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Terry Cowgill
Demonstrators from the New England Peace Pagoda in Everett, Mass., march on the east side of Main Street in front of Barrington Outfitters. They are on a 56-day journey to Washington, D.C.

Stopping at Fuel, monks march to Washington for ‘sanctuary and demilitarization’

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By Sunday, Mar 19, 2017 News

Great Barrington — Thanks in large measure to the Trump administration, peaceful protest is becoming an increasingly common sight in the Berkshires and across the country. In the late afternoon of Friday, March 17, a small slice of Main Street became a microcosm of that world.

A delegation of about 10 people walked, signs in hand and determined to send a message, from Lenox to Great Barrington as part of a series of regional and national walks in the name of protecting immigrants.

“Prayer and walking bring out good spirit,” said Brother Tobey of the New England Peace Pagoda, a Buddhist community of Nipponzan Myohoji Japanese Buddhist Order in Leverett, Mass. “It is very much needed, especially now.”

The marchers pause to pray in front of Fuel Coffeeshop on Main Street. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The marchers pause to pray in front of Fuel Coffeeshop on Main Street. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The monks and friends of the peace pagoda have been marching for 15 years. This year’s walk started March 12 and is a 56-day journey from Leverett to Washington, in part, Brother Tobey says, to “carry the somber reflection that over 1 million people from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have died because of the War on Terror, officially begun after Sept. 11, 2001.” Demilitarization had been one of pagoda’s major themes for years.

This year, however, the emphasis will be on “showing active solidarity with immigrants, to honor the many people, faith communities and other communities and political leaders who are coming together across all lines to commit to sanctuary for our immigrant brothers and sisters,” pagoda spokesman Tim Bullock said.

Also on the agenda is gathering support for the Safe Communities Act, pro-immigrant legislation pending on Beacon Hill that would essentially codify many of the principles embodied in so-called “sanctuary city” proclamations such as those established recently  in Great Barrington, North Adams and Pittsfield.

The measures are considered highly controversial because President Donald Trump has threatened to withhold federal funding from municipalities that take such actions.

After walking into Great Barrington, the group stopped for a brief interview in front of Fuel, the venerable coffee shop that functions as the center of the universe for hundreds of Barringtonians.

“Do you have your papers?” one bystander cracked.

“We are all immigrants,” Brother Tobey replied, returning the smile.

Asked whether they considered themselves part of the “resistance” to the Trump agenda, both Brother Tobey and his colleague Brother Kato said they avoid the use of the word.

“I like to frame it in a positive way,” Brother Toby said. “We believe in peace, justice and harmony.”

march at fuel

Brother Kato (center) and Brother Tobey wait for their tea at Fuel. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The brothers and their colleagues from the peace pagoda went inside Fuel, where the owners Will and Robin Curletti treated them to a round of hot tea. Fuel is one of a handful of storefronts in town that have signs announcing that members of the immigrant community are welcome.

Bullock says the last day of the group’s walking will be April 5 in Washington with a final procession to Capitol Hill, where U.S Rep. Jim McGovern, whose district includes Leverett and stretches from Worcester to the Pioneer Valley, has reserved a room for the presentation on “Sanctuary and Demilitarization,” the peace pagoda’s mantra.

Brother Toby attributed Trump’s election to unrest that translated into the misguided emotion that gave us the blunt-talking real estate mogul.

“Many people are afraid and angry. Trump supporters weren’t happy. The Affordable Care Act didn’t work for everybody … we are trying to create a more positive atmosphere.”

More information can be found at the New England Peace Pagoda’s Facebook page.

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