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Peace Marchers on the Sidewalks of N.Y. : Group Tours Big Apple Before Starting Final Leg to Nation's Capital

October 29, 1986|KATHLEEN HENDRIX | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — They made it. The Peace Marchers, their ranks swelled to 878 recently, have crossed the continent on their walk for global nuclear disarmament. The Great Peace March reached the Atlantic coast last week, spent a long weekend here and left for New Jersey on Tuesday. Now they start the final leg of their journey to Washington, which began in Los Angeles on March 1. They expect to arrive in the capital on Nov. 15.

To get to Washington from Los Angeles you normally do not hang a left in Pennsylvania and go to New York. But from the very beginning, participants have had their sights set on this city. Reaching it has been no less important than reaching the capital, they have said: This is the home of the United Nations; this is one of the world's great cities; this is the Big Apple.

Last Thursday as the marchers prepared to cross over the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan from a park alongside the Hudson in Fort Lee, N.J., one father held his hand out to his little girl saying, "Let me take your hand. We're coming into a big city now. There's 12 million people over there."

Hard-Won Experience

Actually there are more like 7 million people and most of them never saw the marchers. The Great Peace March did not exactly take Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten--or any of the boroughs. But by now, thanks to experience hard won along the way and a growing sophistication about the nature of their effect, most marchers don't expect to stop whole cities dead in their tracks. They want to reach individuals with their message and in New York there was plenty of opportunity for that.

They marched through Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island and delegations visited the rest of the city's boroughs--the Bronx and Queens, planting trees for peace, as they have in cities and villages across the country, speaking in churches, synagogues and schools and before organizations.

In their brief visit, for many of them their first, they had a combination of experiences that not many native New Yorkers can match: They marched across three great bridges, the George Washington, the Brooklyn and the Verrazano Narrows and camped in the shadow of a fourth, the Triborough, on Randall's Island in the East River. They walked through Central Park, picnicked in the rain in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, lunched at Grant's Tomb on Riverside Drive. They rallied in Harlem at Africa Square where 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard intersect; rallied again at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza across the street from the United Nations; again in front of Madison Square Garden; again at City Hall. They held fund-raisers at two trendy discos and a Catholic church in Spanish Harlem, rode the subways, bought knishes, hot dogs and fat pretzels from street vendors, got swept up in the World Series enthusiasm for the hometown team.

It began with a homey welcome while they were suspended high above the Hudson. As they reached the New York side of the bridge, the first sophisticates of Gotham to greet them were the first-graders of P.S. 173, shivering and excited, each of them wearing construction-paper drawings about peace and warbling "all we are saying, is 'give peace a chance.' "

Also on the bridge walkway--the War Resisters League; disc jockey Casey Kasem, having just completed a four-hour fund-raising broadcast for them; some local politicians; Aaron Kaye, who was telling everyone he was "the mad Yippie pie-thrower" of yore who was still devoted to his profession; and members of the West Park Presbyterian Church. And running toward them on the bridge, just in from the Coast, jeans king and peace activist Fred Segal and "Hill St. Blues' " star and march supporter Betty Thomas, both of whom had joined 200 marchers Thursday morning on the Donahue Show.

(Phil Donahue had devoted the whole show to the Peace March that morning, providing the march with its most far-reaching forum to date. By Tuesday morning, it had drawn around 500 letters bearing about $7,000 to the march's New York office.)

'New Solutions to Peace'

As they stepped off the bridge, crates of big red apples awaited them from the Living Forum, a group of artists, one member said, "looking for new solutions to peace."

On the ground, a sound truck played salsa and marchers and welcomers danced in the closed-off, residential street, applauded by a few people hanging out of apartment windows. Local politicians, members of local peace groups and what was described as "the progressive community" made welcoming remarks.

Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins delivered his prepared remarks and then paid them the ultimate New York tribute: "I think you're tough."

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