Youth trek 3,000 miles for peace
Enduring blistering feet, summer heat and achy knees, carrying 40-pound packs and sleeping in tents, two teens are leading a group in a 3,000-mile “March for Peace” across the country to promote nonviolence and an end to the Iraq war.
Ashley Casale, 19, and Michael Israel, 18, began their quest for peace in San Francisco on May 21, crossing the Nevada desert, then climbing the Rocky Mountains and pushing through the Great Plains. They will finish their journey in Washington, D.C., where they will hold a peace rally on Sept. 11.
Casale, of Clinton Corners, N.Y., is a freshman at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. A frequent antiwar protester, she was moved to initiate a cross-country march to attract more attention to the failing foreign policies of the Bush administration. Casale sent out hundreds of fliers to other college campuses and contacted peace groups nationwide. She also established a web site, www.marchforpeace.info.
“Our message is about ending the war in Iraq, but it’s more than that,” Casale told The Associated Press. “It’s about cultivating peace in our daily lives and responding to things in a peaceful, nonviolent way.”
Israel, 18, of Jackson, Calif., just graduated high school. He learned about the antiwar walk from the web site and met Casale 10 minutes before the hike began.
“I was looking for something bigger to do than just a weekend rally,” Israel told AP. “I hope it inspires people to be more vocal and politically active and become more aware of what’s going on around them.”
As of Aug. 7, the march, once consisting of two, now includes six.
Several local peace groups, including some linked to Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, have supported the youth along the way by marching with them for part of the journey or by holding rallies to welcome them in their cities and towns. Others have brought them food and water, opened their homes to them or let them camp in their yards. One couple paid for a hotel for the trekkers so they could shower, do laundry and enjoy some air conditioning.
Casale told one reporter in New Windsor, Ill., “We hope that everyone we talk to, and every town we pass through, and every peace group we make contact with will be more vitalized and take more action.”
Justice for the ‘Jena Six’
About 300 people marched and gathered July 31 in Jena, La., to protest the conviction of an African American student and the indictment of five others in an attack on a white schoolmate.
Jena, a town of 3,000, is mostly white with about 350 Black residents.
The youth have become known as the “Jena Six,” after Justin Barker was beaten following months of simmering racial tensions that began with white students hanging nooses in a schoolyard tree. The nooses appeared after a Black student sat under the tree, traditionally used by white students as a gathering spot.
Last December, six Black students were accused of beating up Barker, 18, who is white. Barker was treated at a hospital and went to a school function the same night.
The six young Black men were initially charged with attempted second-degree murder in the attack on Barker.
An all-white jury found Mychal Bell, one of the six, a star football player who was being courted by UCLA and Louisiana State University, guilty. But prosecutors reduced the charges against Bell, and he was found guilty last month of aggravated second-degree battery and a conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery. He could get up to 22 years in prison. He remains in jail, unable to raise $90,000 bond.
Protesters presented a stack of more than 45,000 signatures asking Gov. Kathleen Blanco to intervene in the case, accusing District Attorney Reed Walters of not pursuing the case impartially.
The case is drawing national attention from Black leaders, including Martin Luther King III and the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
“You cannot have two levels of justice,” Sharpton told the press. “Some boys assault people and are charged with nothing. Some boys hang nooses and finish the school year. And some boys are charged with attempted murder.”
The tree has since been cut down.
Complied by Pepe Lozano (plozano @pww.org).