the global walk for a livable world

The Global Walk for a Livable World was a cross-country walk for the environment that I helped organize in 1989-90. Its purpose was to educate the public about the environmental crisis and ways that people could make a difference. Roughly one hundred people walked from Los Angeles to New York over a period of nine months, walking fifteen miles per day. The Global Walk was nearly thirty years ago, but looking back, I can see how it has had a significant impact on my life even today.

The size of the walk varied from about 130 people when we started in Los Angeles, down to about half that size in the desert southwest, and then growing gradually again until we were about one hundred people on the East Coast. There was also a global aspect to the walk, in that a small handful of walkers continued their trek through England, Europe, across parts of Asia and finally concluding in Japan.

During finals week of my senior year in college, I was hired by the organization to establish contacts with activists in different cities along the Walk route. I lived out of a van for two months in the summer of 1989 as our team established contacts and scouted our walking route. Once the walk began in February 1990, I went on frequent advance teams to different cities to set up speaking engagements, publicity, and other logistics. Our focus was on promoting environmentally sustainable lifestyles, but we also tried to use the publicity from our arrival to highlight local environmental issues in the areas we went through.

What we set up was a large, mobile intentional community. We slept in tents almost every night during the nine-month walk, though churches, community centers, and other organizations occasionally housed us. We had a number of support vehicles, including a couple of office buses, a porta-potty bus, a gear bus, a kitchen trailer, two water trailers, and a refrigeration truck. One of the offices had solar panels on it and the refrigeration truck got some of its power from a little wind generator that would fold down when the truck was moving.

We were divided into seven work teams, one for each day of the week, and if it was your team’s turn that day, you would forego walking that day and instead break down and pack up the camp, clean up the campsite, move to the next site, set up camp, cook lunch, deliver it to the hungry walkers at lunchtime, and cook dinner.

We had two different sets of advance teams. I organized the outreach advance teams that would work with the contacts I’d established to set up educational events, speaking engagements, and publicity. Another team was responsible for scouting and securing suitable campsites for our group. To this day, I am absolutely amazed at how they were able to pull off securing a campsite for one hundred people roughly every fifteen miles across an entire continent—they usually had to get permission from the landowners, and our walk frequently took us through the reddest areas of the red states.

A typical day looked like this: We would be awakened by someone singing and/or playing music. We had some beautiful singing voices in our camp and it was wonderful to lie awake in one’s tent and just listen to them. Finally, we’d drag ourselves out of our sleeping bags, get dressed, eat breakfast, load up the gear bus and then be on our merry way. Yellow-robed Japanese Buddhist monks from the Nipponzan Myohoji organization led our procession, beating a prayer drum and chant a prayer for peace. We would have a rest stop roughly every three or four miles, and we had a minibus that we called the “Blister Bus,” which, in addition to delivering snacks and water for us, also provided first aid, and, if need be, a ride for any walker who might not feel well that day. We’d stop for lunch at mid-day and continue the walk until mid- or late afternoon. Dinner was served later, and then a conch shell would announce the beginning of our evening meeting. Then we would wind down for evening.

The experience left an indelible mark with me. We spent most of nine months living in a world without walls. We walked through some incredibly beautiful landscapes, from the desert Southwest to the Midwestern farmlands and prairie, through the Appalachian mountains and the beautiful autumnal colors while going up the East Coast. I could not help but develop an appreciation for nature and the fragile eco-systems we are a part of. I could not help but realize that I was walking across the canvas of an incredible painting that could have only been the work of the creative hand of God.

We also spent that time living in community. Not only had the physical walls disappeared but so had a lot of the walls that separate most people in modern America from each other. We had to depend on each other to complete our mission, and we also developed some wonderful friendships along the way. It is hard to describe community life on the Global Walk except to say that even with people on the walk that I barely knew and didn’t really hang out with, there was still a strong connection between us.

I returned to Chicago at the end of 1990, but twelve years later, I would leave a large number of my possessions in a Chicago alley en route to simplifying my life and moving into a co-op house in Madison, Wisconsin…

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