FARMINGTON – Led by a Buddhist monk beating a drum, the group of a dozen or more were greeted by the honking horns of passing motorists as they crossed Center Bridge on Tuesday morning.
Acknowledgement from the walkers carrying signs that said, “Bring our war $$ home,” and “Fix broken Maine-no more war $” came with a wave as they continued along busy Wilton Road on their way south to eventually arrive in North Berwick.
This is the fourth year the Veterans For Peace members have organized a peace walk through Maine as a way to highlight the idea that an enormous amount of money is spent on military defense in the U.S., while basic infrastructure needs such as schools, roads, bridges and buildings, along with social services that help people continue to be under-funded. The group, which will grow in numbers to as many as 100 as it nears Portland, will walk between 15 and 30 miles a day.
The war-based economy creates fewer jobs than infrastructure fixes and largely “benefits weapons companies and we don’t see an end to it,” said Bruce Gagnon of Bath, a member of Veterans For Peace who has organized the annual Maine Walk for Peace and a Sustainable Future each year.
Using different routes through the state each time, Gagnon said this year’s goal of the walk is to connect various communities that have become reliant on military production for jobs.
The group began their trek by gathering in Bath, where Bath Iron Works builds U.S. Navy destroyers. About 15 people, led by Rev. Senji Kanaeda of the Nipponzan Myohoji Temple Buddhist Order in Seattle, then traveled to Rangeley on Saturday where they were invited to a community supper with 150 people attending at the Rangeley UCC Church.
“There was a good discussion and singing. Senji sings beautiful spirituals,” Gagnon said and added, “The reception was very good.” The walkers spent the night at the church, as they often do as they reach other towns on their way south.
Rangeley was chosen as a stop as part of the estimated 165-mile walk, after it was announced this summer that it was one of four sites under consideration for construction of a $4 billion missile defense interceptor base. Also on the route is Saco, where General Dynamics Ordnance & Tactical Systems was awarded a multimillion dollar contract to build gun barrel kits for the Army. The end point in North Berwick scheduled for Oct. 20, is home to Pratt Whitney, which has a $2 billion contract to build F-35 strike fighter engines, According to the group’s website. Those military contracts taken together make up almost 10 percent of Maine’s gross domestic product.
Sunday night, the group stayed at the Phillips Area Community Center. A community supper and program was held that included music, with several local residents attending to participate in the discussion. Last night, a potluck supper was held at the Old South Church in Farmington and then the walkers stayed at area homes for the night.
Doug Rawlings of Chesterville, a founding member of Veterans For Peace, which now has chapters in every state and a few countries, said they hand out flyers to those along the route who ask why they’re walking.
“Many are curious and ask, ‘what is this,'” Rawlings said, especially when a yellow-robed monk beating a drum is leading the way. “For the most part, we’ve received very positive responses.”
At about 8:30 a.m. the group representing a range of ages was joined by four University of Maine at Farmington students who are members of the Amnesty Club on campus. Signs were passed out and in single file they headed across Main Street and south towards tonight’s goal of Livermore Falls.