A pilgrimage of peace from Palmyra to Pittsford

IMG_0811Yet another picturesque autumn day in Pittsford was punctuated by an unusual scene.

A group of marchers who at 8am had left Palmyra and 16 miles later were crossing the bridge over the Canal approaching Main Street.  The marchers are part of Undrone Upstate‘s 165 mile walk from the Hancock Air National Guard Base, a domestic Reaper hub, to the Niagara Falls Air National Guard Base. Undrone Upstate  is a pro-peace, anti-drone initiative to draw attention to increasing drone operations in the Central and Western New York region. upstatedroneaction.org,

Today’s destination was Nazareth College where the group participated in a panel discussion with Harry Murray, Professor of Sociology and coordinator of Peace and Justice Studies at Nazareth, Undrone Upstate  Walker, Russell Brown, and Nazareth Student and Community Organizer, Yaqub Shabazz.

Among the marchers was Korhan Sevenler who works at RIT after a long career at Xerox. This was Korhan’s first exposure to the group he had, by chance, seen earlier in the day.

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Karen, Korhan. Julienne, and Dan

Last week, Korhan, born in Turkey and now living for 37 years in the United States, was in Istanbul for his mother’s funeral.  This Saturday at a peace rally in Ankara, the largest in the history of Turkey, two bomb explosions killed by last count 97 people, many of whom were teenagers. When Korhan saw the marchers, he thought of the tragedy in Turkey, parked his car and joined the pilgrimage, proudly carrying the banner of peace and non-violence.

Bonnie Mahoney would not be able to attend the panel discussion. She had to leave for a hearing on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct outside the Hancock Guard Base. Bonnie rejects the charges; she was, as is her right, drawing attention to what she considers illegal activities taking place inside.

Nor was Bonnie’s protest a deliberate act of civil disobedience with imprisonment as a desirable or acceptable outcome.  Still, would she take a plea? No, she had decided she had come too far over the metaphorical bridge to Pittsford. If convicted, she would do her 15 days in jail.

As a Fellow at Nazareth’s Center for Public History, I am interested in how people make and imagine their own histories.  So, I asked Harry Murray two questions: What do you think historians will write of this walk? and Why do you walk?  Balancing two sides of nature, the darker and the hopeful, Harry responded:

Optimistically, I hope that within a few years, there will be an international treaty to ban the production, storage, deployment, and use of weaponized drones, similar to treaties already enacted for land mines, chemical weapons, and biological weapons. This will not happen solely because of this walk, but because the walk is part of a worldwide nonviolent effort to create a more peaceful globe, in which societies are more egalitarian and less determined to destroy the planet we inhabit.

More pessimistically, I would see within twenty years a world in which the United States is desperately trying to maintain world dominance on a planet which has been environmentally devastated. Weaponized drones will be employed by most nations, as well as many private groups and corporations. The United States will try to maintain its global dominance by deploying increasingly autonomous roboticized weapons in the air, on the land, and in the sea.   As Martin Luther King said, “The choice is no longer between nonviolence and violence. It is between nonviolence and nonexistence.” Historians twenty years from now will regret that, in 2015, our nation failed to make the choice for nonviolence.

I came to this movement out of my Christian faith, and particularly my experience in the Catholic Worker Movement. Working with homeless persons for over thirty years, and seeing how many of them are victims of the US war efforts, veterans who could no longer adapt to “normal society” after their experiences and who ended their lives on the streets, has made me passionately concerned about the relationship between militarism and poverty.

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myself and Harry Murray

I admire Korhan, Bonnie and Harry. Korhan for deciding today was his time to take a stand (literally) for peace; Bonnie for the courage of her convictions; and Harry for his humane vision of progress.

On Wednesday, the Walkers will cross the city to the Flying Squirrel Community Center on Clarissa Street where they will share their experiences prior to a presentation at 7pm, “Drones, Targeted Assassination, and the Pilot as Executioner” featuring the film “Good Kill.” Following the film there will be a discussion. They leave at 9am Thursday morning.

Consider what Korhan did and join the dialogue. On foot if possible.

see also The long vigil for peace on the corner of East and Goodman

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The Symposium Wednesday night at Nazareth