They are strangers to each other--Don Leith and his daughter, Prudence, Leslie Nanasy, Stephen Nelson, Connie Fledderjohann and Jerry Eisner. They live, work and study at varying spots in the county. They have different life styles. They lead separate lives. They share, however, an extraordinary set of plans for the coming year. They plan to march across the United States together on "The Great Peace March."
On Feb. 15, they will arrive at the White Oak Recreation Center at the Sepulveda Basin in the San Fernando Valley. They will camp out there, learning the logistics of the march, becoming initiated into the system of "marcher government." From there, on Feb. 24, they will walk to Griffith Park, camping in the carrousel area until March 1, when it will come time to walk to the Coliseum, where 100,000 people will see them off.
Then off they will go--to Cal State L.A. for the first night. To Washington, D.C., for the 255th night.
They will have covered 3,235 miles at a rate of 15 miles a day, six days a week.
They will be part of a projected group of 5,000 people who are undertaking the Great Peace March for disarmament. Their aim is to create enough organized pressure to stop the arms race and, as the people at PRO-Peace headquarters on Beverly Boulevard say of existing nuclear weapons, "take them down."
The tents are being sewn, the mess kitchens have been ordered . . . And David Mixner, the chief organizer and director of the march, is feeling confident it will all happen, he said at his office recently, despite the fact the majority of the marchers have yet to make their final application.
"I'm real comfortable," Mixner said. "The marchers are going to happen. The bulk will come in January. The application is extensive. There are 20,000 out. I've never been more confident of anything."
Nevertheless the clock seem to be ticking fast. With 728 applications in at last count, another 700 rotating slots reserved for groups to fill, and another 300 for staff and visitors, that leaves 3,300 to go. Is everyone at PRO-Peace as sanguine as Mixner?
"Oh, no!" he laughed. "There are two camps. Those who've been organizing for a long time, like myself, are comfortable. The newcomers to it--no," he said.
(Mixner has been organizing for causes and politicians for 25 years. One of his more notable accomplishments was as one of the four coordinators for the Vietnam Moratorium in 1969.)
After months of exhaustive organizing and logistical planning, PRO-Peace (People Reaching Out for Peace) started actively recruiting in late October. Mixner said he would have preferred it had all applications come in by mid-November, but that is not the way life goes, he said, adding that it was typical for people to postpone and delay ironing out details of their personal lives: "A lot of people are at that stage now--'What do I do about my taxes? What do I do about my cat?' "
Mixner's cats, Pablo Neruda and Justice, will not be making the trip, he said, much to his regret. They will keep the home fires burning, since Mixner is having someone live rent free at his home rather than put the cats in a kennel.
PRO-Peace spokesman Howard Cushnir sounds confident too, although he admits the organization has what he termed "a Herculean task" to pull off in the next few weeks.
Recruiting Stepped Up
A phone survey they made of people who had asked for applications indicated that 30% intended to apply--more than enough for the march. Since most of them have yet to do so, PRO-Peace has stepped up its recruiting, sending out follow-up recruiters and people to lend fund-raising advice to those having difficulty coming up with the $3,235, or $1 per mile, sum the march is asking each participant to raise to help defray the costs of the march, which are estimated to reach $21 million.
"In some ways I'm in a panic," Cushnir said, "but when I think about it long and hard, the march is a fabulous idea and it is happening. It's not a numbers game. We have every intention of meeting our goal of 5,000. If we don't it does not diminish the project. The strength of the march is really these individuals who are dropping everything to make this statement. They're an inspiration to us here."
A look at some of those who are dropping everything to make the march:
It took Prudence Leith, 13, two months to decide whether to go on the march with her father, Don, or stay home with her mother, Faith, and sister, Dawn, 18. When she finally announced her decision to go with her father, she was in tears. And in describing it one recent afternoon at the Leiths' home in Whittier, sitting with her family around the Christmas tree, she started to look teary again.
"Don't start crying again," her mother teased her gently. "You can't start crying every time you talk about it."