Ashley Casale will be a sophomore this fall at Wesleyan University. She came up with the idea of a cross-country march for peace last year and set up a website to invite more people to join her. The only person who stuck it out was Michael Israel, an 18-year-old just out of high school. Democracy Now! caught with them last week in Indianapolis. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Ashley Casale and Michael Israel are two determined teenagers who chose to spend their summer walking from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., to protest the war. Ashley will be a sophomore this fall at Wesleyan University. She came up with the idea of a cross-country march and set up a website to invite more people to join her. The only person who stuck it out was Michael Israel, an 18-year-old just out of high school. Michael joined Ashley after reading about her project on the Internet. They have been walking since San Francisco. They began their journey three months ago.
I spoke to Ashley and Michael last week, when they were in Indianapolis, and I began by asking Ashley to describe why she decided to embark on this 3,000-mile walk.
ASHLEY CASALE: Our march is for nonviolence, in general. We want — we’re advocating for nonviolent global solutions. And so, that’s peace in every sense of the word. The ideals behind our march are sort of broad. One is about the war in Iraq, that we want to urge the U.S. government to end the war. And another, we want to raise awareness about genocide in Darfur. We want to advocate increased environmental sustainability and social justice, economic justice and all things that we believe relate to peace.
And as we’ve crossed the country, we’ve — I contacted a lot of peace organizations before we even left who were planning demonstrations and rallies for us. A lot of them have been geared towards the war in Iraq, which is a really pressing issue right now, we realized. So we’ve been joining rallies and demonstrations as we cross the country.
AMY GOODMAN: You just came from Colorado? Did you have problems walking in a park there?
ASHLEY CASALE: Yeah. There was an incident in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Our track took us through Route 34, that goes straight through the park, and we wanted to walk through there. There were just two of us, Mike and I, at the time, and we had our signs, which are basically like bibs that just cover the front of our shirts, and they say "March for Peace: San Francisco to D.C." And they stopped us at the entrance gate, where we were trying to just pay the fee and walk through, and they didn’t want us to walk through. They said that the signs were too political and that we would need to get a permit. We felt that they weren’t really signs. We weren’t holding them. We weren’t going to stop anywhere and demonstrate. And the purpose was just like a T-shirt to say what we were doing. And we didn’t think it would be right to take them off, but they gave us kind of a hassle there. We ended up taking off the signs, but writing the same message on our T-shirts, because we feel like it’s really important to let people know what we’re doing as we cross the country.
AMY GOODMAN: The same thing, something happened to you along the Golden Gate Bridge, as you tried to walk across it?
ASHLEY CASALE: That was a different situation. We had our banner with us, which is just — which is a pretty large banner that says "March for Peace: San Francisco to D.C." And we were stopped on the Golden Gate Bridge, because they said that it we was obstructing traffic, and the officer said that we might be causing an accident if, you know, someone saw the banner and got distracted. So we understood that, because it was kind of a — it was a huge banner.
But the signs in the national park were much smaller and just on our body, like taking up as much space as a T-Shirt, and so we felt like there was a different reason that they were telling us we couldn’t go through, and it was more their political agenda.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you planning to legally challenge that, not being allowed to walk in Rocky Mountain Park with a T-shirt — a bib on your T-shirt that said "March for Peace"?
ASHLEY CASALE: We’re actually not planning to legally challenge it. We’ve — it got a lot of coverage in The Denver Post and other newspapers around there, and we received some calls from lawyers who wanted us to pursue it. But it was something we talked about a lot, and what we decided was the only way we’d be willing to pursue it is if we really felt that it would set a precedent and help activists in the future and really get the message out. And it wasn’t quite clear to us that that would actually be the case, so we decided not to pursue it. We don’t just want to, you know, vindicate ourselves or anything. We would only pursue a case if we felt that it would have real significance to the peace movement in general.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ashley Casale and Michael Israel, who are walking across the country from San Francisco to New York — Washington, D.C., actually. Michael, what stands out for you most so far, now that I speak to you in Indianapolis?
MICHAEL ISRAEL: What stands out the most, as far as places we’ve been to?
AMY GOODMAN: Your experiences. Your experiences, what you remember most, a moment, a gathering, a person that you met.
MICHAEL ISRAEL: Well, we’ve been through a lot of places and met a lot of really amazing people. So, I mean, there’s a number of things that stand out. I think a lot about just when we were going through Nevada and parts of Utah, where it was just nothing for — it was just desert for miles and miles. You know, I think about that and just how, you know, it was really hard, but it was also kind of funny at times, just how there were some people out of Carson City that thought they could have helped us out through the desert and bring us water or food, but it ended up that they had other things they needed to do or didn’t have time, so they would end up like dropping out on us.
And there was also just places I remember in Colorado where we would be in the newspapers like the day before we walked into a town, and, you know, as we’re walking in, we find out just like this one little town in the middle of Colorado has like a — there’s a surprising amount of people that want to come out and support us. I mean, in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, there was a — I mean, there was a time where we couldn’t walk for five minutes without someone stopping their car and jumping out and bringing us water or offering us a place to sleep at night. And just all along the way, we’ve met a lot of amazing people and seen a lot of really great things.
AMY GOODMAN: Ashley, is it mainly young people or older people who are joining you along the way? And are you hoping that there will be more people marching along with you as you make your way to Washington?
ASHLEY CASALE: Yeah, we’ve gained more marchers. Now, there are seven of us altogether. One is a support vehicle driver, and we always encourage more to walk with us. People can also walk with us for just a day. Our website marchforpeace.info is updated a couple times a day, and it says right where we are. And they can come out and join us anytime.
And in terms of the age of people, it has been mainly older people that have been our supporters, people who are in their fifties and sixties from the Vietnam era. We have had some younger people, and I think that’s our hope, both Mike and I, is that more and more young people will come out and that we can try to start a movement among our age group, because we feel like that’s really — you know, we’re the future, and it depends on us to make a change happen. So if we can get more young people to come out with us and stand up for peace, then that’s going to make the most difference in the future.
AMY GOODMAN: When do you plan to arrive in Washington?
ASHLEY CASALE: We’re going to arrive there on September 10th, and we’re going to be walking in from Arlington, Virginia on September 10th. It’s a Monday. And that night, we’re going to be [camping in] Washington without a permit. We’re going to be trying to rally a couple hundred people maybe to set up tents with us out there and risking arrest, obviously, but we feel like that’s a really important thing for us to do and to take a risk now that maybe hasn’t been taken before. And we’re going to be staying in Washington through the week, through to Saturday, when the ANSWER Coalition is having a big rally there that should call people from all over the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Ashley Casale and Michael Israel, two teenagers walking across the country, will arrive in Washington, D.C., on September 10th. Their website, marchforpeace.info.