Sponsoring Group Folds but Some Peace Marchers May Continue
BARSTOW, Calif. (AP) _ The group sponsoring the Great Peace March folded Friday under mounting debt as hundreds of marchers spent a fourth day stuck at a chilly Mojave Desert camp, just 120 miles into the 3,235-mile trek.
″It’s going to be necessary for PRO-Peace to fold so that the debts no longer become an unbearable burden on those who wish to march,″ David Mixner, the founder of People Reaching Out for Peace, told between 300 and 500 marchers at the campsite off a remote dirt road about eight miles from Barstow.
Accepting personal responsibility, Mixner pledged to do what he could to help the group of walkers trying to take over control of the march.
The Great Peace March had been envisioned as 5,000 demonstrators striding from Los Angeles to Washington in 8 1/2 months in hopes of inspiring global nuclear disarmament.
″I am deeply, deeply sorry if anything that I have done has caused you pain or inconvenience,″ he said, his voice breaking. ″My name is on all the papers, so no one else needs to worry.″
The circle of marchers sitting and standing in the desert chaparral listened silently. Tears streamed down some of their faces. When Mixner finished there were a few moments of silence, then subdued applause. Then the group broke into a song written for the march by pop singer Holly Near. ″Life is a great and mighty march,″ went one of the verses.
Earlier Friday, Torie Osborn, chief spokeswoman at the group’s Los Angeles office, said the group would fold at the end of the day.
Before the march began, PRO-Peace was receiving about $22,000 a day, Ms. Osborn said. But by Feb. 28, the day before the trek started at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, incoming donations fell to $5,000 a day.
″The financial burden is too great,″ Ms. Osborn said. ″We put out a call for a $100,000 in the last 24 hours and we received far short of that, about $75,000 too short.″
Many marchers took leaves from their jobs or school to participate in the trek, which organizers said would end in a giant rally in the nation’s capital. Some made tentative plans Friday to incorporate themselves as a separate organization and possibly continue the march, Ms. Osborn said.
Ms. Osborn said there were still 950 marchers as of Friday. But California Highway Patrol Capt. Duane Clements put the number of PRO-Peace campers at 511 on Thursday. The march started with 1,200 participants, according to PRO- Peace.
Ms. Osborn said PRO-Peace would assist any marchers who wanted to return home from the high desert campsite.
She and PRO-Peace spokesman John Hagelberg said they believe the march will continue in some form.
The temperature was about 40 degrees as the day dawned over the colorful assortment of tents. Cold and rain have caused mild cases of hypothermia for some marchers since they crossed the San Bernardino Mountains and began their walk across the desert.
Neither Osborn nor Hagelberg could provide an estimate of the debt, but both said donations fell dramatically when marchers left their home cities, where they had been raising funds, and arrived in Los Angeles to begin the march.
On Thursday, the marchers lost two motor homes when they were repossessed.
″I hate to do this because I marched for peace in the 1960s,″ said Debbie Willis, a sales manager from Altman’s RV Inc. ″But every check (the organizers) have written to us has bounced.″