NORWAY — Hoping their long trek will help raise support and awareness for nuclear disarmament, a group of peace activists made their way from Bethel to Norway on Wednesday.
The walk, which is put on by the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist order of Leverett, Mass., aims to arrive in New York City on the eve of a United Nations session on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Its next stop will be the Trinity Episcopal Church in Lewiston, where a supper and program will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday.
“This walk is about how to get people in New England to join us in the march for nuclear disarmament,” said Tim Bullock, coordinator of the walk and a member of the Nipponzan Myohoji order.
Sister Claire Carter, a Buddhist nun with the order since 1981, said the order was founded in 1917 by Japanese monk Nichidatsu Fujii. While it has always had a strong focus on peace, it began to target nuclear weapons after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The “Walk For a Nuclear-Free Future” aims to promote the goal of ridding the world of such armaments.
“Nuclear weapons are so horrific that it's unimaginable by anyone to use one, yet there are over 23,000 in existence,” Carter said.
She said organizers hope to inspire some residents in the communities the walk passes through to make the trip to New York City, where an international conference on nuclear disarmament will begin April 30. Three days later, the United Nations is scheduled to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
First established in 1970, the goal of the agreement is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the world. It has been signed by about 190 nations, including the United States and four other nuclear powers. The United Nations has held a review conference of the treaty every five years.
Carter said the Nipponzan Myohoji also hopes to eliminate the use of nuclear technology as well as stockpiles of nuclear weapons. She said nuclear technology presents several problems, such as the disposal of radioactive waste and the use of depleted uranium in conventional weapons.
“We believe the whole nuclear cycle should be put to rest, because there's just too much danger in it,” she said.
The walkers have made significant progress in their six days on the road, assisted in some places by vehicle shuttles. The walk began in Burlington, Vt., and progressed across that state and New Hampshire before entering Maine. Along the way, participants have met U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Danish Ambassador Friis Arne Petersen, and three Burmese monks living in exile.
Wednesday saw a late-season snowfall, but marchers did not find the weather an issue. Bullock said the snow proved more agreeable than Tuesday's rain, and spirits were further buoyed by scenic views along the way.
“Actually, it was quite pleasant,” he said. “We felt yesterday it was rougher.”
Some of the participants are no strangers to long walks. Carter took part in a trek retracing a portion of the transatlantic slave trade that included the United States, the Caribbean, and western Africa. It lasted more than a year.
Maggie Finch, an 86-year-old Bath resident, said she thought that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki may have convinced the world to move in the direction of peace, but that they seemed to have the opposite effect. She said she took part in a peace march aiming to make it across the country in 1986, but she and most of the other activists had to drop out after some key sponsors pulled out. She intends to stay with the march throughout the Maine stops.
“I always had the feeling of unfinished business, and I think that's probably why I'm here now,” Finch said.
The route is one of three walks initiated by the Nipponzan Myohoji order that will converge on New York City. Another walk began in Steamburg, N.Y., with the route passing a nuclear waste disposal site in Springville, a nuclear power plant in Highland Falls, and several Indian nations. The third march began at Oak Ridge, Tenn., where a research laboratory was instrumental in the creation of an atomic bomb during World War II. Bullock said a fourth walk, organized by the Washington Peace Center, will also go to New York City from the nation's capital.
The Bethel-to-Norway leg of the journey was capped by a supper and service at the First Universalist Church of Norway. Along with chants and music, participants discussed the walk and other efforts they are involved in. Bruce Gagnon, a coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, said federal money spent on the military could be put to better use addressing domestic needs.
“Unless we deal with military spending in America, there will be no recovery in America,” he said.