"Have you heard about PRO-Peace? Five thousand people are going to march across the country."
With two American flags flapping on the lapel of his preppy sports coat and armed only with leaflets and exuberance, Tim Carpenter, 26, looked more like a choirboy than a young general as he approached a flock of Huntington Beach churchgoers on a recent Sunday morning. The military comparison is hard to avoid, though, because PRO-Peace, the organization Carpenter helps lead, resembles nothing so much as an army gearing up for a campaign--something on the scale of the Normandy invasion.
According to David Mixner, the veteran political organizer who founded PRO-Peace and conceived "The Great Peace March," the organization owes a good part of that aggressive pacifist style to Carpenter and a cadre of his cohorts, who got their combat training in the often inhospitable trenches of Orange County.
"They play a very crucial role in all this," Mixner said. "Tim brought the skills that he used in Orange County to PRO-Peace, and with astounding success. . . . I don't know what I would have done without him. He really is one of the bright young graduate organizers in the country. . . . This group of Orange County people is playing a very prominent national role."
A co-founder of the Alliance for Survival and Orange County's best-known anti-nuclear gadfly, Carpenter said he first got word of the Great Peace March less than a year ago while protesting at the annual Winter Conference of Aerospace and Electronic Systems (Wincon) gathering in Costa Mesa. At the suggestion of David Stein, probably Orange County's hottest Democratic fund-raiser, Mixner took Carpenter aside and asked him to be a part of the little project he had cooked up.
"The inside joke with me in the Alliance was that I was always saying we could do the impossible," Carpenter said. "But when (Mixner) talked to me, even I was amazed at the numbers he was throwing around."
Those numbers are: Beginning March 1, 5,000 people are going to spend 255 days walking 3,235 miles across the United States from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. Their goal, according to PRO-Peace literature, is to reach 65 million people with the PRO-Peace message, "No more nuclear weapons. Period."
Another figure that came up was $2,000, Carpenter said. That would be his monthly salary . "My entire last year with the alliance, I made $2,222," he said.
"He was real excited and jumping up and down and going, 'It's this peace march, and we're going across the country,' " said Wendy Sharp, Carpenter's girlfriend and the first person he told about Mixner's offer. But Sharp had doubts that Carpenter would accept. After all, she had often heard him chide activists who retreated from Orange County to organize in Los Angeles, where "progressive politics" is less of an anomaly, she said. "I kept thinking, 'Tim leave Orange County?' I just didn't believe it. . . ."
Carpenter, however, was impressed with Mixner's idea, and he knew that if a "peace movement" could be put together in conservative Orange County, anything was possible, he said.
Last March, Carpenter accepted the position of field director and moved into an apartment 10 blocks from the PRO-Peace offices near Beverly Center. Over the months, half a dozen other activists from Orange County joined the PRO-Peace staff, which now stands at 112.
PRO-Peace (People Reaching Out for Peace) is divided into six divisions, with the Orange County contingent concentrated in the "Field Division," explained deputy director Allan Affeldt, 27, who was born and raised in Orange County and will soon be staying at the march's primary campsite at the White Oaks recreation area in the San Fernando Valley.
Pointing to a map in the mildly chaotic PRO-Peace office, Affeldt explained that the march route had been laid out "according to demographics." With that determined, the first item of business for "Field" was setting up regional offices, he said.
After a lot of phoning and writing and flying around, the Field staff established regional offices in Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Cleveland, New York City and Washington, and state offices in Las Vegas; Springdale, Utah; Omaha; Des Moines; Osceola, Ind.; Pittsburgh and Boston (the only office not on the march route). At the same time, Affeldt continued, staff members were at work getting endorsements and teaching representatives across the country how to make the PRO-Peace pitch.