I started an essay on my transcendent yet grounding Sacred Peace Walk last year, though it was getting so deep I got sidetracked… so I decided to wait until closer to this year’s walk and put it out there as sort of a taste of what one may experience; at least what I experienced last year, as no two perspectives will be the same, and 2017’s walk was truly one of a kind, as is every year. My draft ended with part of the story of old friend and fellow peacewalker Vera Anderson whose injustice following one of last year’s actions at the hands of LVMPD has made local news, which I will carry into as an update at the end of this article. I will also include videos from last year’s walk throughout this article.
I am about to embark on 2018’s walk, from March 24-30th (the actual walk begins on the morning of Sunday the 25th, starting at the Atomic Testing Museum). If you are interested in attending, there is more information at nevadadesertexperiene.org/spw where you can also register or sponsor a peace walker. I will be video journaling this walk as well. Now for the original essay I began nearly a year ago:
From War Birds to Peace Birds: The 2017 Sacred Peace Walk
Going into the Sacred Peace Walk this year, I knew it would be full of profound meaning and beauty, and bring together a few of my favorite passions- activism, spirituality, and nature, since I got a taste of all that in 2016 when I went to just the final night and day of it (Peace Camp and the ritual line-crossing and arrests at the Nevada National Security Site [formerly known as the Nevada Test Site, infamous for heavy nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and 60s, which continues in less public and subtler yet still massively destructive forms today], 60 miles northwest of Las Vegas). But I could not know exactly how special or of what specific forms the beauty and meaning would present itself, beyond the planned protest actions and bonding with fellow peace activists and the serene desert. And while certain moments were not quite what I expected, and there was one occurrence that upset us all in an unexpected but not completely surprising way, the unpredictable moments of beauty are what stand out most in my memory thus far; the subtle yet nearly unbelievable sightings of certain birds, at perfect moments and rare circumstances, brought a whole new level of transcendent beauty and awe, and what seemed to be a reminder that the Earth and universe approves, that we were there for a truly sacred cause, and the beings of the heavens on Earth were right there with us.
The first such sight happened at the end of the first deeply moving community action I took part in on the walk, during the third day (I had missed the first two days, being the city portion and the beginning of the walk outside of Vegas/around Lee Canyon). About halfway between the start of the 17-mile walk portion and lunch, we stopped at the turnoff to two prisons, the High Desert State Prison and Federal Penitentiary, for a short break and a prayer/meditation circle. When I attended the peace walk last year for the first time, as short as my time was, these circles were among my favorite parts of the experience, tuning us in deeply with the Earth and each other as a unified whole, led by elder Johnnie Bobb of the Western Shoshone tribe.
The Western Shoshone (Newe Sogobia– meaning ‘The People of Mother Earth’) land consists of much of central Nevada (and northeastern to some southwestern, from Utah and Oregon into California), including the lands now occupied by the Nevada National Security Site (formerly known as Nevada Test Site, the infamous home of the 1950s atomic testing grounds- and subtler weapons since), run by the DOE (Department of Energy), and the lands unlawfully “owned” by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). The U.S. federal government for decades has been in violation of the Treaty of Ruby Valley, signed in 1863, which only allowed right of passage for non-indigenous people through their lands; the land was never sold or ceded by the Shoshone. There are clear risks to their land in the form of nuclear testing of all sorts (much being underground), and the now reinvigorated plan to make Yucca Mountain a nuclear repository site (it already now holds low-level nuclear waste). It just so happens that the first activism-related action I ever saw my name attached to online was my name on a list of citizens who signed a petition against making Yucca Mountain the nation’s nuclear repository from back in 2002 when there was a public meeting of some sort involving the DOE (then run by Sununu), when Harry Reid was “representing” us and opposing the plan (a dozen years before he called the peaceful protesters/land protectors I was supporting/documenting “domestic terrorists” with a completely twisted and projected definition- article here), so this has been in my blood a while. Not only is the radiation a risk and proven cancer causer to the Shoshone people, but also to everyone around, and downwind such as St. George, Utah.
Getting back to the prayer circle, at the turnoff about a mile from two high-security prisons, we held prayers for the prisoners, from political prisoners to unjustly convicted to all who have made mistakes, and called out the names of anyone we know held prisoner there or anywhere. We sang a few songs and felt the emotions high running through us, and ended the circle with a stomping on the grounds to let them know we’re there. And just as we started to disperse, a new friend Logan, also taking many photos, pointed out the sight above us- a bunch of white birds flying in a circular and spiral-like formation, far above the power lines over us. I noticed there seemed to possibly be around as many birds as us (though very hard to count from how far below we were). He remarked that they could even look like light beings, since we couldn’t notice any wings and were so brightly sunlit, and from the feeling we got when some of us stopped and looked up for moments, they were a good omen, or at least a motivation we felt from above, with us. As we walked back toward the road, the birds drew further away and up towards the direction of where we would be going, northwest up the 95 (toward the Goddess Temple). They faded from our sight as we felt mesmerized them and kept our eyes on them until the last seconds we could and beyond, and we were fully connected and energized for the second half of the day’s walk.
