot to deal with my pain like a fool. I called a friend, stretched, thank god, got some information and lay on the grass, never giving less of a fuck about who saw me. We drove back to Western MA and that evening I returned home. Officially this day was a rest day or prep day for Nagasaki Day Ceremonies. The walkers stayed at the Pagoda.
Day 8 August 7 I drove to Grafton Pagoda to support them for a minute, as they were also preparing for their Nagasaki Day Ceremony. Grafton NY is the second peace pagoda built in North America. I spent the day there and the night and then drove back to Leverett
Day 9 August 8 Leverett Ceremony
I arrived in time for the ceremony. About 20 people gathered at the Peace Pagoda and then drove into Leverett Town Center to walk on the last bit of the walk. People walked up that giant hill drumming and chanting and arrived at the pagoda.
Wow. beautiful. great, grand.
I spoke briefly about the walk, and the experience. Carrie Shuchardt spoke about the Hibaku Maria, the madonna who was devastated by the atomic fire but whose existence remains a testament of hope for people.
Finally Yoav E. from FFIPP spoke about being born in Jerusalem, growing up in Israel and now working for justice for Palestine. Really moving pleas as a base fact. As people in America the American Gov’t (allegedly) has a responsibility to not support countries who are committing war crimes. If Israel is committing war crimes then the US has to stop supporting Israel. Stop funding Israel. This country is paying for genocide and we as consumers and tax payers obviously have a good deal of power in that position and need to demand that our taxes don’t go to bombing babies in hospitals to further an imperialistic, anti-indigenous, racist land grabbing colonization state.
It was a beautiful ceremony. We had potluck together.
Day 10 August 9 Nagasaki Day Nuke Free Northampton
We marched to Smith College for ceremony & presentations.
Dr. Ira Helfand, world renowned anti-nuclear specialist came to speak. It was so funny to see him in person – his videos are always shown and I’ve secretly made fun of him or used him as an example of how not to talk to youth for the last two years. Two years ago I saw a video he did on Nagasaki Day and it started off like, “Nuclear Holocaust, nuclear winter – everything will die.” It’s not funny at all, and true, but man this doesn’t always inspire courage it can inspire depression and hopelessness, we need art! We need life! We need a culture of resistance that empowers people not simply overwhelms them – neyse he’s an incredible person who has done so much work and research and I have a great deal of respect for him.
We watched America’s Secret Fukushima, the video put together by Clean Up The Mines, the group that came out of Defenders of the Black Hills and the anti-uranium movement in the US. It was powerful. Francis Crowe did the nuclear sound demonstration, Paki spoke about the mines, we went for the annual lantern ceremony out by the pond. I spoke briefly about the walk.
And officially our 2014 Hiroshima Day walk was finished. (Hiroshima Day AFSC)
We traveled through the state, carrying messages of peace and community and connecting with people all along the way. Overwhelmingly the thing I am always reminded of is that people are just people. They’re not usually bad or usually good, they’re usually just people who are trying to survive. Along the way many people honked and waved at us and showed support for the work we are doing. I think this country is in a turbulent time of change and people are looking for ways to express their grief and misery and hope and looking for ways to take action. That is why this year compared to years in the past, I believe we had some positive receptions. People are ready.
From police brutality and the massive prison industrial complex to the siege on Gaza, the taboo but incredibly deadly forces of racism and white supremacy, fear of each other, we walked through. And came out on the other side. Ending a walk always feels strange though. It’s such an intense all day consistent type of action that leaving that is like a slow coming down back to this reality where poverty and anger and hopelessness sometimes run rampant. Community – people need to support each other. This overall is what I remember about walking and why I do it. We need each other, and we need to support and care for each other. We need to listen to each other. That’s a revolution.
On the peace walk I was reading Malcolm X’s autobiography. I’ve been doing these decolonize summer reading series, and it was interesting to have this perspective on racism in America and this idea of self – defense while on a peace walk. For a long time I’ve wondered on the question of non-violence, and recently a trusted friend and adviser pointed out to me that complex dialectic relationship with violence and non-violence. The oppressor does not have a right to self defense. He is the one oppressing in the first place. So while I walked with non-violent principles and practices I had again, new perspective.
The last day of the walk was the day Mike Brown, unarmed 18 year old in Ferguson Missouri, eve of his first day at college, was shot multiple times and killed by a police officer. What has followed since his death is a blatant outpouring of violence and evidence of where this country truly stands. A community in mourning declares justice and the state’s response is violence, and threats. Tear gas, tanks, National Guard, town curfews, media blackouts and biased reporting. Intimidation tactics and guns. At least the world can again see the truth about where this country stands. Murdering its own civilians every day, forcing communities to live in fear. This country has never dealt with its original sin of colonization. As a whole, it has not accepted and is quick to cover up the genocide of the First Nations Peoples and the enslavement of the African peoples. This violence is how this country was founded and we cannot begin to heal from the damage until we stop doing it. I say again, this turbulent time is a turning point in America. Students are, “undocumented unafraid!” people refuse to be evicted and know that, “when we fight, we win!” people every day shout, “viva viva Palestina!” because we’re remembering what we’ve forgotten for so long – that the power is with the people. That we run the world and we alone will declare what our future will be.
I believe that we will win.
Peace & Solidarity,