Following the Vietnam War, the War Resisters League established, at its 1974 conference, a task force to create a major project on disarmament and militarism. Joined by other organizations, the task force developed the idea of a Continental Walk which would leave San Franciso in January 1976 and reach Washington, D.C., in October of that year. Sponsoring organizations of the Walk, in addition to the WRL, included Fellowship of Reconciliation, American Friends Service Committee, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Catholic Peace Fellowship, Clergy and Laity Concerned, SANE, and Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.
Walk headquarters were established at 339 Lafayette Street in New York at the WRL offices. The Steering Committee (or Coordinating Committee) was composed of representatives from sponsoring organizations. Walk staff members including Ed Hedemann, Larry Erickson, and Vickie Leonard. Acting as coordinators, the Walk staff contacted regional peace organizations or individuals who made local arrangements for the walkers or organized their own feeder walks and fund-raising support events. In August 1975, before the Walk began, a call was sent out to well-known peace leaders throughout the country, asking for their support and endorsement of the Walk. The purpose of the Walk, as described in the call, was "to raise the issue of disarmament through unilateral action . . . to educate about non-violent resistance as a means superior to armament . . . and to demonstrate how global and domestic and economic problems are inerconnected with militarism and the causes of war . . . ." Among those who signed the call were Daniel and Philip Berrigan, Dave Dellinger, Benjamin Spock, Joan Baez, David McReynolds, and Dorothy Day.
The first walkers left Ukiah, California, on January 23, 1976. They joined with others in San Francisco, and 800 left on January 31 to begin the main cross-country route. The large number proved problematic, and a week's halt was called in Indio, California, while Joanne Sheehan and David McReynolds of the Walk Coordination Committee evaluated the situation. This resulted in a more careful screening of walkers and establishing clearer lines of authority. As the walkers progressed across the country, they were joined by others from feeder routes. Japanese peace groups sent 16 monks and nuns, some of whom accompanied the Americans from coast to coast. Walkers were sometimes arrested, often on charges of "walking in the roadway" or "failure to obey lawful commands of police officials."
Including feeder walks, the Walk covered a total of 8,000 miles and passed through 34 states. Press coverage was sporadic, but the Walk issued its own newspaper The Continental Walk News and received excellent coverage in the publications of sponsoring peace organizations, such as WIN Magazine. On October 18th, the final day of the Walk, 700 made their way to the Pentagon where 53 where arrested for failing to disperse. A contingent went on to the White House, where they met with President Gerald Ford's national security advisor. The President refused to meet with the walkers, and, in a speech the next day, denounced those who urged cutting military expenditures.
David McReynolds wrote in the book The Continental Walk for Disarmament and Social Justice (edited by Vicki Leonard and Tom MacLean, 1977): "We never believed that by walking from Ukiah to Washington we could end the arms race. We did believed that by the process of walking we would learn something of the patience we need . . . . The Walk was the beginning of confronting the issue of the arms race - and of the massive social injustice in our world" (p. 7).