The second spiritual bird sighting came on the final day, when we were returning from the ritual line-crossing at the Nevada National Security Site, after 12 were arrested in the yearly tradition of civil disobedience and held in the outdoor pens for about thirty minutes and issued a citation which is almost never followed up on. The winds were some of the strongest there have ever been on a peace walk, but not too surprising given the exceptionally windy year in southern Nevada. It felt to some, and remarks were made, that the “spirits” were with us, also of high energy and some unease after the unexpected events that took place as a result of the Creech arrests a few days before- brutality/cruel and unusual punishment of one of our peacewalkers at CCDC, which I’ll get into shortly. Well as we returned to Peace Camp after the line-crossing, the winds died down completely… and a few walkers spotted a crane sitting in the middle of the desert, watching them. Logan, the photographer (and cross-country walking peace pilgrim) who spotted the birds/beings above us by the prisons, got video of this crane, who was looking right at the camera, with its serene appearance exemplifying its symbolism of peace, and flew away after a few moments. We asked each other if anyone out here has ever seen a crane, especially in the desert, and none of us have. This was seen as another sign of spiritual approval, at least by those who have a feeling of that level, and in the Sacred Peace Walk, it’s not uncommon to see the world in symbols and spiritual meaning. Just the sight of the crane and the birds days earlier hit us emotionally, on a transcendent plane that seems to suggest this is all serving a higher/more-than-physical purpose.
Overall, beyond the symbolism and spiritual interpretations, the air of peace and mission we walk for was palpable and brought us together like nothing else could… it is a representation of what humanity ultimately wants, in unison with each other, all races, and all species… war is not what we want or need… it may seem like human nature, but it is only when armies formed by governments are led into battles and conflicts to suit the interests of the elites, not our nor the armies interests; we try to show the participants this themselves when they head into and out of work at the drone-controlling capital of the world, Creech Air Force Base. We make a practice of presenting this to the guards and workers and higher-ups of Nevada National Security Site, even if all they see is tradition… the speeches, the reasons, the persistence has got to cross their minds that this is all for a purpose nobody is paid for, but a drive and resonance deep inside our hearts. I can see this in some expressions and some of the demeanors of those who deal with us, and a few have dropped out of the Air Force over the years and testify that the protests had to do with it. Many may not get it, but it is a process. And we are all growing and learning in this process of changing the world for the better, and acknowledging that the world will not always respond to protest in the ways society sometimes does for the greater good.
We need to evolve our forms of activism. This is a given, but not a no-brainer. The public has been pretty desensitized and polarized over protesting, after over a decade of endless protest “movements” and causes that were reignited by the Iraq war, following decades of a lull in much political activism. And overall our adult generations have been jaded by splinterings and corruption that affects seemingly every level in the existing structure even when it comes to “grassroots”, co-ops and coups, vote rigging and people-dividing, and so much disheartening nonsense that pushes us away then makes us feel insane for having the urge to dive back in and somehow believe we really can change the world. So a lot of people probably are taking longer “breaks” or attending to their families and putting personal priorities first because, well, we all have our own lives and we need to care about ourselves before we have any idea how to handle the world. But of course this all goes hand in hand, we’re a microcosm of the macrocosm.
If we neglect a relationship, it falls apart while we’re taking it for granted, as can also happen with abandoning our own bodies. Once we’ve decided or seen our purpose in taking up an activist cause, we begin a relationship with the world and specifically our community, of direct action to help co-create what we want to see as betterment for the world, and/or for our community. In order to do so we often have opposition from the perceived forces that hold up the walls from the other side of intentions, what seems to be a dark power-hungry, money-fueled, war-loving side; or perhaps something not so sinister but inept and irresponsible, so needs to be replaced or at the very least fixed and nobody else responsible is doing it… and we have many different beliefs, many different philosophies and theories and ideas of solutions or where to begin. The combination of the opposition, the threat of imprisonment or death or loss of quality of life and need to protect self and family, and the lack of consistency amongst your own “base”, the infighting and left vs. right eternal fight instead of remembering it’s top vs. bottom, and bewilderment from the outside and seeming incongruence between “fighting the good fight” and keeping a comfortable day-to-day life where you can focus on the necessities… can all be pretty scary and push us away from activism… But without us, the entire impetus falls apart and who will be the driving force of change when all of our people give up?
Sure there may (hopefully) be more generations that pick up the torch again, but right now we know we are at a precipice- Technology is becoming so advanced, and drones are now already so common and increasingly inevitable to be “everywhere” soon, it seems that we have passed a point of responsibly deciding where we take our technology. Artificial intelligence is out there in many forms, and while it still seems to be in its infancy or perhaps adolescence, still with many problems and glitches that don’t apparently yet them allow to be all-knowing and fully human-like, but how close do we feel we’ve gotten?
