Reebok Diplomacy : Allan Affeldt of Newport Beach, the Activist : Behind the Peace March on Moscow

<i> Jamie Simons and Jon Lapidese are writers based in Los Angeles. </i>

ONE A.M., MONDAY, April 27. There’s a chill in the air outside radio station KABC. Inside, the Cold War is raging. Guest Allan Affeldt is trading terse comments with host Bill Pearl and telephone callers about his plan for an American-Soviet peace walk. A caller comes on the line.

“Mr. Affeldt, you’re an obvious propagandist,” he says. “Take your big, brave 450-mile walk in Russia, and then you’ll understand what propaganda really is. Where’s your common sense?”

“Does common sense tell you that we can win an arms race?” Affeldt replies.

“The arms race?” says the caller. “If I was going to be allied with the likes of you advocating peace I’d just as soon be blasted off the planet!”

During the next hour, callers denounce Affeldt as a Marxist, a Communist and a dupe.

Who is Allan Affeldt, and why is he the target of all this invective? Currently on leave from his doctoral studies at the University of California, Irvine, he is president of International Peace Walk Inc., the driving force behind the American Soviet Walk, a 450-mile trek from Leningrad to Moscow that began June 15 and was planned to culminate yesterday in a joint U.S.-Soviet rock concert.

Although some may label him a Commie dupe, the 28-year-old Affeldt says the philosophy that lies behind the walk has been expressed by conservatives such as Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. “Reagan repeatedly says: ‘Wouldn’t it be great if Americans and Soviets got to know each other as people because it would remove so much international tension?’ ” Affeldt maintains. Then he cites Nixon’s “Ping-Pong” diplomacy: “We’re trying to emulate the model Nixon used in China. You don’t need a lot of technological agreements; if you improve relations in general, everything else will follow.” Breaking into a grin, he adds: “We’re just doing our patriotic duty.”

IT’S MEMORIAL DAY,and Affeldt is halfway through his usual 14-hour shift at the walk’s national headquarters--an abandoned yacht clubhouse in Newport Beach. In the marina, sailors are out for one last day of leisure before the holiday ends. Inside the cavernous room it is business as usual. Staff members study computer readouts, complete last-minute reports and talk on the phone. In one corner, Affeldt sits hunched over a bowl of cold chili, a telephone to his ear.

Affeldt is working on his latest challenge--arranging the Moscow rock concert. Bill Graham, the producer of both the Live Aid and Amnesty International concerts, has agreed to produce the show. Graham will be responsible for the technical side of the concert; Affeldt, with help from Graham and walk supporters, has only a few days to come up with $1 million and procure bankable stars. For a man who has pulled together in five months what many skeptics said would never happen, anything may be possible.

Indeed, the accomplishments of Affeldt and his crew of 10, most of them under 28 years of age, read like a Kissinger wish list for detente: permission for 220 Americans and 200 Soviets to walk together through the countryside of five oblasts, or Soviet states; authorization for the Americans to stay in Soviet homes; no censorship of the American press; 100 speaking engagements for the Americans in Soviet factories, town halls and schools; freedom to show videos of American movies, including “Dr. Strangelove,” “Dumbo,” “A Night at the Opera” and “Gone With the Wind"; potlucks with entire Soviet villages; a tent city in Moscow of Soviet and American citizens that anyone can visit--all culminating in the largest American-Soviet cultural exchange ever: a concert on the Fourth of July.

Affeldt is quick to point out that these are not his accomplishments but the joint efforts of many. He says he’s just a regular guy. With his dreamy academic look, rangy build and uniform of T-shirt, jeans and hiking boots, one is inclined to believe him. Still, this is the same man who bought a white 1950 Bentley at age 19 with profits from his real-estate business. Raised in an upper-middle-class Orange County Republican home, Affeldt began underwriting trust deeds at age 15, starting with $2,000 he inherited from his father. The profits from the business paid for his college education and hobbies like the Bentley. He even joined a car club for Rolls-Royce and Bentley owners, but now speaks of those days almost apologetically. “We’d all drive around, go to meetings, things like that. But it wasn’t very satisfying. The people in this club were very, very wealthy. But they weren’t any happier than anybody else; they just had more money. Those early experiences helped me a lot, giving me perspective.”

