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Peace March for Nuclear Disarmament Reaches a Rocky Mountain High : After a Cloudy Start, a Chance to Walk in the Sun

June 06, 1986|KATHLEEN HENDRIX | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — Looking around the campsite at Red Rocks Park, a spectacular setting between the Rockies and the city where giant red sandstone rocks jut out from the hills, marcher Bill Jensen of San Francisco had a grin on his face while he talked.

The Great Peace March for Nuclear Disarmament was in God's country. The sky was blue. The sun was shining. It was a dazzling afternoon. The colorful tents were pitched early for the night, and a few marchers were carefully painting the window trim on an old bus, one of the many support vehicles being spruced up with fresh coats of paint. Even the portable toilets were sporting floral murals.

"We're past the struggle stage," Jensen said. "Now we're getting into our renaissance."

No Overstatement

Considering the circumstances of the day and those of the past three months, Jensen's comment seemed no overstatement.

They had come 1,050 miles since leaving Los Angeles on March 1. Numbering 550, they had completed one-third of their walk across America to Washington. A few days later--earlier this week--they would leave Denver.

Twelve hundred people set out from Los Angeles, far short of the 5,000 people the sponsoring organization, PROPeace had called for. Inadequately supplied, poorly financed and in debt, the marchers walked under many such clouds for two weeks. Finally, on a desolate, windswept site between Victorville and Barstow, they got the word that PROPeace was pulling out. They were on their own, the support vehicles and equipment being repossessed.

They spent the next two weeks stalled beside a dusty auto graveyard in Barstow, their numbers steadily dwindling, as they regrouped and incorporated as the Great Peace March. They held endless meetings and debates, drew up statements and petitions, held elections, redesigned their government and held elections again.

As they raised money, looked for supplies and solicited support from peace groups and churches, their stated destination was still Washington. In reality, however, it was Las Vegas that loomed on the other side of the desert and no one was certain the patched-up march could make it that far.

Las Vegas is far behind them now. As are the desert, Utah, the Rockies and the snow. In Denver marchers were describing their natural Rocky Mountain high, recalling their tears and laughter as they crossed the Continental Divide at Loveland Pass. Literally and symbolically, they were saying in Denver that passing meant it was "downhill all the way" for the Great Peace March.

And then Denver.

Colorado's Lt. Gov. Nancy Dick had been out to the campsite that afternoon, following up the letters of welcome she and Gov. Richard Lamm had sent the marchers when they entered the state the week before. And, within an hour of Jensen's remark, folk singer and veteran activist Pete Seeger would arrive at the campsite to spend the night, a rainy one, singing with the marchers, and helping with the trash pickup in the morning.

The morning would also see Congresswoman Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee who has supported them ever since the march was first announced by PROPeace a year ago, arrive at 7:30 and slog through the mud to one of the big tents that serve as meeting halls to pledge her support and admiration.

And when they marched through downtown Denver to the State Capitol, a live radio broadcast from the mobile unit of a local station featured announcer and "America's Top 40" disc jockey, Casey Kasem, who had flown in for the occasion. Standing before them, a Great Peace March T-shirt over his shirt and tie, Kasem praised their efforts to "turn this world around and set it straight."

Rally at Capitol

The following day, at a rally at the State Capitol sponsored by a coalition of Colorado's peace groups, singer Holly Near joined those who had come out to speak, entertain and celebrate the marchers and the crowd of 3,000 who joined them for the day.

It seems they have hit their stride: They plan to cross into Nebraska next week, and reach Chicago in August. That will put them two-thirds of the way to Washington.

There seems little doubt now that the Great Peace March will reach Washington, notwithstanding continuing money problems and physical difficulties. Their numbers have held at 550 for the past two months. Marchers who left in disillusionment or despair have come back. Others, having left for good, have been replaced. And, current plans call for an additional 100 marchers to be phased in before the march reaches Omaha around the Fourth of July.

What remains uncertain is whether they will be able to hold together as a group, accepting common goals, logistics and leadership--challenges that have been there from the beginning but that are moving to the forefront now that the survival stage of the march seems behind them.

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