Ashley Casale ’10‘s peace march is picking up the closer she gets to Washington:
Ashley Casale, 19, and Michael Israel, 18, began walking across the country in a journey they hoped would mobilize the nation and inspire thousands to join their 3,000-mile trek from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., to protest the war in Iraq. But for weeks they walked alone — crossing the Nevada desert, then climbing the Rocky Mountains and finally pushing on through the Great Plains.
As the days passed and the miles rolled by, more people began to gather by the road to see the two teenagers. About 100 people turned out to rally around them in Lincoln, Neb.; 200 people joined a peace demonstration in Omaha, and about 90 people gathered in Iowa City. As word spread, someone volunteered to drive a support car to carry the marchers’ gear. More people joined them for daylong walks.
Now the lonely peace marchers — once a movement of just two — include six people, all committed to walking the remaining 800 miles to Washington, where they plan to hold a rally Sept. 11.
“I do feel heartened,” said Casale, walking along a road lined with corn and soybean fields, alongside her small but growing band of marchers. “It’s energizing to have a lot of people — at least more than before. I think it’s building. I think people are paying attention.”
On Monday, Casale and Israel — looking lean and tanned from weeks on the road — walked into Normal among a group of nearly 20 supporters, many of whom drove from the Chicago area to march for the day. Two people carried huge rainbow flags that read “PEACE.” Another woman held a sign that read “War is not the answer.”
Julie Haverty, 68, and her husband, Jim, 69, of Frankfort, brought the marchers new shoes: a pair of size 9.5 Birkenstocks for Casale — who had worn large holes in her sandals — and a pair of size 9 New Balance sneakers for Israel.
Bernie Kopera, 62, of Orland Park postponed a vacation so he could meet the marchers in Bloomington. “Meeting the kids was a priority,” he said. “I don’t want them to lose their hope and idealism.”
On Monday night, the marchers reached the campus of Illinois State University, where a crowd waited to meet them. A whoop went up as the marchers walked onto a concrete patio area. Cameras clicked, and a radio reporter held up a microphone for an interview. Nearly three dozen people held signs that read “Bring the troops home.”
The marchers still have a month and many miles to go, but some in the crowd felt optimistic.
Tom Swanborn, 41, came the night before with his wife, Erin, 35, and their 4-year old daughter. He bought the marchers a pizza and paid for a hotel room for them. That gave the marchers — who have been mostly camping — a rare opportunity to shower, do laundry and enjoy some air conditioning. The Swanborn family had been following the progress of the marchers on the Internet and had worried about them out on the road.
“When I met them in person, they were hot and sweaty but super-optimistic,” Tom Swanborn said. “I just thought, ‘They’re going to make it.'” He paused for a moment, then added: “I hope I’m right.”
Check out the video of Casale and Israel here.