It was three days after the Sept. 11 attacks, and Angela Porter, a Berkeley grantwriter, was on her way to a candlelight vigil in Petaluma.
“I was very upset and angry, like a lot of people were, and I felt a very strong need to do something,” said Porter. “I was in the car ... and something inside me said: ‘Walk across the country for peace.’”
Porter quickly pushed the notion to the back of her mind. But the next morning, something remarkable happened. Lisa Porter, Angela’s twin sister, called to announce that she and her partner, Roya Arasteh, were contemplating the same idea.
Today, Arasteh and the Porter twins, all Berkeley residents, are gearing up for an eight-month cross-country walk, called “Peace-by-Peace,” which will begin Jan. 21, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, at Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Center Park, and end on Sept. 11, 2002 at Lafayette Park in Washington D.C.
Two other women have signed up for the walk, and Padraig MacRauiri, a friend in San Francisco, will drive a support vehicle and prepare meals for the first half of the journey.
The organizers, who are not affiliated with any group, say the walk will make a statement about the importance of peace. They emphasize that the true focus of the journey is discovery.
“It’s not a statement, but a question – what is peace?” said Lisa, a counselor at Rock LaFleche Community Day Center, a continuation high school in North Oakland. “What does it mean to walk in peace and stay in peace, even when you enter strange places?”
“Our hope for the walk is that it inspires people to examine their lives,” added Angela, “as it has called on us to examine our own lives.”
The organizers have already raised $1,000 for their trip and hope to raise $10,000 by the time they leave. They will attempt to raise another $10,000 on the road.
Peace-by-Peace organizers will hold a fund-raiser and send-off party Jan. 5 at the Black Box Theatre in Oakland, 1928 Telegraph Ave., from 5 p.m. to midnight. The event will include music and poetry by a number of local artists.
Local residents and peace groups, such as the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in Berkeley and the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization whose western regional headquarters is in San Francisco, have offered various forms of assistance – everything from help with media outreach, to advice on the type of rain gear to carry on the trip.
But the organizers said they have purposely avoided becoming affiliated with any particular group.
“Organizations tend to have certain agendas and expectations,” said Angela Porter, “and we didn’t want the purpose or intention of this walk to get caught up in an organization’s agenda.”
“This is just a group of people,” added Lisa Porter, “individuals responding to something, rather than agencies.”
Arasteh, who works at the Berkeley Public Library, said the walkers have not yet ironed out many of the trip’s details, especially for the latter half of the journey. But, she said the unplanned nature of the walk is one reason for its appeal.
“There’s only so much organizing that we can do,” said Arasteh. “One purpose is to walk out into the openness and see what we can discover.”
Arasteh said she was particularly interested to learn how polling figures, demonstrating widespread support for the war in Afghanistan, match up with the thoughts of real people, across the country.
Walkers will begin by moving through the Central Valley, down to Joshua Tree National Park in southeast California and into Arizona. Peace-by-Peace will then walk through the South, visiting historic sites along the way, such as the Memphis, Tennessee site of the Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.
Along the way, walkers plan to meet with various local peace groups, and attend special events, such as a peace fair that friends are planning in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Jan. 5 fundraiser at the Black Box Theatre will include performances by: Youth Speaks, a Bay Area poetry group, Water Brother, a Petaluma band, Pear Michaels, a Concord singer-songwriter, Obey Jah, a Bay Area reggae group, R. Nat. Turner and Upsurge, a Berkeley jazz poetry group, Green, a San Francisco rock group, Mary Web, a Berkeley poet, and Vukani Mawethu Choir, a Berkeley-based group that sings songs from South Africa.
Peace-by-Peace can be reached at 644-9260.