If cruising with the rich weaned Affeldt from materialism, his experiences traveling in Asia pushed him toward social activism. “Halfway through my sophomore year I dropped out of college to travel. My best friend and I got off the plane in Thailand, and there we were in the middle of the Third World. When a leper comes up and grabs you, has no food and wants some clothes, what do you do? If you have your wits about you, you start to wonder about the distribution of wealth in the world and what you can do about it.”

After his return to UC Irvine, Affeldt staged a fast on campus to raise money to combat world hunger. Disappointed by the meager returns, he and a friend decided that they would refuse to eat until they raised $10,000. “By about the fourth day, when it was obvious we meant it, some Orange County developers offered to match us dollar for dollar. We got corporate sponsors, hit the papers and eventually ended up raising a quarter of a million dollars.”

Enrolled during this time as an undergraduate philosophy major at UC Irvine, Affeldt maintains that he never went to class and, when not involved with the sanctuary movement and peace activities, spent most of his time playing racquetball. Nevertheless, he graduated with honors and applied to do his doctoral work at UC Irvine. Last year, Affeldt took a leave from the doctoral program in cognitive brain research to act as deputy field manager for Pro Peace, the organization that staged the 3,500-mile walk across America known as the Great Peace March.

As the march drew to a close last fall in Washington, Affeldt, along with fellow marcher and retired L.A. Municipal Judge Carlos de la Fuente, walked uninvited over to the Soviet Embassy and told First Attache Anatoly Khrustalev they would like to plan a walk for peace in the Soviet Union. The Soviets were amused but agreed to begin discussions on what has been described as “the largest non-military invasion by Americans in Soviet history.” (In 1918, a small contingent of American forces entered Russia to aid the White Russian army during the Revolution.)

The idea for the walk, Affeldt says, actually originated in heartland America. Last year, as he and 500 others walked across the country on the Great Peace March, onlookers--"Some with a smile, some displaying the one-finger ‘peace sign’ ” as one marcher put it--yelled: “Why don’t you go do this in Russia?”

In November the Soviet-government-sanctioned Soviet Peace Committee gave the walk tentative approval, and in early December De la Fuente flew to Moscow to meet with members of the Supreme Soviet, the country’s ruling body. De la Fuente returned to Washington with a preliminary agreement, a case of pneumonia and pressing family responsibilities. He contacted Affeldt. Things were not working out, he said. No one in the fledgling organization knew how to raise money; they couldn’t plan strategy, and everyone was arguing.

The conversation had a sickeningly familiar ring. The year before, Pro Peace had gone bankrupt in the desert near Barstow on its way to Washington. The participants who wished to carry on (about 500 of the original 1,400) had turned to Affeldt, field manager Tim Carpenter and lawyer Dan Chavez to get them back on their feet. “The three of us went out and set up a corporation and a board, raised funds, did the accounts and legal work, and in two weeks had enough money to get back on the road,” Affeldt says. “To do this we had to leave the march, and anybody who was not there, at the actual site, was seen by some of the marchers as the enemy.”

Returning to Barstow after being away for two weeks raising funds, the “California troika,” as they were known, were accused by a small but vocal group of marchers of using drugs, sabotaging vehicles so the march could not continue and using the Great Peace March for their own aggrandizement.

“Usually,” says Affeldt, “the great thing about peace work is the camaraderie, but on the march we got nothing but garbage.” Says Tom Johnson, a participant in the Great Peace March who is now communications director for the American Soviet Walk: “The march beat up anyone who stepped forward to take responsibility. Allan was chewed up and spit out.”

Affeldt, Carpenter and Chavez resigned as organizers when the march got to Sterling, Colo., but Chavez and Affeldt decided to stay on as part of the rank and file. “I wanted to see it through,” Affeldt says. “I went to work in the kitchen and got more praise for a good piece of lasagna than I ever did for raising $100,000.”

