Note: Charles Carney gave this talk Sept. 17 to supporters of his Wichita-to-KC Bob Lavelle Memorial Peace Walk.
Let’s get some “most frequently asked questions” about the walk out of the way.
1) Q: Did you get blisters?
A: On my feet, no. On my ego, YES!
2) Did you wear out a pair of shoes?
A: Yes. But while my soles may be messed up, my soul is feeling better!
3) Q: Charles, I don’t understand why you had to walk all those miles (253 miles). Couldn’t you have just stood on a busy street corner in KC with a sign and reached just as many people?
A: Yes, true, but there is something about touching the ground … grassroots connection, if you will … that has meaning. Somewhere while on the Flint Hills Nature Trail, I realized how deeply our radical interconnectedness with plants, trees, animals, thousands of varieties of bugs, with deer and wolves, and with other humans, renders any act of violence toward each other or the Earth utterly ludicrous. It is amazing how all of this biodiversity works together to create an incredible whole. And when one of these amazing organisms goes extinct, we lose something entirely precious.
Also, I chose to do this walk because I knew it would be hard. Sometimes we do hard things to show others how much this value means to us. The stakes are high. Our lives and life on the planet are in peril. Our children are worth being uncomfortable for.
4) Q: Honestly, Charles, how did an old guy like you walk all those miles?
A: Somewhere early in the walk, people started calling this “Charles’ long Peace Walk.” I never wanted it to be called this. After all, there’s no “I” in activism. What? Oh yeah, there’s two. Anyway, there’s no “I” in team. Sometimes it was a little tempting for this to become an exercise in ego fulfillment. Thankfully, my spouse Donna quickly reminded me when I got into that. But on my better days, I realized just how utterly dependent on community this walk was. Ultimately, we will not reach a nuclear-free world alone, we will do it as an ever-expanding community of love. And my God, I cannot say enough about how my co-walkers and support drivers raised consciousness and helped the walk keep going. Ann Suellentrop, Ron Faust, Jane and Henry Stoever, Barbara Martin, Jessie Schiele and Jordan Schiele, Bennette Dibben, Lucy Lavelle, Pat and Geneva Cameron Hershberger from the Peace Center in Wichita, Pastor Sonja Griffith from McPherson, Kimberly Hunter and Terry Rouse, Tom Scott, Patty Wernel, Toni Faust, and Jonne Long, and of course, my spouse, Donna Constantineau, all served as angels to pick this walk up and keep it going!!
About halfway through the walk, while contemplating on my incredible late brother-in-law, who died this April, and who spent countless volunteer hours building green-friendly trails just like the Flint Hills Nature Trail, I decided to rename this the Wichita-to-Kansas City Bob Lavelle Memorial Peace Walk.
So, whenever I started to get “driven by ego,” I would just take a step back and let myself just get “driven by Ron Faust” or one of the other support drivers, instead.
5) Q: Were you ever hassled by the police?
A: Not really. I tried to be ever conscious of how my “straight white male of privilege” status so often gave me a pass. I seriously doubt that a young black man walking say, on Highway 56 in Marion County, would have fared as well as I.
6) Q: Were people ever rude or disparaging to you?
A: Oh yes, I got the usual drive-by taunts of “get a life” and “get a job.”
So here’s my responses. “Get a life.” I already have a life. I want to keep my life, and the lives of all human beings. “Get a job!” Well, I wish I had a short pithy response to this one. But the best I can come up with is: “The Protestant work ethic is rendering us myopic.” Try using that as a retort to a haranguing passerby. They will be half a mile down the road before you can spit it out. But in other words, I am so done with the meaningless “business as usual—making-of-widgets-for-comfort business—only to line our own pockets!” gig. Worse yet, I am profoundly disturbed over the “manufacture of death with poisonous materials (that also kills the workers) business.” Nah, sorry, my only job now in this world is to understand the amazing (some would say mystical) interconnection I have with all life. That’s all that matters.
7) Q: What was the most interesting conversation you had on your entire journey?
(Talk about the guy who asked, “what if China has them and we don’t?”) There is no evidence that nuclear weapons serve as a deterrent. In fact, the more entities that possess them, the greater chances for global catastrophe. Many people don’t know this but Peace Works has a policy. It is a last-resort policy. It is in case someone decides to use nuclear weapons on us, it makes not a whit of difference if we have them or not. At that point, we can only pull out the “boakyag” policy. BEND OVER AND KISS YOUR ASS GOODBYE!
8) Q: What was the most interesting sign you saw?
A: Along the Flint Hills Nature Trail, many farmers and ranchers had put up, “No trespassing, private property.” This led me to do some deep thinking. Whose land is this really? Who are the trespassers? I believe the Kaan’ze people, whose land was stolen from them, might have a different answer to this question, had they ever been asked this question.
So now, I have a question for you all. In the end, will we let the quest for short-term profits and the bottom line outweigh or love for life and each other? NO!
Will we let greed destroy our children’s future? NO! Will we let the ignorant “fear of other,” xenophobia and racism carry the military industrial complex to even greater spending? NO!
Well, it’s not rocket science! … Wait a minute. Well … er … a … maybe the building of ICBMs IS rocket science. But the answer to the question is it is not rocket science. We will not go quietly into the deep dark destruction of nuclear madness!
So here we are. I started this walk on Aug. 10: 253 miles; 445, 280 steps; 38 days; all manners of trees, plants, bugs, a lone wolf, a baby doe, a bald eagle, and three wild turkeys later, here we stand. (By the way, that’s the wild turkey bird, not the drink. But at some points, I could have used a drink of Wild Turkey.) Hopefully, we are all the better for it.
We can never underestimate the effect of the ripples in the pond that we make. We have trespassed on our own comfort … and perhaps inadvertently we have trespassed (in a nonviolent way) on the comfort of others. Perhaps as Dorothy Day would say, we have comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable.
And I’m going to end this talk with one final question. It’s a question I haven’t asked for over 36 days. Uh … can somebody give me a ride home?
—Charles Carney, a member of the PeaceWorks-KC Board of Directors, is a social worker, a cofounder (with his wife, Donna Constantineau) of the St. Lawrence Catholic Worker House (their home), an activist in the Kansas Poor People’s Campaign, and a long-time proponent of war tax resistance. Copyright 2021, Charles Carney, Kriss Avery, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International License.