Mission to Moscow: Joint Venture fo Peace : American Contingent in Virginia Trains for Start of Walk Next week at Leningrad

Times Staff Writer

May there always be sunshine,

May there always be blue skies,

May there always be mama,

May there always be me.

OK. Now again. This time sing it in Russian:

Pust vsegda budet solntse . . . .

Training is under way in earnest here for the American Soviet Walk from Leningrad to Moscow that begins next week. About 230 Americans have been camped in tents since Monday on the wooded grounds of a former boarding school in the gently rolling countryside outside of town.

Between taking hikes, dodging mosquitoes and cicadas and trying to avoid the ubiquitous poison ivy and poison oak, they are boning up on Russian culture and recent history, trying to master the above popular Soviet song in Russian, attending lectures on the arms race, on American/Soviet relations, on the nature of culture and cultural biases, and engaging in small-group dynamics where they discuss their expectations and fears about this experience.

Ripple-in-the-Pond Effect

"I think something like this has the possibility of having a ripple-in-the-pond effect," Mollie Lowery, director of the Los Angeles Men's Place, a center for mentally disabled and homeless men on Skid Row, said of the march. "Perhaps it can change some minds, increase people's awareness, get them active. And for me, working as I do on Skid Row, I hope to broaden my understanding of how local issues connect with larger issues. . . . If you prioritize national defense, you decrease efforts against the violence and destruction at home that is symbolized by poverty, homelessness and hunger. I'm interested in how both countries work this out."

Lowery is one of 82 Californians in the group, by far the largest contingent. Los Angeles retailing legend Fred Segal is here with his daughter, Anne; as are actress Judy Brock, Malibu artist Tita Cooley and Marilyn Hanson, a student and mother from Santa Monica with her two teen-agers, Erik and Lara.

Described as a "person-to-person educational event aimed at ending an arms race nobody wants," the walk had its genesis last November in the final days of the Great Peace March across America from Los Angeles to Washington. (About a third of this walk is composed of former marchers.)

Two of the marchers, Carlos de la Fuente, 49, a lawyer from Los Angeles, and Allan Affeldt, 28, a graduate student from UC Irvine, went "cold turkey" to the Soviet Embassy announcing they'd like to do something similar in the Soviet Union.

Four trips to the Soviet Union, several negotiating sessions in Washington and countless telexes later the great adventure, being described as "unprecedented" by the sponsoring Soviets and Americans, is about to begin.

Jointly coordinated by the newly formed private American organization, International Peace Walk Inc., and the official, government-approved Soviet Peace Committee, the walk will bring the Americans together with about 200 Soviets. As Affeldt, president of IPW, and De la Fuente tell it, the American organizers originally pressed for 500 walkers from each country who would go by foot every step of the way, pitch tents together or sleep in local homes, schools and churches, cook their own meals and take care of themselves.

The Soviets wanted to treat it like other peace marches and walks they have hosted. They envisioned a tour, shuttling people from city to city with symbolic walks at certain locations, housing and feeding their guests in hotels and restaurants. When they finally realized that these Americans really did want to sleep on the ground and walk along with their Soviet counterparts, they compromised.

Peace City in Moscow

As now planned, the group will both walk, an average of 9 miles a day, and be bused in order to cover the 360 miles between Wednesday and June 30. Meals will be served and hotels will be available. The Soviets have promised the Americans they can pitch their tents, and more importantly to the Americans, that they will have access to local Soviets and vice versa, with the Soviets broadcasting in advance when and where the Americans will be coming. When the walk reaches Moscow, the group will set up Peace City and live there for a week. A staggering number of factory and farm tours and formal meetings with local committees have been planned. All of this points to a controlled environment, but the Americans are being positive and philosophical about the outcome. At the same time in smaller training sessions they are voicing fears that they will not really be able to connect with ordinary Soviets.

"People tell us this (walk) is purely symbolic. We want to show there is another way to carry out international relations," Affeldt told the group here at the first orientation meeting. "Of course it's symbolic. So was it symbolic when Richard Nixon visited China in 1971 and traded Ping-Pong paddles and pandas. Look what it led to."

