A marathon effort for peace

| 12 Apr 2016 | 12:26

Walkers for peace on a 56-day journey from Leverett, Mass., to Washington, D.C., found refuge on the Upper West Side Tuesday night in the form of a potluck dinner and a warm place to stay.

Six tables, covered with white cloth and decorated with flowers, were set out to welcome the walkers at the New York Society for Ethical Culture’s Ceremonial Hall on West 64th Street. The society’s members, co-host climate change group 350NYC, the Buddhist Council of New York and others advocates of peace mixed in as the walkers sat down for a meal of homemade sandwiches and salad, shared stories and conversation.

“There’s definitely a huge intersection in the ethics and the values,” said society and 350NYC member Monica Weiss of the peace walkers and the Ethical Culture group. “There’s a very shared vision of the world between Quakers, Buddhists and NYSEC members.”

For Weiss, the event had an even more personal connection. Her husband is walking from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. to participate in a week of civil disobedience with Democracy Spring. “He is graciously being taken in by churches and community groups and we had the opportunity to do the same thing,” Weiss said. “I found it very synchronous. I can appreciate their struggle and what they’re doing. Frankly, I wouldn’t even have looked at the document.”

The 26-page document’s core message is ‘shared security:’ if the United States is intent on preserving the nation’s security, it must also increase that of other countries. Climate change, violent conflict, refugee crises and poverty domestically and internationally are among the issues that spurred the walkers to impart with their elected representatives.

On April 28, some of the walkers will meet in Washington D.C. with Congressman Jim McGovern, who represents the monks’ district. Other U.S. representatives, as well as some senators, are also expected to attend.

In its 15th year, the “Walk for a New Spring” originates at the New England Peace Pagoda, a monument for peace shaped like an intricate white dome created in 1985. The first walk took place in February 2002, a few months after the 9/11 attacks. A group of New England monks began walking and praying throughout Massachusetts.

On April 5 this year, the walkers crossed the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee, New Jersey, escorted by city police. They made their way down Broadway, carrying banners, banging drums and chanting a Buddhist prayer. They stopped to visit the Nicholas Roerich Museum on West 109th Street. The monks’ yellow robes were hidden under thick winter jackets as they walked through 36 degree weather, but the drums’ clamor turned heads, giving them the opportunity to explain their purpose to those who inquired. “Folks will just walk up to us and give us cash,” says Eric Wasileski, a member of Veterans for Peace who committed to walking all 56 days with the monks. “I’m a poet so I’ve been offering my book for contributions. I’ve actually made a little bit of money.” They continued their walk to the United Nations before doubling back to West 64th Street for the night.

Not all walkers could commit the same efforts as Wasileski. Many of the 15 walkers that joined the monks through their trek down to New York drove from New England to join the walk for a day or two before returning to family and to work.

“Walking brings us together and communities together,” says Andrea-Lynn Dastoli, who teaches second grade in Massachusetts. She joined the walk for a day. “We’re putting the seeds of peace down and they blossom.”

Sister Clare Carter believes in the ineffable effect of walking as well. She had visited Rhode Island with a peace worker three or four times prior to the walk to try and present the shared security document to the senators and representatives there. However, she said that it was only when presenting the document in connection with the walk that the elected officials listened for the first time.

The walk brings together people of different faiths and beliefs who all share a common goal of supporting peace. Andrea-Lynn is Christian but she still participates in the Buddhist prayers and chants. “Each walker has a different prayer because they all originate from inside you,” she says “But they’re all the same. They all share peace.”

Members of the Society for Ethical Culture practice humanism, a non-theistic religion of ethics that believes in the good of humanity and its power to live responsibility and ethically. Regardless of beliefs, the society hosted the walkers for a night because of the consistency and intersection of values and beliefs that the two groups share. “It’s a very important aspirational document,” the society’s Anne Klaeysen said. “People working on these projects are getting little attention, that’s why we need to have people walking. It’s really important that people put boots on the ground. Issues can be overwhelming but you have to do what one can do.”