Learning to make lasagna was not the high point of Affeldt’s trip. On a rest stop in Nebraska he met his girlfriend, Angela Frabasilio, 21, who is now on his staff. She remembers him in those days as quiet and intense. “Sometimes, when Allan was upset, he would walk straight through, 18 miles, without stopping to eat or rest. When he’d get to camp he’d just collapse.”

If Affeldt is focused and cerebral, Frabasilio has a flower-child-like innocence combined with a wisdom that Affeldt calls “good people sense.” His summation of their relationship: “I teach her about neurology; she teaches me about people.”

Affeldt’s skills as an organizer were called upon again as the march reached Chicago. Back in the red, the marchers also had no effective plan for the Washington finale. Affeldt went on ahead to the capital, raised the needed money and organized a grand finale with marching bands, 20,000 participants and Carl Sagan as a speaker. Ironically, this marked Affeldt as persona non grata once more. Says Affeldt: “There was this incredible fight between those on the march and the people in the D.C. and New York offices. Again, if you were not actually marching you were seen as the enemy.”

By now Affeldt was burnt out, fed up and ready to go home. Asked by De la Fuente to accompany him to the Soviet Embassy, Affeldt agreed to this one last favor. That done, he climbed onto his motorcycle and headed for the West Coast. His attitude toward working on other marches was, he says: “Not in this lifetime. I have had enough.”

Affeldt returned to the home-built, two-story trailer on the UC Irvine campus where he lived with Frabasilio and his goat, Shiva, named for the Indian god of destruction and reproduction, and he resumed his studies.

When the call for help came from De la Fuente a month later, Affeldt’s response was not a cordial one. “I said I’d be glad to offer assistance over the phone, but under no circumstances was I going back. One week later the entire staff (minus the ailing De la Fuente) flew to California. They said: ‘We’ll work here if you’ll agree to do this.’ I finally decided that was OK as long as they met my conditions; namely, it wouldn’t be like the Great Peace March. There would have to be professionalism and integrity. It would be set up like a corporation with each person taking on his own responsibilities. If we couldn’t get solvent and stay that way, we’d call off the walk. Everyone agreed.”

Though set up along the lines of a corporation, with time lines, budget reports and regularly scheduled meetings, the style of International Peace Walk Inc. was more Woodstock than IBM. All four members of the Washington staff moved into the trailer with Affeldt, Frabasilio and the goat. They were broke and had to charge expenses to Affeldt’s credit cards.

The corporation’s first goal was to build the broadest possible base of support. “Even though we’re making a simple humanitarian statement,” Affeldt says, “we felt we needed to position ourselves in a way that was consistent with American and Soviet interests. So we went to the State Department, the Administration, even the Heritage Foundation. We asked them all to write a statement of purpose that would reflect American long-term interests. We got endorsements from the clergy, Congress and, of course, from the peace movement itself.”

A dimpled smile breaks across Affeldt’s face. “I remember sitting on the hill behind the trailer making my notes for the budget. I left them there, and by the time I came back the goat had eaten them all. We had our official paper shredder.” It was time to find an office.

In one day of looking they found their headquarters, a 2,400-square-foot, high-ceilinged space on the Newport marina. The owner wanted $4,000 a month. They could only afford $1,000, but the owner accepted the deal. They began to solicit funds, and to Affeldt’s amazement the first three phone calls netted $16,000.

The next objective was to choose the 220 Americans who would make the walk. “We wanted the most diverse group possible,” says recruitment director Uldis Ohaks, a Latvian-born contractor from Seattle who was on the Great Peace March. The final roll call, chosen with help from the peace movement and religious groups, consists mostly of middle-class whites, but it also includes a Pueblo Indian from Taos, N.M., Latino families, Asian-Americans and blacks. The oldest person on the walk is 80, the youngest 6 months. A 12-year-old girl is making the trip alone, supervised by a staff member. Each participant must be sponsored by an organization such as a church or peace group and pay a $2,500 fee. Scholarships were set up for the less well-heeled, and staff members deducted $300 a month from their small salaries to pay for their spaces. Eighty of the participants are veterans of the Great Peace March.

