Ashley Casale ’10 has been marching across the country (literally) to protest the Iraq War:
The idea for the march came to Casale last autumn. A freshman at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., she had attended war protests but thought that a cross-country march could attract more attention. She established a Web site, www.marchforpeace.info, sent out hundreds of fliers to other college campuses and contacted peace groups around the country. Israel, about to graduate a home-school high school program in Jackson, Calif., spotted a notice online. Though dozens of people showed interest, in the end, only Israel and another woman agreed to walk.
They set off from San Francisco on May 21, carrying 40-pound packs. By the end of the first week, the third marcher dropped out. Another activist told them they would never make it to Washington by their target date, Sept. 11. But they pressed on, crossing into Nevada and making their way across the desert in two weeks. Then on to Utah and Colorado.
Their determination has endeared them to many. After seeing the holes in Casale’s shoes, a man in Sacramento bought her a new pair of sandals. An elderly man in Colorado drove their packs ahead for two days and called his friends who lived along the route to arrange for shelter.
“I read about them in the paper yesterday and thought, ‘Oh my God, we have to help them,'” said Bobbi Benson, 48, of Boulder, who helped drive the packs forward through Colorado. “They just have such courage.”
‘This is the whole point’
On July 4, Casale and Israel walked the 20 miles from Loveland to Greeley, two towns in a solidly Republican corner of Colorado. As they trudged along the roadside, the Rocky Mountains dominated the horizon behind them. And before them, fields of wheat and corn stretched for miles.
“People who see us today might see us as un-American or unpatriotic,” said Casale, about to dart across an expressway ramp. “But I think this is the whole point of this country and July 4: People taking an active role, and speaking out.”
They walked for hours under the hot sun. When they finally made it to Greeley, someone yelled an obscenity out a car window. A few minutes later, a man in a Cadillac waved dismissively at them. But others honked support, signaling with a thumbs up or a peace sign.
And when they ducked inside a restaurant, one customer, Carla DeVries, 51, cheered them on. With perfectly coiffed blond hair and wearing a bright pink sweater, DeVries said she is a Republican and supports the war but said, “It’s refreshing to see anyone do anything that takes adversity.” She smiled at Casale and said: “You stick to your guns.”
Twelve hours after they began walking, the sun going down on Greeley and the rat-a-tat-tat of celebratory firecrackers echoing in the distance, the two marchers arrived at a beige split-level house, where someone had offered them a place to sleep. A gray-haired woman rushed to the screen door. “Welcome! Welcome!” called Jean Taylor-Smith, 74, embracing them on the doorstep. “We didn’t think you’d ever make it!”
Nearly halfway to goal
The two marchers were exhausted, but they also were nearly halfway to Washington. On Sunday they were near Gothenburg, Neb. A peace group has arranged a rally in Omaha, where they hope to draw large crowds.
“If I could have it my way, I would have hundreds of people out here. The more people the better. But I still don’t believe it’s insignificant that two people are marching,” said Casale, sitting on a couch drinking a tall glass of ice water, her list of contacts spread on her lap. “What we’re doing can be significant on a national level. But it’s also the individuals we meet. Everywhere we go, there’s someone we can meet and talk to.”
Taylor-Smith, standing in the kitchen, beamed with pride.
“One person can change the world,” she said, rushing to fill everyone’s water glasses, asking what the marchers wanted to eat. “These two will plant the seeds, and the movement will grow.”