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Peace March: The Long Thin Line Gets Thinner : Crippled by Funding, a Committed Core Vows to Carry On Trek to Capital

March 14, 1986|KATHLEEN HENDRIX | Times Staff Writer

BARSTOW — It was 9:30 in the morning and the Great Peace March had been on the move along Stoddard Wells Road between Victorville and Barstow for an hour, having covered three of the day's 18 miles.

The line broke, and the marchers took a 10-minute rest, cheered by the rare few hours of sunshine and blue skies the morning was providing.

Difficult Days

Marcher John Pluntze, 23, stood at the edge of the dirt and gravel road, looking out over the expanse of tumbleweed, sagebrush and Joshua trees, shrugging off the difficult days they had put behind them already and the certain hardship that lay ahead on this march across America to Washington for global nuclear disarmament.

"I, for one, am going all the way. I met this adorable little fifth-grader the other night at Our Lady of the Desert Church near Apple Valley. She's just really counting on me to be in Washington," he said, fishing through his gear for his address book.

"Here she is," he said, opening the book, "Noelle Parker from Hesperia. About 60 of us went over there. We got cards from the kids to carry with us, sort of reminders of what we're doing this for. We have them with us now.

"My main goal is just to give people hope to go on and do something themselves (about disarmament). When I was in school at Cal State L.A., people were so apathetic about the arms race: 'You can't do anything. Why fight it? Just find a good job for yourself . . . ' It's not how I feel."

Pluntze sounded no different last Monday morning than most of the marchers that day. They had come through several trying days of treacherous weather, insufficient food and equipment and botched plans--all of which would soon seem soft by comparison to what was in store for them. They were on the brink of a week that has tested their hearts, minds and bodies to the breaking point.

The tortuous weather that was to come and the mounting financial crisis that was threatening to call off the whole march at any moment joined ranks and a very harsh reality has closed in on the grand dream. At week's end, the marchers and organizers appeared to be coming through renewed, resolved and determined to go on, but even that may not be enough to see them through.

Group of 5,000

This is a far cry from the well-financed group of 5,000 that were to leave a star-studded sendoff at a packed Coliseum and set off for Washington, erecting their movable monument to creative and alternative technology, "Peace City," every night as they marched, financed like the Olympics by an impressed corporate America and an admiring entertainment community.

The glitz has given way to the grassroots. The Great Peace March has been increasingly finding itself dependent upon the kindness of strangers--the common people who are reaching out to the marchers and offering food, shelter and encouragement. The lesson, a humbling one, has been sinking in on marchers and PROPeace staff, both on the march and in Los Angeles, alike.

If the Great Peace March survives its long moment of truth, it is safe to say this will be described later as "the week that was."

The marchers, their ranks thinned that day to about 600 actually walking--out of close to 1,000--spent Monday afternoon plodding nine miles through mud in pouring rain. They reached their camp, farther along Stoddard Wells Road on federal property, where a sizable advance crew had set up most of the tents and had plastic cups of hot soup waiting. The marchers drank the soup in the open, rain pouring into the cups, sat down in the mud to nurse their feet, and set about making order out of the soaking desert.

Although there were undercurrents of the exasperation and confrontations that were soon to come, with a few people complaining and questioning leadership, money, plans and equipment, the overall mood was of good cheer, with joking and encouragement for each other.

Bad weather?

"I think the Native Americans have the right idea about that. There's no such thing as bad weather," slicker-clad marcher, and sometime nuclear physicist, John Walter said. "It's all just weather."

And a lot of it. The weather that night came in the form of a storm that whipped the campsite into a shambles, kept people up all night fighting almost for their lives as they searched for and found 12 cases of potentially fatal hypothermia, all of which they caught and treated in time.

Storm and Troubles

The storm, and the troubles brewing here and in Los Angeles, brought the march to a halt. Depending on who tells it, on Tuesday morning the marchers either refused, decided or agreed not to go any farther until they had confronted their problems. They either demanded or requested answers and solutions. And they decided either to become part of the decision-making process, or, if need be, to replace the decision-making process.

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