Citizen Exchanges

Although not on this scale or style, citizen exchanges between the two countries are commonplace by now. And just as commonplace are the accusations that Americans who participate are dupes of the Soviets--all too eager to criticize their own country, all too credulous of the Soviets, virtually suspending their critical faculties.

The American walk organizers have sought to avoid that. Among this week's trainers have been a diplomat from the State Department, a representative from the National Security Council, Soviet emigres and a representative of Helsinki Watch, a human rights watchdog group. They turned down the Soviets' offer to finance the trip, Affeldt said, and insisted marchers pay their own way, $2,500--an admittedly bargain rate provided by the Soviets--although some are paying less, subsidized by others in an effort to get a good racial, ethnic and social mix. (Nevertheless, only a handful of blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans are among the group--mainly because of too short a time to connect with those communities adequately, recruitment director Oldis Ohaks said.)

Also, the organizers have made known to the Soviets their desire to meet with dissident Soviets, among them refuseniks and activists from the independent peace movement, such as the Moscow Trust Group, which officially does not exist. The Soviets were not happy with that, organizer Joe Kinczel told the walkers, denying at first the existence of such groups, then questioning why it was necessary to meet with them. It was necessary, Affeldt reported he said to the Soviets, "for our credibility and in order to meet with people of all opinions."

Saying there would be no official meeting with such dissidents, Affeldt encouraged people to meet with them in smaller groups, advising that it was one thing to stretch the Soviets, but another to make them snap.

'A Time of Transition'

Hearing of some of the plans for the peace walk, one Soviet expert, Marshall Goldman of Harvard's Russian Research Center, said by telephone, "To see the two of them together (both the officially approved groups and the other category of peace activists) is worth the trip alone. It really promises to be exciting. It's a very interesting time to be doing this. I'm somewhat skeptical, but you don't know. This is really a time of transition. If (Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev is as good as his word. . . , " he said, anything could happen.

Meanwhile, the orientation proceeds. Seriousness, high purpose, fun and adventure co-exist in this summer camp setting. People sit on the floor of musty bedrooms, leaning against the bunk beds and bare pine walls, and obediently follow the facilitator of their group in getting-to-know-you exercises. Four-year-old Ged (for George Edward) Helm, on the walk with his parents, Edward and Adrien Helm, active Methodists from Washington, and three siblings, takes it in stride: "My name is Ged. I am walking to the Soviet Union and there are too many bombs."

Linda Jewell, 48, a mother and teacher from Seattle who co-chairs a peace group there, tells the others, "This is the first time I've done something like this without my husband. I married at 20. I want to see what I do without his help and support."

There are peace activists, many of them well informed on the minute details of the arms race. Others seem to be here out of religious or spiritual convictions about peace and the unity of humanity. Others have a New Age mentality that ignores political differences and stalemates as inconsequential if not irrelevant: no time for negativity or hesitation. No such thing as a problem that cannot be solved. In shortest supply, although not entirely missing, are the more politically motivated. One Soviet expert, former Berkeley professor and writer William Mandel, sat through some morning exercises that involved arriving at a consensus about the world's most serious problems and their causes. Participants were determined, it seemed, to reduce everything to lack of love, fear, lack of communication. Mandel sounded off in exasperation briefly, then said later, with a mixture of consternation and respect, "What's begun to sink in to me is that a lot of people here are able to see what they are doing as totally internal (spiritual). This is the most political thing there is--nothing is more political than relations between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. There has never before been a group (event) like this. And it is being done by people who are not political at all. By people who just seem to have concluded, 'there isn't any other alternative.' "

Late one midweek night in the mess hall, the orientation staff was cleaning up. And singing.

Mark Hengstler, Steve Brigham and Laura Monagan, young people in their 20s who had all been part of the Great Peace March, were belting out a song Monagan wrote on that march. They were exuberant--rocking, jiving, clapping hands and slapping dish towels to the beat:

I want a test ban treaty,

Give it to me!

"This song was born in Harrisburg, Pa. on the kitchen prep truck," Monagan paused and announced. "It lives to this day and we hope we won't have to sing it much longer."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
59°