Anyway this was all about peace. Behind peace is love, and throughout humanity with each new life, is love. We unite each year as one of all forms in expression of peace and love, supporting all of humanity in peaceful endeavors and the Earth on which we reside. The lands on which we walk along with natives have been torn by decades of manmade adventurism, fought and deceived over in broken treaties and federal takeovers, and we honor and seek to protect these sacred lands. And this year, with the timing of current events and the beautiful birds that appeared to signal a mystical approval, we know it is as important as ever to let the establishment know that we are not just shutting up and taking whatever they give us. At least in my mind, though I know my compatriates agree about peace and love.
There have been several outbreaks of violence at protests and various public events of the past couple years, and it’s pretty easy to tell where the anger is directed or funneled from… Who benefits from further division such as racial… the story of police versus people becomes a race issue in which the fingers are pointed in all kinds of directions and at roots that can only be changed so far (e.g. whiteness), but whom the police are working for and whom this class warfare benefits should be focused on more- but I digress. My point is that violence is not the answer, it only breeds more terror. We need not even be nor be part of a group that is violent to be at a political type event where violence pops up and then be associated one way or another by the media… we know this happens to many of us.
So in the Sacred Peace Walk, everyone is committed to peace completely and agrees to non-violent expression… it would be pretty difficult for the courts to color us as a violent group. If hearings do go ahead concerning our peacewalker Vera, it will certainly be interesting (though surely very frustrating) to see what they’d try.
Vera was a perfectly peaceful demonstrator, whom I have known longer than most activists I’ve met, always peaceful and always 1000% for love being the answer, and got arrested along with the 5 others, for laying on the roadway at one of the Creech Air Force Base entrances (part of the yearly traditional protest action)… police apparently weren’t prepared that morning, as there was a mixup in whatever briefings they received, and the big platoon of Metro cop SUVs didn’t show up until about a half hour into the civil disobedience action, when they usually would be there in the morning. Perhaps this had a relation, but not justification, to what appeared to be a rougher than usual handling of the peacewalkers. I went towards the area they were being temporarily held before more transportation got there, a sort of tarp-covered fenced pen unit, and got video of our friends getting taken into the trucks.
What happened to Vera happened later at the jail. Her dreadlocks were torn from her hair, and she was restrained in a torture-style chair, and had several witnesses. I will quote part of the testimony of George Killingsworth, the first peace walker I walked alongside for my first day of walking, to explain what he could hear in the jail he was taken with Vera to:
Officer Womack not only ignored my companion’s pleas, but escalated the rough physical and verbal abuse … recklessly pulling and actually cutting my companion’s hair to remove the elastic bands. Unlike my case, my companion’s cuffs were never removed and she was not invited to remove the bands from her own hair. Understandably she did turn her head to minimize the pain being inflicted .. and this was evidently seen by Officer Womack as insubordination, whereupon Officer Womack and two other male Officers threw my friend on the floor pummeling her and unnecessarily restraining her with their fists and knees. Then she was thrown into a restraining chair with tight chains on her ankles and wrists. She was then wheeled around a corner of the waiting room to where fewer witnessing eyes could witness the additional “processing”.
Well, that is where I left off in my writing last year. Just last week, Las Vegas’s “I-Team” (a highly reputed team of investigative journalists headed by George Knapp who have a long local history, with Vegas’s CBS affiliate Channel 8) released this story: I-Team: Video missing after woman files complaint against detention center, an honorable follow-up to their report on her last year here: I-Team: Woman claims she was mistreated in Clark County Detention Center
It’s not surprising that Metro has been involved in yet another “technical glitch” cover-up of footage that incriminates their officers (I have recently also been tirelessly promoting and going to screenings of a stellar documentary made by other fellow activists, also featuring my lawyer, “What Happened In Vegas”, thoroughly exposing the corruption of the LVMPD, which has won several awards at film festivals despite local theaters being intimidated by Metro into not showing the movie, and is even on Amazon Prime- a recent screening of which at AMC I saw Vera for the first time since the last Sacred Peace Walk), but it is good that awareness is reaching the public in big ways, as Vera hoped the injustice upon her would at least expose their practices and make such power-tripping officers think twice before abusing somebody else.
And on that note, this year should go more peacefully. Of course, on the part of the peace walkers, we maintain a pledge of nonviolence, and stick to peace on our parts. We cannot guarantee the officers who arrest the volunteers who participate in the civil disobedience actions will be peaceful, but we hope they learned their lesson… and I truly hope some, even one, officer or military employee has taken our message to heart, and may decide they are now on the side of peace, and humanity. Either way, the message of the Sacred Peace Walk is one that cannot and will not be forgotten, as nuclear testing and modern warfare affects all of humanity, and we cannot let intent and care for humankind and our sacred Earth fall by the wayside.
You’ll also have a profound personal experience, and make friendships that will last a lifetime. 🙂
National Bird (powerful documentary I saw after SPW 2017, part of the inspiration for this article title- trailer below)