Tuesday, November 9, 2010

They're getting closer!

Veterans cross state for peace
By Shlomit Auciello and Dagney C. Ernest | Nov 08, 2010

GREAT PHOTOS HERE! http://knox.villagesoup.com/news/story/veterans-cross-state-for-peace/362616

Rockland — As rain fell on Rockland, Monday morning Nov. 8, a group of slicker-clad men and women stepped outside of the First Universalist Church in Rockland and, to the thrumming cadence of Buddhist drums, stepped along the Broadway sidewalk to continue a journey that began Nov. 2 in Farmington and will end in Portland on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

Bob Dale of Brunswick served in the military during World War II. He and his wife split the more than 150-mile route planned for Veterans for Peace members and supporters. "I think we have to wake people up to the situation," Dale said at the start of the walk's seventh day.

"Everyone's complaining about not enough money for schools and other necessities, and here we are spending billions on the military every month," he said.

According to the website at costofwar.com, the war in Afghanistan has cost more than $360 billion since it began. That translates to more than $9,000 per household. The combined cost of both the Afghan and Iraq wars totals more than $1.1 trillion to date.

Peace walkers have varied reasons

South Thomaston artist Lyn Snow was walking on behalf of her husband, a World War II pilot. She said she wanted to promote the idea of people putting energy into peaceful activities such as farming and teaching.

Alex Valente of Windham is a freshman at the University of Maine at Farmington, where she studies cultural economics, a discipline that uses knowledge of people's cultures to develop working economic systems. More than 20 other UMF students participated in the walk's first day and many have continued to check in for parts of the event.

"If I can walk, and it's the only thing I can do to promote peace, I'll walk," Valente said as she prepared to join about 16 others on the rainy Warren-to-Brunswick leg of the journey. Vietnam veteran and Peace Walk organizer Bruce Gagnon said Valente had been doing homework as she walked.

The night before leaving from Rockland, about 20 walkers were hosted in 12 local homes.

"You come prepared to sleep on a floor with a sleeping bag and a pillow, but that's not all you get," Valente said. "There's a bond with the families. We exchange e-mail addresses."

"This experience teaches you so much about humanity," she said. "People want to do their part. They're loving and giving. It's an incredible experience."

Cost of war overshadows state and local budgets

Gagnon said the primary purpose of the walk was to raise awareness of the connection between the cost of war and the current state of the U.S. economy.

"Since 2001 the people of Maine have paid $2.9 billion as our share of the wars," Gagnon said. "Imagine how that money could have been used here in this state at a time when we're cutting back like crazy." Gagnon said Rockland's share of that cost was more than $17 million.

"I'd venture to guess that the Rockland City Council has been in a real quandary about what they're going to cut," he said. "We think there is an important relationship between endless war and the economic collapse at home."

Buddhist nun Jen-San has been walking for peace since 1978. She is a member of the Nipponzan Myohoji order of Japanese Buddhist monks and nuns, whose vocation is, primarily, walking for peace and other social causes. They have walked in Maine twice before, in 1982 and 1988.

"I'm a lucky person," she said. "Basically people are beautiful everywhere. This society is so isolated because of lifestyle and material [concerns]." She said that people who are materially comfortable sometimes fail to think of helping others.

Gagnon said post-traumatic stress disorder was also a huge issue. He said more veterans committed suicide last year than had died in Afghanistan during the same period.

"Their psyches are stretched like a rubber band and they're snapping," Gagnon said. "Families are being destroyed." He said that most of those in the military were working class and poor people who joined because they needed a well-paying job.

"It's really an economic draft," he said.

Valente agreed, saying that many of her peers gave the need for a steady income as their reason for joining the military.

"I don't know what type of world it's become when the only option you have is to lay down your humanity and pick up a gun," Valente said.

Gagnon said it was no coincidence that the top U.S. export is weapons. He said a policy of corporate globalization, with the U.S. being placed in the role of security service provider, was part of the Pentagon's stated agenda.

"They're turning my generation into killers," Valente said.

Personal experience turns warrior to peace

Gagnon said he had to get a waiver in order to serve in the Air Force during the Vietnam War.

"I was a Young Republican for Nixon," he said. He was stationed at an airlift base in California, assisting those who were boarding planes for the Southeast Asian conflict.

"When the planes would return they'd bring the body bags of dead soldiers," Gagnon said. He said the public protests held during that period taught him that such actions could change lives.

Valente said she wanted to wake up her generation.

"They don't link the war to their lives," she said. "They're too immersed in Facebook."

A dinner program at First Universalist Church in Rockland on Nov. 7 was well attended, with walkers and supporters packing the Griffith Room downstairs among food tables loaded with homemade fare.

Rockland City Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson spoke on behalf of the council to thank marchers "for your efforts on behalf of peace."

Area residents Nancy Button, Carney McRae and Hannah Batley led the gathering in a sing-along that included "Ain't Gonna Study War No More."

On Monday morning, the group planned to walk eight-and-a-half miles to Steve Burke's home in Warren for lunch, before continuing on their journey.

The pilgrimage is scheduled to culminate Thursday, Nov. 11 when participants in the Maine Walk for Peace, Human Needs, and Veterans’ Care join others at Portland's Space Gallery for what is being billed as "a day of arts activism."

The event in Portland is sponsored by the Union of Maine Visual Artists, CODEPINK Maine, Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, and Maine Veterans For Peace. Participation is open to members of the public, who are invited to bring creative energies and ideas to help envision how war dollars could be otherwise spent.

For more information about the Peace Walk and related activities, visit the website at peaceactionme.org.

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by e-mail at sauciello@villagesoup.com.

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