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Struggling to walk with peace

By David ScharfenbergDaily Planet staff
Wednesday March 20, 2002

It’s been a struggle, but they’re finding peace. 

On Jan. 21, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, five local women set out on an eight-month, cross-country peace walk that is scheduled to end in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 11, a year after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. 

The “Peace-by-Peace” walk, initiated by twin sisters Angela and Lisa Porter of Berkeley, is not a political journey, they say, but a journey of discovery focused on the question: “what is peace?” 

Two of the walkers, Angela Porter, who does specialized body work in Oakland at the Breema Center, and Emily Hooker, a former employee of Berkeley’s Pedal Express bike messenger service, have returned to Berkeley to organize a March 23 fund raiser and update celebration. 

Porter and Hooker will rejoin the group, currently in Arizona, after the event. 

The women have faced, and overcome, exhaustion, interpersonal conflict and the fading of their own idealistic visions of the walk, according to Porter and Hooker. 

“Rather than trying to fulfill an image of what the peace walk was,” said Porter, “we are learning to live in peace together.” 

The learning process took some time, she added. 

“The first two weeks were anything but peaceful,” said Porter. “They were chaotic.” 

Part of the problem was that, apart from the Porter twins, none of the women, including Hooker, Amanda Cohen, of the Ecology Center in Berkeley, and Jo Laurence, an HIV outreach specialist for UC San Francisco, knew each other before the walk. 

“When you don’t know people, there’s a lack of communication,” said Hooker, noting that a series of small conflicts and misunderstandings roiled the group for the first couple of weeks, as the walkers made their way south through San Jose and into the Central Valley. 

Shortly thereafter, near Bakersfield, the walkers had a pair of lengthy, painful meetings with Patrick MacRauri, a longtime friend of the Porters, who was driving the group’s support vehicle. 

“It wasn’t working,” said Hooker. “It felt like he was the one who needed support.” 

MacRauri left shortly thereafter, but the meetings proved a turning point for the walkers. 

“It was the first time, for me, that we connected as a group,” said Hooker. 

But, Porter and Hooker said they have also connected with strangers along the way. 

Hooker said that, to her surprise, small-town conservatives have welcomed the liberal walkers, four of whom are lesbians. 

“It made us really question a lot of our perceptions,” said Hooker. 

The walkers told the story of a bartender near Adelanto, along Highway 395 east of Los Angeles, who was rude to the group at first, but after talking with the women, opened up about his father and experience as a soldier in Vietnam. 

“When I left, he was crying and hugging me,” said Porter. “Before, there was this wall of distance and fear and judgment, and all of a sudden, it just opened.” 

The walkers said that other strangers, even those who support the military action in Afghanistan, have engaged the group in meaningful discussions about peace and thanked them for taking the walk. 

The group, which has met with everyone from school children to homeless people to discuss peace, will make its way across the South in the coming months, walking a portion of the Trail of Tears and visiting several historic civil rights sites. 

But before then, Porter will give a trip update and several local musicians and dancers will perform at a 7 p.m. to midnight fund raiser Saturday night at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, 1924 Cedar St. “Peace-by-Peace” is asking for a $15 contribution, or whatever attendees can afford. 

Performers will include soul singer Edna Love, jazz artist Denise Perrier, folk singer Pear Michaels and Afro-Cuban dancer Margarita.