WASHINGTON – Two teenagers who set out from San Francisco in May to walk 3,000 miles across the country to protest the war in Iraq trudged into Washington, D.C., on Monday, finishing the final leg of a four-month journey that started as one of the nation’s smallest anti-war demonstrations.
By the end, Ashley Casale, 19, and Michael Israel, 18 – looking cheerful despite disintegrating shoes – ended their pilgrimage amid a group of 20 supporters who helped them silently hoist a “March for Peace” banner in front of the White House.
The teens acknowledged that their march might not have changed the course of the war or gained much attention, but they hoped they had at least galvanized the people they met along the way.
“A lot more people know about what we’ve done, that we’ve walked across the country and they’ve been inspired by it,” said Casale, who, because she had lost weight, had her jeans cinched up with a blue bandanna.
Though they had once hoped to rouse the nation and inspire thousands to rise up in opposition to the war, Casale and Israel walked for weeks alone through the Nevada desert and over the Rocky Mountains.
They eventually enlisted six other long-distance traveling companions: five who trudged through the grueling 25-mile daily hikes and a sixth who drove a support car.
But the teens met countless others who offered free meals, new shoes, shelter for the night or just an encouraging word. “The most important thing was the individuals we talked to,” said Casale.
When they reached the White House, they lifted their banner high. “We made it,” one marcher said, in a near whisper. “I can’t believe we’re here,” said Casale. The marchers huddled in a circle for a group hug, put their hands together and yelled: “Peace!”