In 1986, about 500 people marched across the United States for almost nine months, from Los Angeles to New York to Washington, in a demonstration against nuclear weapons. The trek became known as the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament.
Last week, a dozen of those peace marchers reunited and laced up their walking shoes once again to take part in the Women’s March on Washington. For KD Kidder, 65, of Leesburg, it was an opportunity to rekindle old friendships and express her concerns about the political direction she thinks the country is taking.
Although nuclear disarmament was not a major focus of the Women’s March, Kidder said, it remains “my most important issue — the money that goes into [nuclear weapons] that we could be using to house people and feed people.” The inauguration of Donald Trump as president has heightened her concern, she said.
“It’s pretty scary to have somebody that doesn’t seem [to be] thoughtful have that easy access to creating that kind of danger and contamination,” she said.
Kidder said she has been concerned about nuclear weapons for decades. When she heard about plans for the 1986 peace march, she wanted to participate but was concerned about the length of time she would be away from her husband, Neil Steinberg, and Photoworks, the photography business they had started a few years earlier.
“So I brought it up to Neil, and he said, ‘I don’t want to be living with you 20 years from now when you’re kicking yourself and me for not having done this,’ ” she said.
On March 1, 1986, about 2,000 people gathered at a Los Angeles park and set out on the march. Kidder was one of about 500 who made it all the way across the country, finishing the journey at Lafayette Square that Nov. 15.
The experience forged lasting friendships among the marchers. Members of the group have had reunions every 10 years, and they stay in touch through social media, Kidder said. When someone asked the group on Facebook whether anyone was going to the women’s march, about a dozen answered yes.
The evening before the Jan. 21 march, several group members who had come from around the country gathered at a friend’s house in the District and reminisced about the 1986 peace walk.
Karen Doherty, 50, of Boston remembered the exact number of miles they covered: 3,741. Along the way, they encountered hardships such as desert storms, scorpions and altitude sickness. They often drew honks and jeers from passing motorists, but many people were friendly and supportive, she said.
“The things that stand out in some ways are the acts of kindness that you saw along the way,” Doherty said. “I remember walking in California and someone pulled over and offered me a Snickers bar. A small gesture, which meant so much.”
Kidder recalled a woman in a poor neighborhood who sent her children to stay at a neighbor’s house so that some of the marchers could sleep in their room. “There were a lot of people like that,” she said.
Crossing the country on foot reminded Kidder of her travels in the Middle East in 1972, when the Vietnam War had left her feeling “wary” of America. She had been struck by “the generosity of the poor people in the Middle East, who were willing to help us with anything,” she said.
“I did not feel proud to be an American” then, she said. “And when I walked across country, that all changed, because the people were the same as they were in the Middle East. Some people would yell from cars, thumbs down, but there was always someone right there, right when you needed a place to stay or a sweater or something to eat, and it really made me proud to be an American.”
In an interview after the Women’s March, Kidder said she experienced the same feeling of rejuvenation last weekend in the District, where it was so crowded that “we couldn’t even walk.”
“It was so positive and uplifting, and everyone was sincere and helping each other. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t hear the speakers or that we didn’t get to march as one huge group, because we were surrounded by each other,” she said.
“And it gave you a feeling that anything is possible.”