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Film documents the 'Great Peace March of 1968'

Deeply disturbed by the nuclear arms race, Jonnie Zheutlin in 1986 dropped her psychotherapy practice, put on her sneakers and joined a grueling eight-month walk across the country with 500 others to make a statement for disarmament.

With her on the Great Peace March from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., was her daughter Cathy Zheutlin, now a Portland cinematographer. Cathy made a 90-minute movie, "Just One Step," of the epic event that will be shown at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at Havurah Shir Hadash, 185 N. Mountain Ave., Ashland.

Admission is by donation. Jonnie Zheutlin, now 85 and an Ashland resident, will answer questions afterward.

The documentary chronicles how participants, with the support of the ProPeace Organization, strode forth from a celebratory Los Angeles rally with a performance by Holly Near — and walked into a logistical nightmare.

ProPeace declared bankruptcy while the ill-prepared marchers — now abandoned and broke — slogged through the rain in the Mojave Desert.

The march quickly dwindled from thousands to a hardy corps of 500 who spent two weeks in Barstow, she notes, reinventing themselves as an independent group that elected its own "city council" and would handle its own fundraising, repairs and supply of food, porta-potties and gear transport.

As the film shows, the peace cadre, full of "fiercely independent" sorts, spent a lot of time making peace among themselves, tending blisters and — their main focus — giving presentations in classrooms, helping farmers and other people with their work and creating dialogue with regular Americans about the dangers of nuclear war.

An Ashland resident for 21 years, Zheutlin says the march was "difficult, definitely, with physical pain ... but I had a blast. It felt so good. It was a great adventure and every day, what was supposed to happen, never happened ... I loved being outdoors in the wind, sun and rain. It was a personal journey. That sounds so mundane, but it was deeply personal."

As a psychotherapist, Zheutlin, then 60, served as mediator of frequent disputes in the group, including anarchists who wouldn't follow rules and objections to bearded gay members dressing in drag which, she says, presented an immediate public relations problem in small, rural communities they would pass through in conservative states such as Nebraska.

A big issue arose immediately — finding campsites for hundreds of tents. Unable to afford insurance for campers, the marchers coped by putting out the word to towns that they would welcome being put up in the homes of people sympathetic to the cause. It worked, says Zheutlin, even in Dixon, Ill., the hometown of President Ronald Reagan, who was then seeking to create the "Star Wars" anti-nuclear missile umbrella.

The trek wasn't all marching; the group took time for volleyball, making music and dancing, playing with their children (who rode in a day care bus) — and even a little civil disobedience. They stepped across a white line, the boundary of the Nevada Test Site (underground nuclear testing) and were immediately arrested by soldiers, but not before marchers educated them with chants and songs.

The film features cameos of Jesse Jackson, Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, Yoko Ono, Pete Seeger, Studs Turkel and Ron Howard, who joined the trek briefly. The Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament was created by gay activist and Vietnam Moratorium co-creator David Mixner — and became a model for many subsequent long protest marches, including the Soviet-American Walk in the Ukraine, where Zheutlin also marched.

Cathy Zheutlin shot "Just One Step: The Great Peace March" on Betacam video for $50,000, most of which she raised in donations. It streams in 10 parts on YouTube.

She is producing a new documentary, "Holy Rascals," exploring the alternative visions of such spiritual leaders as Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Matthew Fox. Segments of the new work may be seen on YouTube and Vimeo.

The 25-year old film was screened in 1987 by invitation of the Union of Cinematographers in Moscow. The film won a CINE Golden Eagle, a Bronze Apple for the National Film and Video Festival and first prize for social issue films at the Anthropos Film Festival in Los Angeles.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Jonnie Zheutllin of Ashland will answer questions after a screening of her daughter's film, “Just One Step,” about the Great Peace March for nuclear disarmament in 1986. - Jamie Lusch