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Rebuilding Iraq

With each step, activists against war call for peace

By Emily Shartin, Globe Staff Correspondent, 3/20/2003

    Rebuilding Iraq


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Sidestepping rocks, puddles and shrinking snow along the commercial strip of Route 3A just south of the Fore River Bridge, a troop of activists walked single file last week, tapping prayer drums and chanting a message of peace that carried them across the state.

At the core of the 10-member group were three monks and a nun from the Peace Pagoda in Leverett, home to a Buddhist order that promotes world peace. Wearing winter coats over their yellow robes, the monks were finishing the fourth week of their "Wake Up Peace!" event, a five-week walk across Massachusetts scheduled to culminate at the State House tomorrow, the first day of spring.

The estimated 600-mile walk is meant to protest US military action in Iraq, and locally has taken the monks and several followers from Quincy to Plymouth, and through towns such as Bridgewater and Foxborough. The event was timed to coincide with the start of spring, a symbolic time of renewal.

"With the season, we hope to bring more light to the dark situation," said 62-year-old Brother Kato Gyoweigh, who came to the United States from Japan 27 years ago. "Wake Up Peace!" mirrors a similar walk organized by the Peace Pagoda last year following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Along Route 3A through Weymouth and Hingham last Friday, unplowed sidewalks and chilly temperatures weren't all the walkers had to endure. As the group walked south toward oncoming traffic, several drivers reacted angrily before speeding off -- some made gestures and honked horns, others shouted insults and obscenities.

While America hovered on the brink of war with Iraq, the walkers down-played the chilly reaction, noting that several passing motorists waved or offered thumbs-up. The walkers remained optimistic that their message of nonviolence would prevail.

"We're showing a different course," said Hattie Nestel, 64, who had walked with the group for seven days.

Kato said the group welcomed opposing points of view about war. "We'd like to hear whatever they're thinking," he said. "From there, we can really talk and exchange dialogue."

The walkers began last Friday in North Quincy and walked to the Old Ship Church in Hingham where they were welcomed by members of the South Shore Peace Forum, which holds a weekly peace vigil in front of the Hingham post office. Donna Ekstrand, 62, who participates in the peace forum and joined the walk last week in Quincy, said her goal was to show that although many people support war, there are those who support peace.

"It's. . . standing up for what I think is right," Ekstrand said

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