Walk of the People - A Pilgrimage for Life

Walk of the People - A Pilgrimage for Life

The Walk of the People - A Pilgrimage for Life was a walking personal and political action organized by peace activists Dale James Outhouse and Pamela Blockey O'Brien to bring attention to the perils of impending nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The walk started on March 1, 1984 in Point Conception, California, and traversed 7,000 miles, ending in Moscow, Russia on December, 1985.

Why the project was organized

In 1984, the global nuclear arms race proceeded at a furious pace. Some United States leaders talked of a winnable nuclear war against the former Soviet Union. U.S. President Ronald Reagan and USSR Premier Konstantin Chernenko had not as much as met in the previous four years. More nuclear weapons had been installed in Europe on both sides of the Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain, pointing at each other.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set its traditional “Doomsday Clock,” which has marked the danger of nuclear war since 1947, to three minutes before midnight in 1984. That was the closest the clock had been to midnight in three decades, with it being at 12 minutes in 1972, when the U.S. and former Soviet Union signed SALT I. [http://www.thebulletin.org/minutes-to-midnight/timeline.html]

Since political leaders were not even talking, the crucial times demanded extraordinary action from citizens. One method of trying to break through this wall of East-West division was a walk of some 7,000 miles from California to Moscow, Russia called A Walk of the People – A Pilgrimage for Life. The project was organized primarily by peace activist Dale James Outhouse and Pamela Blockey O'Brien, a long-time organizer of peace, human rights, and social justice projects and member of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. [http://www.ifor.org]

More details on the walk

On March 1, 1984, a handful of people started walking from Point Conception, California. The participants proceeded to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, then the Deep South, picking up people along the way. By the time the project reached Washington, D.C. in November 1984, the number of full-time walkers was up to 15. [“Walking toward Moscow.” The New York Times, Nov. 16, 1984; Joan Galler, “Marchers make area stop in cross country journey.” Woodbridge News Tribune, Dec. 12, 1984.] The walk continued to New York City, then to Europe, with a contingent eventually reaching Moscow in December 1985.

Participants met hundreds of people from all walks of life, government officials, and religious leaders, and collected letters, poems, drawings, and other messages of peace to distribute to people beyond the Berlin Wall. Besides that direct people-to-people action, members raised awareness through the media. The walk was covered by some 1,600 newspapers and 500 radio and television stations in the U.S. and Europe, from CNN to national television in France. [http://www.booklocker.com/books/959.html] Some participants continued to participate in similar breaking-down-the-walls projects, including the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament, a larger group that crossed the U.S. in 1986; and a walk that took place in India in 1987-88. By 1988, the “Doomsday Clock” was back up to six minutes and continued rising as East-West relations improved, although it has since gone back down to five minutes, as of 2007. [http://www.thebulletin.org/minutes-to-midnight/timeline.html]

Book on project

One participant, journalist Kevin J. Shay, wrote a book about the inside story of the project called Walking through the Wall. The book won a 2002 International PeaceWriting Award, sponsored by the Omni Center for Peace, Justice, & Ecology of Fayetteville, Arkansas, and the Peace and Justice Studies Association of Evergreen State College, Washington. [http://www.omnicenter.org/omniprojects/bib3.htm]

Other Cross-Country Peace Marches

Shay also participated in the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament, in which several hundred people hiked across the U.S. in 1986. He walked with the Great Peace March for its first week in California.

Peace Pilgrim, as Mildred Lisette Norman was known, walked across the United States, mostly on her own, from 1953 until 1981. Many of the participants of Walk of the People were inspired by her and met people who knew Peace Pilgrim.

A Walk to Moscow crossed the U.S. and Europe from 1981 to 1983. Walk of the People members met with Walk to Moscow peace walk members in Europe and even stayed at the same mill house in Regnitzlosau, Germany, while waiting for Eastern bloc visas.

More Sources

Collection of materials on Walk of the People project and some walks for similar causes donated to Swartmore College, Pa., by Kevin J. Shay. [http://tripod.brynmawr.edu/search?/dWalk+of+the+People+%3A+a+Pilgrimage+for+Life/dwalk+of+the+people+a+pilgrimage+for+life/-3%2C-1%2C0%2CB/frameset&FF=dwalk+of+the+people+a+pilgrimage+for+life&1%2C1%2C]

Roland Prinz, "U.S. Peace Activists Denied East German Visas." The Associated Press, Sept. 12, 1985.

United Press International, “Peace walk hits snag at E. Germany,” The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, July 14, 1985.

“Walking toward Moscow.” The New York Times, Nov. 16, 1984.

Joan Galler, “Marchers make area stop in cross country journey.” Woodbridge News Tribune, Dec. 12, 1984.

“Peace pilgrims on their way to Moscow.” Carlisle Evening News and Star, England, Feb. 21, 1985.

John Wheeler, “Round the world to Thornhill.” Dumfries and Galloway Standard and Advertiser, England, March 1, 1985.

Kath Gosling, “Walking 8,500 miles in quest of world peace.” Evening Sentinel, England, March 11, 1985.

Laura DeJardin, “Avec eux, nous avons parle de la paix mondiale en marchant.” Le Havre Libre, France, April 4, 1985.

C. Preteux, “Les marcheurs de la Paix: Motives et unis pour le desarmement.” Le Havre Press, France, April 4, 1985.

Bernadette Colson, “Les gens n’aiment pas les armes.” La Croix, Paris, France. April 17, 1985.

Oliver Fehn, “Ein pilgerzug furs leben.” Munchberg Lokalnachrichte, Germany, June 18, 1985.

Dennis Phillips, “Texan making peace walk to USSR.” The Dallas Morning News, May 27, 1985.

Kevin Davis, “Hikers for peace visit Dallas on way to Moscow.” The Dallas Morning News, June 7, 1984.

“They walked miles to promote peace.” The Times of India, New Delhi, Jan. 15, 1988.

Kevin J. Shay, “Walking for peace through the land of Gandhi.” Dallas Peace Times, March 1988.

Amber Amundson. Chicago Tribune, Sept. 25, 2001.

Kevin J. Shay, Walking Through the Wall. Booklocker, 2002. [http://www.booklocker.com/books/959.html]

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