They hit the road Wednesday with little fanfare, and their burden was heavy - 1,400 pounds to be exact.
A dozen peace activists - including several who lost relatives on Sept. 11, 2001 - set out from Boston on a 230-mile walk to New York City, pushing and pulling a granite slab that looks like an oversized tombstone.
Stone Walk 2004: Highlighting the Human Cost of War
The group is hauling its message of nonviolence from the Democratic National Convention here to the Republicans' presidential nominating event at the end of next month.
"Our suffering from pushing this stone is nothing like the suffering of those who have lost loved ones to violence and war," said David Potorti, 48, of Cary, N.C., whose brother Jim was killed in the World Trade Center attack.
Beginning at Copley Square, in the city's Back Bay neighborhood, the group made its way along the flat course of Beacon Street, arriving tired and sweaty a few hours later at an Episcopal church in Brookline, about five miles distant - the end of the first leg of their journey.
The Boston-to-New York walk is sponsored by September 11th Families For Peaceful Tomorrows, a group formed soon after the attacks by victims' relatives who were opposed to America's invasion of Afghanistan.
"I thought that was a moment when the country would get involved in promoting international peace," said Terry Rockefeller, a 54-year-old documentary filmmaker from Arlington whose sister was at the top of the World Trade Center when it collapsed. "Instead, we responded with violence, which only brought more violence and suffering."
Members of the group have been to Afghanistan and Iraq to meet with people whose relatives were killed in the wars there. They came home and tried to share the stories of the survivors with Americans, in hopes of convincing people the country has taken the wrong route in dealing with terrorism.
"Our work is mostly changing hearts and perspectives one person at a time," said Potorti, who works full time for the group. "There aren't a lot of us, but we try to make simple, symbolic gestures that will resonate with people."
The group first walked from Washington to New York - without the stone - in November 2001.
The monument itself, a massive chunk of granite quarried from the grounds of the Peace Abbey in Sherborn, is inscribed to "UNKNOWN CIVILIANS KILLED IN WAR."
When it's not being hauled along the highways and byways, it lives at the Peace Abbey, a multi-faith retreat center that includes a pacifist memorial and animal sanctuary.
Peace activists have lobbied the government to give the stone, or one like it, a place in Arlington National Cemetery. A similar stone with the same inscription was dragged from Massachusetts to Washington in 1999, but cemetery officials declined the offer. That stone is currently in the United Kingdom.
Once they arrive at the Republican convention, the activists are hoping to convince delegates to push the Bush Administration to install the new stone at Arlington.
Some walkers will stay on for the entire trip, while others will walk a few days and be replaced by others.
Nick Burlakoff, 57, of Ossining, N.Y., heard about the walk and felt compelled to join for the full route.
"To spend a few weeks out of my life to do something for peace isn't really a lot to ask," he said.
© Copyright 2004 Associated Press