NORWAY — They don their walking shoes and continue walking with a purpose – to Stop the War$ on Mother Earth – and, more specifically, environmental issues affecting Maine and its inhabitants.
Roughly 20 participants in the fifth annual Maine Peace Walk make a noisy, yet peaceful entrance as they walk along Main Street in downtown Norway late afternoon Monday, Oct. 17. They bang on Japanese fan drums, chant, fly flags and carry signs as they spread their message of peace throughout the state. Their destination is the First Universalist Church of Norway, where church members welcome them with a potluck supper and a place to rest for the night.
The walk began on Oct. 11 at Indian Island to honor the Penobscot Nation’s “struggles for clean water,” according to Jason Rawn, who hails from the Lincolnville area. Outside the church he’s taken off his pair of Asics to give his feet a breather. They have a fresh hole in the side from the day’s journey, as they traveled from Augusta to Norway with 13.6 walking miles.
“These have over 1,000 miles for peace walks,” he says as he holds up his sneakers and smiles.
Rawn is with his new friend, 10-year-old Bailey Kawasaki, who lives in Washington state.
“We walked with the monks,” Bailey says as he sits among the plants in front of the church with Rawn. He’s referring to Buddhist monks and nuns from the Nipponzan Myohoji order. “We carried some banners. They’re long.”
Parked outside the white church is the red van with a silver dolphin mounted to the roof and a mural painted by walker and artist Russell Wray. The mural is new this year and depicts men and women, young and old, holding hands around a tree, with the canopy expanding to the edge of the canvas.
“We have the van for old people if they’re feet are hurting or they get tired,” Bailey says matter of factly.
Each year a different route across the Pine Tree State is chosen “based on different kinds of struggles,” Rawn says. The 2016 walk so far has brought the activists to Dexter to meet with Grandmothers Against the East/West Corridor in Dexter and a vigil outside of the Poland Springs bottling plant in Poland.
“We’re walking in solidarity with everyone who is concerned about our planet, about our Earth and all the destructive forces, including the military and the corporate, and concerns that aren’t protecting the environment,” says Katie Greenman of Orland, who’s sitting with a group of walkers behind the church in the parking lot as they take a load off.
Most of the walkers are from Maine, but there are others from New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Jules Orkin lives in New Jersey and says he’s not much of a talker, but he can carry the Veterans for Peace flag and has done so all across the United States, Europe and Japan.
“We’re an eclectic group,” smiles Ian Collins of Liberty.
Jun Yasuda is a Buddhist nun who’s walked across the U.S. at least eight times. She says Maine is a beautiful place. She gives a clever answer when asked why she walks.
“Why we have foot? Why not use it?” Yasuda says, adding the act of walking “is more prayer to me than just hiking.” “Human mission is taking care of this Earth. [It’s a] very important message for us. Our life comes from Earth.”
Bruce Gagnon, an walk organizer from Bath, says from inside the church the first Maine Peace Walk brought participants to Norway, where they were greeted with hospitality, which made a lasting impression on him.
“Norway was so welcoming that’s why we did some shuttling out here from Augusta just to get here,” Greenman confirms. “I think this church does a lot of social justice work.”
Gagnon says there’s another reason for the walk to travel to Norway. One of the goals this year is to bring the peace movement to rural communities – including Old Towne, Pittsfield and Unity – as most peace groups are centered in bigger metropolitan areas. As they travel across the rural parts of the state, they’ve seen plenty of Trump signs.
“The last three miles coming into town was a gridlock,” Gagnon says, adding they hand out plenty of fliers, receive donations and experience honking, waving and people flashing them peace signs. “It was exhilarating. This is supposed to be conservative Maine. … You can’t pigeon hole people. People are more multidimensional than what our political choices allow.”
Before the pot luck supper commences, members of the Maine Peace Walk and First Universalist Church gather in a circle and hold hands. The Rev. Fayre C. Stephenson addresses the group in front of her before leading them in prayer.
“We Unitarian Universalists join you in your concern about the many different wars being waged on Mother Earth, ranging from over-fishing, deforestation and human-caused extinctions to climate disruption and endless war,” she says.
“Tonight’s gathering is proof that we are not alone when we affirm and promote a world community of peace, justice and sustainable living. And so, I say thank you for journeying to us.”
At 22, Kevin Brooks of Old Towne is fresh out of college and one of the youngest walkers there. He’s trying to figure out what he’s doing with his life and in doing so, has created friendships.
“I’ve made a friend on this walk. I’ve made many more who are here tonight,” he says, as he motions to the group around him.
All the food has been donated to the walkers, as are sleeping spaces in churches, schools and in people’s homes.
“I’ve been eating better on this walk than I do at home,” Brooks laughs.
“We couldn’t do any of this without the support of the communities along the way,” Greenman adds.
And Gagnon wants to extend his thanks to everyone who’s helped them along the way.
“I can’t tell ya how good it feels when you’ve got tired feet, you haven’t been sleeping well, you haven’t had a shower in a couple of days and people are so welcoming. Really it is very, very moving and we say, ‘Thank you,’” Gagnon says.
Then it’s time to dig into the homemade grub since the walkers need their sustenance as their journey takes them to Lewiston on Tuesday, Oct. 18.
5th Maine Peace Walk itinerary
Day 1: Tuesday, Oct. 11, Penobscot Nation on Indian Island
Day 2: Wednesday, Oct. 12, Indian Island to Dexter
Day 3: Thursday, Oct. 13, Dexter to Pittsfield
Day 4: Friday, Oct. 14, Pittsfield to Unity
Day 5: Saturday, Oct. 15, Unity to Waterville
Day 6: Sunday, Oct. 16, Waterville to Augusta
Day 7: Monday, Oct. 17, Augusta to Norway
Day 8: Tuesday, Oct. 18, Norway to Lewiston
Day 9: Wednesday, Oct. 19, Lewiston to Brunswick
Day 10: Thursday, Oct. 20, day off in Brunswick
Day 11: Friday, Oct. 21, Brunswick to Freeport
Day 12: Saturday, Oct. 22, Freeport to Portland
Day 13: Sunday, Oct. 23, Portland to Saco
Day 14: Monday, Oct 24, Saco to Kennebunk
Day 15: Tuesday, Oct. 25, Kennebunk to York Beach
Day 16: Wednesday, Oct. 26, York to Kittery Naval Shipyard
3 p.m. village gate protest vigil
For more information, visit http://vfpmaine.org/.