BANGOR, Maine — The Maine Veterans for Peace Walk came through Bangor on Friday as part of a 10-day trek across the state to raise awareness about the costs of war.
A Buddhist monk, the Rev. Gyoway Kato of the Nipponzan Myohoji order, is leading the walk along with Maine Veterans for Peace. The walk began Tuesday in Farmington and will end Nov. 11 in Portland, where participants hope to take part in the Veterans Day parade. So far they have walked 40 miles.
The group’s stop in Paul Bunyan Park was its third of the 10-stop peace walk. As the walkers gathered in the park gazebo, many held signs with messages such as “Make jobs, not war” and “Bring our war dollars home.” From the park, they walked to the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine on Park Street and gave a presentation at St. John’s Episcopal Church on French Street.
“War is linked to our failing economy,” said Dud Hendrick, president of Maine Veterans for Peace Chapter 001. “Money is needed so desperately, and it’s being spent on faraway places and not at home.”
According to the Maine Veterans for Peace website, the walk was organized to promote social progress, raise awareness about the impact the war in Afghanistan is having on the environment, and its cost to returning veterans, whose rates of suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder are high. The group maintains that the war is costly, at more than $8 billion a month, and needs to end.
Participants walk an average of 16 miles a day, but because of the great distances between towns and cities they are visiting, they take shuttles to make up the difference. About 20 people made the trip Friday from Waterville to Bangor, but ended up walking only eight miles because of the rain.
There is a core group of 20 who plan to walk every day, but the public is invited to join the walk at any time, Hendrick said.
“So far, people have been very supportive. There’s been lots of honking of horns in support, and thumbs up,” he said.
Each evening the participants stay with a host in the towns they walk through and hold a public discussion.
“They’re very helpful to connect with people and put the conversation out,” Tim Bullock of New England Peace Pagoda, a spiritual group, said of the nightly presentations. “We discuss spending tax dollars, what the war is doing to us and taking from us. As we spend more and more on war, we’re unable to keep police departments fully staffed, teachers employed and schools open.”
Bullock said he got involved in this week’s event in Maine through Peace Pagoda, which held a walk last year to the United Nations in New York City. Members of Maine Veterans for Peace took part in that walk, so to repay the favor, Peace Pagoda members participated in the walk through Maine, Bullock said.
“I’m very honored to walk with Veterans for Peace,” the Rev. Gyoway Kato said.
The group will continue its walk in Belfast today. From there, participants will head to Rockland on Sunday, Bath on Monday, Freeport on Tuesday and Portland on Wednesday to take part in the parade on Thursday. By Thursday, the group expects to have walked a total of 126.8 miles.
Last year in the Portland Veterans Day parade, the Maine Veterans for Peace held a sign that stated, “Stop war in Afghanistan.” That resulted in their not being invited to participate this year, according to Alex Valente, a University of Maine at Farmington student and walk participant.
“We’re not doing this as a way of protest or disrespect,” she said. “We’re just doing it because they’re veterans and they should be able to march in the parade, too.”