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Peace Marchers Make It to Chicago : Anti-Nuclear Group Finds Limited Public Reaction

August 21, 1986|KATHLEEN HENDRIX | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — The Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament has come and gone from here. Having spent four days in this city that named itself "the world's largest nuclear weapons free zone" earlier this year, the marchers crossed into Indiana on Monday. They have come more than 2,400 miles since they left Los Angeles on March 1, and are now on the final third of their walk across America to Washington.

"I think Chicago is going to tell us a lot," Evan Conroy, at 23 the march's youngest board member, said while the march was in still in Iowa and looking toward Chicago. "Either we are going to become a very large movement or we will leave Chicago a small group of dedicated people."

It was, comparatively speaking, a small group of dedicated people that left town. Officially they number 680, but probably, most conjecture, mentioning the loosely enforced exit policies, their ranks have thinned to around 500, not all of whom are on the march at any given time.

That is still an extraordinary number of civilians to be on the move over such a vast expanse for such a long time. But while they have reached millions of people thus far, having made personal contacts into the tens of thousands, they have not brought those millions into America's streets in a groundswell movement to call out with them, "Bring them down."

Chicago did not give them the cold shoulder. The march had a parade permit and police escorts for its entry march through the Loop at the noon hour. And when it reached Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park, Mayor Harold Washington was there to officially welcome them, proclaiming "Sunday August 17, 1986, Survival Sunday in the city of Chicago." And there were free passes and discounts for public transportation and museums.

And although the march's advance team spent much time and effort that never did result in a site permit to camp in downtown Grant Park, scene of the 1968 violent confrontations between police and protesters during the Democratic convention, the city finally, at zero hour, gave them a place to stay in the northwest section at North Park Village behind the Bohemian National Cemetery.

The media paid attention, both giving them advance publicity and coverage of events. There were invitations to speak in 80 churches on Sunday morning and an interfaith service at the Baha'i Temple in Wilmette. Local peace groups invited them to participate in several special events, such as the repairing of the Peace Garden wall and that in turn brought out the camera crews.

America's best-known disc jockey and broadcaster, Casey Kasem, accompanied by his wife, Jean, took the "red eye" out from Los Angeles, went straight to radio station WLS, where he launched a call-in fund-raiser, then joined the march through the Loop and proceeded to broadcast live from a WLS mobile unit at Buckingham Fountain. He was joined by actor/director Ron Howard. And on Sunday, "Hill St. Blues' " Betty Thomas spoke at the Lincoln Park rally, as did Chicago's writer and radio interviewer Studs Terkel. Peter, Paul and Mary, in town for an outdoor concert at suburban Ravinia, did not make it to the campsite, but did dedicate a song to them at the concert.

And yet. . . .

As far as the general public was concerned, there were times when it seemed Chicago couldn't have cared less.

That Invisible Feeling

"I never felt so invisible in my life," Ellen Murphy, 49, of San Diego, said of the march's parade through the Loop at noon hour. "They (the onlookers) weren't hostile or unfriendly. They looked right at us and they didn't see us."

Before the march reached the city limits, premonitions had been growing in some that they were not going to have the impact they had hoped for.

"I know," one chuckled ruefully, shaking his head. "It's a flop."

This, despite the welcome they had just received on the eve of their entry to Chicago when they camped in LaGrange on the grounds of the Bethlehem Center, an educational complex owned by the Sisters of St. Joseph. The entire community of sisters walked out to the highway, and formed a reception line that was anything but formal. As the marchers turned into the grounds, the sisters embraced many of them, took their hands, thanked and welcomed them, telling them with tears in their eyes how thrilled they were to have them. It was a genuine display that caught the marchers by surprise and overwhelmed them.

There was nothing like that the next day. Through public service announcements and leafleting they had been asking Chicagoans to join the march at the University of Illinois' campus for the parade through the Loop to Buckingham Fountain. In order to reach the campus, 13 miles from LaGrange, by 10:30 a.m. they had to get up at 3 and hit the road at 5. They were awakened by someone blowing reveille on a bugle, which, marcher John Light, 40, reported later, "pumped us up."

Black Community Responds

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