Tuesday, June 02, 2009

In the Shadow of Military Might,
A 50-Mile Walk for Peace

A core group of local peace activists is planning a likely Hampton Roads “first” at this year’s Summer Solstice.

The Norfolk Catholic Worker, in collaboration with the Off-Base Coffee House, is organizing a 50-mile “On the Road to No War” walk for disarmament June 22-26, with plans to stop for demonstrations and vigils at each of thirteen of the area’s military centers.

I managed to catch up with the ambitious project at a planning meeting May 31 at Off-Base, which, since opening its doors at the corner of 25th and Fawn Sts. last fall, has become a popular meeting place for local progressive peace and justice volunteers and friends.

Fifteen people showed up at the planning meeting. Tom Palumbo, co-founder of Off-Base, hosted. Steve Baggarly of the Norfolk Catholic Worker facilitated.

The Catholic Worker has long been an instigator and sustainer of local peace demonstrations, and the idea for this extended walk has been on Baggarly’s wish list for several years. But, though June is normally a busy month at the Catholic Worker, this year the pace slowed and dates that might otherwise have been booked became open.

“We wanted to do something” at that time, said Baggarly, “so we thought, why not do that walk we’ve been thinking about?”

He found willing allies in Palumbo and in Russell DeYoung, a kindred spirit from Newport News who serves as the project’s Peninsula organizer.

Baggarly and DeYoung, a NASA scientist at Langley Research Center, have served time in federal prison for acts of non-violent civil disobedience. Palumbo made national news when he heckled President Bush II from the audience during an appearance here a few years ago.

All are experienced in the logistics of planning a protest action. Still, this one is more complex than most, especially if it is successful in drawing even moderate numbers of activists.

Planners at Sunday’s meeting were only beginning to think about what they would do in that event. Up to now the reasons for walking—steeped in Catholic Worker philosophy—have seemed more important.

Citing the examples of non-violent resistance set by Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, the walk’s statement of purpose, after indicting warfare as the cause of “untold human suffering throughout history,” calls “for an end to the insanity” of war.

“Of course we won’t be successful,” says Baggarly, reflecting on the frequently-asked-question of whether the effort will “do any good.” But his hope is to cause at least some people to reconsider priorities.

The project mission calls for a transformation of our “war-based economy” to one which meets “human needs: housing, food, clean water, education, health care, sustainable energy, and environmental protection.”

The walk’s schedule, well into final planning stages, calls for a two-day sojourn on the Peninsula, June 22-23, and three days, June 24-26, on the Southside. Lodging, breakfasts, and suppers will be provided at the Huntington Mennonite Church in Newport News the first two days and at the Friends Meeting House in Virginia Beach the last three.

On the Peninsula demonstrations will be held at Camp Perry, the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station, Langley Air Force Base, and Newport News Naval Shipyard.

On Wed., June 24, the walkers move to Portsmouth on the Southside, beginning at the offices of military contractors Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon before proceeding to the U.S. Joint Forces Joint Experimentation and Joint Futures Lab. The day will end at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

Midsummer, June 25, opens with a vigil at Fort Story in Virginia Beach, then, beginning at 50th St., a walk through the Oceanfront resort area and down General Booth Blvd. to Oceana Naval Air Station. A third demonstration ends the day at the Dam Neck Annex, training center for Navy SEALs.

On June 25 walkers meet at Norfolk’s Little Creek Amphibious Naval Base and proceed across town to the Norfolk Naval Station, where acts of civil disobedience are being contemplated.

Planners admit many critical details have yet to be worked out. But a van will be available to transport walkers from their overnight lodging to each morning’s first vigil at 8 a.m. and to return them at day’s end. The van will also carry food, water, first-aid supplies, weather protection, and other necessaries.

But more volunteer drivers, cooks, and food donations are needed, organizers say, and the call is out for committed walkers, welcome to drop in or out of the action at any time.

Two more open planning meetings are scheduled for Sunday, June 7 and 14, at 6 p.m. at the Off-Base Coffee House. For more information, call the Catholic Worker at 757-423-5420 or email at roadtonowar@gmail.com.


At 1:21 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

An innovative concept!

If this march of peace pilgrims succeeds in challenging the core of the Military Machine and causes even a handful of people to "reconsider their priorities," then it is worth every step in immense and searing June heat.

Rather than perpetuating ongoing violence, wasted resources, obscene destructiveness and arrogance, such a dramatic consciousness shift multiplies light in the world.

And what the country--and the world--needs now is a profusion of Light.


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