Two teens are marching across the country for peace, hoping to gain followers and attention with each step they take.
Ashley Casale, 19, and Michael Israel, 18, had hoped others who opposed the war in Iraq would join them on their 3,000-mile (4,800-kilometer) walk from San Francisco to Washington. But since they started off on May 21, it has usually been just the two of them.
It was not what Casale planned when she started a Web site and sent fliers to colleges nationwide to promote what she called "March for Peace." Still, after 1,600 miles (2,575 kilometers) and three pairs of sandals, she seemed satisfied with the march's progress.
"Although it's always nice to have as many people as possible, it's more about the message and we haven't been disappointed there aren't tons of people walking," she said. "We think every individual we meet has been significant and we hope we can inspire them to do whatever they can."
Israel learned of the anti-war walk from the Web site. "I was looking for something bigger to do than just a weekend rally," he said.
The two met 10 minutes before beginning their journey. She just finished her freshman year at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and he recently graduated from high school.
They stopped for lunch in Montezuma on Wednesday. Wearing T-shirts and displaying deep tans, the two described the blisters and achy knees they have endured as they crossed the western deserts, the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains.
"We've always been determined to keep going so we've never thought about quitting, but there are parts of the country that are so isolated and towns are so far between we feel like we're alone without any support, but then we come across a town and see the support we have and it helps," Casale said.
They said most people have been receptive, even if they have not agreed with their position on the war. One retired farmer and World War II veteran in Nebraska met them along the side of the road and had dinner with them. Other people have brought them food and water, opened their homes or let them camp in their yards. Then there are those who greeted them with obscene gestures and yells. Still, Israel said he felt good about what he and Casale have accomplished.
"I hope it inspires people to be more vocal and politically active and become more aware of what's going on around them," he said. Both admit they get homesick. Casale said she calls home once a day - at her mother's insistence. Israel calls his family at least twice a week. They rely on each other for emotional support but insist their friendship hasn't become romantic. "We're just friends," Casale said, smiling.
Casale and Israel said they've gone two weeks without clean clothes and a week without a shower. They go through a lot of water, sunscreen and bandages for blisters. They hope to reach Iowa City for a peace rally on Friday and to arrive in Washington by Sept. 11. Along the way they hope their message will be heard. "Our message is about ending the war in Iraq, but it's more than that. It's about cultivating peace in our daily lives and responding to things in a peaceful, nonviolent way," Casale said.
Now more and more people can finally see what few of us have been repeating for years: The entire world has its neck squashed by the U.S. boot