Traveling Companions Have Trekked Hundreds of Miles to the District for 9/11 Anniversary
By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 9, 2007; Page C04
Elliott Nesch has walked more than 1,600 miles in protest of the Iraq war since he set out from Denver six months ago.
At 3 p.m. Friday, he came across an annoyance that Washingtonians see all the time.
“We were walking faster than the cars,” Nesch said yesterday, describing the crawling traffic along Route 1 in Beltsville as the worst he’d seen on the journey.
And it had its advantages.
“They had more opportunity to read our signs,” he said.
Nesch, 22, and two companions have been boring in on the District for months, planning to arrive downtown for the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Other long-walk protest groups are also afoot, including March for Peace, which is expected to reach the White House for a rally at 1 p.m. tomorrow.
Nesch is part of a group called March of the People, which has slowed down of late, having reached the outskirts of Washington several days ago. They covered only three miles yesterday, a stroll by their standards, walking from just north of the Capital Beltway along Route 1 into College Park. They plan to bunk with volunteer hosts until Tuesday, striking out for the last nine miles that morning.
During their walk, the volunteer hosts in recent states have picked them up at designated end-of-the-day spots, then returned them the next morning. The volunteers lately have shuttled the walkers’ gear to the next host, so the walkers don’t have to carry much more than their signs.
Nesch’s sign read: “Pro-War Is Anti-Christ.”
He said three things motivate his walk: preaching the Gospel of Jesus, urging Christian ministers who support the war to repent and calling for another investigation of Sept. 11. “I think it was an inside job,” he said.
He and the other two protesters were fairly well-treated, as they walked south, off the northbound lane, facing traffic. One notable dissenter: a silver sport-utility vehicle passenger yelling “God is a Republican!”
Protester Mario Penalver, 26, who recently earned a master’s degree in humanities from the University of Chicago, with emphasis on poetry, cites more mainstream concerns: President Bush and the U.S. Congress have supported the war while paying only scant, if any, attention to protesters. His sign: a simple “Honk 4 Peace.”
It drew slightly more than one honk per minute yesterday during the trio’s 62-minute walk. One driver, stopped at a red light with her window down, leaned towards them, smiled warmly and clapped. “I’m with you!” she said.
“Right on,” added an oncoming pedestrian, sporting a gray-haired ponytail and raised left fist.
Penalver planned his walk while studying at Chicago. He had big visions, e-mailing a friend about what it would be like to pick up 100 fellow walkers in Pennsylvania, and swell to 300 walkers by Maryland. “Imagine the headlines,” he wrote.
Instead, he attracted his two companions: Nesch and Gordy Heuer, 21, of Pittsboro, N.C.
In Ohio, Nesch, who had by then learned of Penalver, got a ride to Cleveland to join him. Heuer heard about Penalver’s walk from his dad and joined the two in Youngstown, Ohio.
Heuer’s major point of protest: The war is draining funds that could address problems in the United States such as health care. His sign spoke to that point of view: “Cost $ of War 452,234,800,000.”
In all their miles, they say they’ve been generally well-received. Nesch reports two hostilities in Pennsylvania: A man wrestled away his sign and shoved it into his chest, and a passing motorist threw a bottle of Mountain Dew, striking him in the shoulder.
Their route yesterday offered a sampling of Route 1: The Ikea store, a bridge spanning the Beltway, a palm reader named Madam Flora, car dealerships, an expanse of green at the University of Maryland in College Park.
Other than the SUV passenger who claimed divine knowledge, the three drew few critics. “Hippies,” shouted one motorist.