WASHINGTON — It was a mild, clear night with a bright moon here Saturday, perfect for lingering around the Lincoln Memorial and Mall. That is what many people did, as it was finally time to let go of the past 8 1/2 months now that the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament had ended.
A crowd of perhaps 10,000--supporters and 1,800 marchers, 400 of whom had been on the march ever since it left Los Angeles on March 1--had gathered for the closing ceremonies at the base of the memorial. In the final moments, as they stood circled around the Reflecting Pool, they had held a candlelight ceremony, setting off a chain reaction of light as they passed on fire that originated with the eternal flame from the peace shrine in Hiroshima, Japan. The marchers had carefully tended that flame across the country, passing it on in little ceremonies to people in all of the towns and villages they had passed through on their route.
Many at the ceremony had floated their candles in the pool, and there they remained flickering in the dark.
Nearby, on the other side of a stand of trees, more marchers lingered around the Vietnam Memorial. About a dozen of them from Massachusetts reclined at the base of a tree. They were nestled against each other in neat little rows softly singing, "Ain't gonna study war no more."
At the base of panel W58 of the memorial, one of the candles lit with the Hiroshima flame burned alongside a pair of high-topped brown canvas walking shoes. The shoes held a note: "My name is Tisha Malley. I walked from Los Angeles to D.C. These are my shoes to represent my truth and honesty for a world beyond war."
Over at the Ellipse, about 50 tents from Peace City, including one of the big town halls, had been pitched in the park. About 100 marchers sat and stood in a circle having a meeting.
Among them were many of the homeless children adrift from society who had attached themselves to this march and given it such a difficult time. For them Peace City had seemed the most stable environment they had known in quite some time.
And now, here they were huddled in a circle against the majestic backdrop of the Washington Monument and the White House, sounding defiant of authority and scared to let go of the march.
This was not the march's campsite. That was elsewhere, in northeastern Washington. But the marchers had a seven-day permit to hold a vigil and demonstration here on the Ellipse. They are not permitted to sleep, cook or store things in their tents--all of which many of those on the Ellipse wanted, and intended, to do. If they did, they faced having the permit revoked--at which point their presence would be subject to fines and incarceration.
They debated: "I intend to sleep here and I have no intention of getting arrested." "I don't understand your position." "The same people are getting called on. You should call on (raised) hands." "I don't want to jeopardize the integrity of the march."
True to themselves to the end. Even in its final moments the Great Peace March maintained its image as a band of shepherds looking for a flock. And one very offbeat band, at that.
Even on Friday, the momentous day they crossed the final border into Washington, they did not march as one unit but in bunches of people interspersed with stragglers, among them Sparky, the peace-marching mutt, who joined them in Pittsburgh.
Friday may have been momentous, but Fridays had always been Aloha Day on the march, and so, along with the dignitaries speaking to them at the District of Columbia line, marcher Jack Mento of Hawaii delivered his traditional surf report one last time.
He did his disc-jockey rap about Diamond Head and Hurricane Ronnie and riding on the crest of a new wave, keeping up the beat until his voice broke and he struggled to say to them, "It's been an honor and a privilege to be part of this fantastic ride."
While their numbers grew to the thousands for the last miles on Saturday, it remained the same march. The contingent of Peace City's anarchists, decked out in full punk for the occasion and joined by some Washington-area colleagues, made one last rush for attention, swooping down on the march from the side and heading for the front as it left Malcolm X Park.
The other marchers looked on in consternation until Daiva Edrehi from Long Beach called out to them, "Go on ahead. Have your own march. You're on your own." The anarchists fell back into the march.
And while the ceremonies proceeded at Lafayette Park, one of the anarchists handcuffed herself to the White House fence while several others tied their tattered march shoes and socks to it. Police cut the shoes and marcher loose. They made no arrests but closed off the sidewalk.
Instead the march proceeded peacefully to its conclusion. Saturday night at the Ellipse resulted in no arrests, although police went through camp every half hour, flashing lights into tents and making sleep fairly impossible.