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by George Longenecker

Wednesday, August 19, 1998: Hartford to Hartland, VT

   I rejoined the walk in the Connecticut River Valley town of Hartford. The 40 walkers had just passed through White River Junction, Hartford’s largest village and the commercial hub of this stretch of the valley. Responses from passers-by were mostly positive; many motorists or residents in yards had seen media coverage of the walk. There were far more waves or honks than taunts.

   Now in the valley the curious were mostly dogs, cows and horses. With the two large diamond-shaped signs (“Vermont Walk for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons”) and Buddhist drum, we were a curious procession to the local canines, equines and bovines. At lunch on the North Hartland Green we rested in the shade. Beverly Red of Waltham, VT snoozed on a blanket, her leg across a watermelon. Jack and Janet Tripper from West Virginia relaxed after keeping a steady pace with their two young children, Rose and Joe.

   There was time to talk of issues and of each other. Is Abolition 2000 possible? Excepting a miracle, we know that all nuclear weapons will not be gone in two years. What we agree on is that we need to act now and the time is right to begin an abolition treaty. Clinton’s problems, if they came up at all brought either dark humor or anger. Were he not so occupied with his sexual problems, the President could be in a good position to begin the groundwork for a START III treaty when he meets with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in a few weeks.

   This walk is one local event and part of an ongoing Abolition 2000 campaign by a coalition of 1,000 organizations worldwide. A United Nations Resolution has strongly stated that abolition is imperative and that the United States and Russia must take the lead.

   We cooled our feet at the Hartland Falls with its view across the Connecticut River rocks to New Hampshire, then continued on south on old U.S. 5 and up the road to Hartland Four Corners. There a repast awaited at the Universalist Church. Many of us have friends, relatives and supporters in the small towns along the route and in Hartland they went all out to feed and house us. Walkers spent the night at the new Dharma Center in Hartland, where songs and mediation were an optional part of the evening. This center was founded by the followers of Buddhist monk, author and poet Thich Nhat Hahn.

Thursday, August 20, 1998: Hartland to Weathersfield, VT

   Weather was with us for the walk, with the next-to-last day beginning cool and clear. At the morning circle and meeting after breakfast, we discussed the logistics of the day’s walk then continued discussion of one of the stickiest political-environmental issues of the walk.

   By way of background, Vermont is close to completing a tri-state nuclear waste compact with New Hampshire and Maine. If approved by the Senate on Sept.2, the compact will allow shipment of low level nuclear power waste as well as a small amount of medical waste to be shipped to the poor Hispanic community of Sierra Blanca, Texas. Representative Bernard Sanders, I, VT surprised some constituents by voting for the Texas waste dump.

   On the other hand Sanders was a sponsor along with Rep. Joseph Kennedy, D, MA and others of a resolution by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D., CA, calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Sanders was scheduled to speak at the final rally the next day on the Woolsey Resolution. Also on the walk were Susan Curry, Hal Flanders and Gary Oliver of the Alpine, TX region, in New England to publicize the impact of the nuclear waste dump on their homes. All three are also articulate spokespersons for Abolition 2000. The dilemma was over how to get to Sanders and how to present their message and -as Susan Curry reminded us- still keeping the focus on Abolition 2000.

   The walk continued into Windsor, birthplace of Vermont, with just one taunt of “tree huggers” and a number of waves from motorists and greetings from people on front lawns. On Windsor’s green Rik Palleri and the “Radiation Rangers” brought humor to the nuke waste issue. Rik our musician-organizer has given us the unofficial theme song for the walk, “It’s Up To You To Carry On.” At the lunchtime rally Susan Curry spoke well to both issues, relating Hiroshima to her experience as a Japanese-American born just after WWII. She went on to warn of the impact of the nuke waste dump on her Rio Grande region.

   The afternoon took us along the valley to Weathersfield. Senior citizens have brought their energy and experience to the walk. Esther Farnsworth of Montpelier carried the signs and set a pace that challenged younger walkers. As food organizer, she had the most detailed job. Elizabeth Peterson, retired educator from Peacham joined us for the afternoon. Her husband and perennial activist Dave Dellinger, 83, matched me step for step, chatting all the while. Ed Everts,79 WWII Vet For Peace walked, filmed and shuttled vehicles. Dave Edelman, another WWII Vet spoke to me of his work with the U.N. Hal Flanders, 83 of TX was with us for the duration.

   At Wilgus State Park Weathersfield supporters hosted dinner. Dr. Victor Sidel spoke to us on the reasons why the time is right for abolition. He has written extensively on the effects of nuclear war, but only referred us to his article in the New England Journal of Medicine, choosing to encourage each of us to carry on and take the next step. Dr. Sidel also updated us on the day’s news, the U.S. bombings of Sudan and Afghanistan. Singer Margaret MacArthur finished the evening in the campground shelter with songs of old Vermont and two songs by Pete Seeger.

Friday, August 21, Final Day: Weathersfield to Springfield, VT

   The last trek was a shorter one, up over the hill to Springfield. Jun Yasuda, a Japanese Buddhist nun from Grafton, NY along with Beverly Red and Kendra played their drums and chanted Springfield, VT was chosen for the finale because it is typical of New England towns that have lost their main industries. In Springfield it was the machine tool industry, now mostly gone along with its jobs. The nuclear waste issue was there, only partly resolved by a scheduled meeting between Rep. Bernie Sanders and the Texans before the rally. The focus was on the conclusion of the walk, with a lunchtime circle and sharing of experiences. Jun told of her many peace walks. In Springfield we passed boarded up factories as well as active shops, passing out leaflets as we had in each town telling the approximate expense –$1,200,000 to the community of nuclear weapons.

    At the final rally Vermont State Representative Alice Emmons, D., Springfield spoke of the economic effects on her community. Karis Boke, 15 of Weathersfield, spoke eloquently for the many young people present, telling of the effects of nuclear weapons on her generation and of her hopes for abolition. As Rep. Bernie Sanders arrived, Rik Palleri regaled him with an original song, “Don’t Dump It Here.” Sanders spoke briefly on a number of issues facing congress, including Social Security, health care and minimum wage, then spoke of the Woolsey Resolution and the need for nuclear abolition. He side stepped the nuclear waste issue. The meeting with the Texans had brought no change in position. There were a few yells but mostly polite applause.

   The rally and walk concluded with all the walkers singing “Gonna Lay Down My Sword and Shield ... Down By The Riverside.” The walk was the beginning of the campaign and a successful step forward to abolition. Please contact us to take the next step.

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