Unlike that contentious experience, the American Soviet Walk came together smoothly and sweetly. Staff members attribute the harmony to Affeldt’s managerial style. He gives each person full authority as long as they remain accountable for their actions. Joe Kinczel , the walk’s Russian-speaking 28-year-old field director, handled all of the logistical negotiations in the Soviet Union. He recalls Affeldt’s first instructions to him. “I got one scribbled note, then one phone call that was three sentences long: ‘I’d like you to do the logistics. Come up with a model we can present to the Soviets. This is what we can pay you.’ ” Continues Kinczel: “I flew to Washington with the plan laid out, then Allan and I went to Russia. He puts his full support behind each of us as long as we are clear and honest.”

A year ago, Affeldt was getting anything but praise for his skills as a manager. He concedes that some of his difficulty on the Great Peace March was caused by his own arrogance. Frabasilio nods from the neighboring desk. “When Allan ran up against someone else’s insecurities, instead of taking things slowly, he would tell them what to do. I’d warn him, ‘You’re going to get it for that.’ And in the end it would come back and kick him in the face. He’s better now at offering his own suggestions, waiting to hear the response and taking it from there.”

Affeldt adds: “I didn’t understand that it doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong if you can’t explain yourself to people. I had a lot to learn about patience and listening.”

Although Affeldt has fostered a casually efficient office atmosphere, he says he has been more disciplined in his negotiations with the Soviets. “With them I’d take a very businesslike approach. I’d always present a specific agenda, and instead of asking, ‘How do you intend to do this?’ I’d say, ‘Here are different solutions for housing or feeding everyone. Which one are you going to choose?’ ”

The response to most suggestions was a “yes” from Ivan Fillin of the Soviet Peace Committee and a “ nyet " from his partner, Slava Sluzhivov. “At first we thought they were working as a good-cop / bad-cop team,” Affeldt says. “But by the second round of negotiations we figured out what was going on. Ivan was there to listen to our ideas, Slava was the guy who had to actually go out and make it work. He had to find the sites, the vehicles and the food, and if he said no it was because he had already tried and found it impossible. From the moment we understood his difficulties, negotiations moved from partisanship to collective problem-solving.”

Even with the Soviets cooperating, the cultural differences between the two groups were enormous. As Kinczel told American participants after returning from the Soviet Union: “We tend to think of our trip as a peace walk in the same mold as the Great Peace March where we walk 15 miles a day, camp out every night and are responsible for our own life-support systems. The Soviets think of it as a tour for peace where we are bused, walk token amounts and stay in hotels.”

Although anxious to find compromises, Affeldt would not concede on the issue of actually hoofing it from town to town. “First it is symbolic--Americans and Soviets coming together in a cooperative, not competitive, effort,” he says. “Secondly, walking forces people to slow down and look around. It encourages communication.”

Warned by the Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko that the Soviet government would try to control every moment of the walkers’ day, Affeldt and Kinczel negotiated agreements allowing them to walk an average of nine miles a day, have potlucks in villages, stay in Soviet homes and have Soviet children participate in the walk.

To accomplish this, Kinczel had to negotiate separate logistics with each of the five oblasts through which the walkers would pass. In Moscow and Leningrad he met with officials who, used to tourism, were fairly blase and tried to offer him the standard tourist sightseeing package.

In Novgorod oblast, officials were enthusiastic and helpful. But then came Kalinin, where Kinczel ran into resistance from a burly 70-year-old longtime party member, a woman who resolutely rejected each of Kinczel’s suggestions. After a morning of this, Kinczel crossed his legs, folded his arms and refused to talk to her. He remained stonily silent through lunch, a visit to a campground and what was to have been an afternoon negotiating session. Finally this intractable bureaucrat asked Kinczel what was wrong. He told her he needed more walking, more campsites and more cooperation. Having met her match, she began to relax, and the two finally began to talk. When Kinczel left a few hours later, she was smiling and had accepted a gift--a supply of American T-shirts.

For Affeldt, communication and learning are what the walk is all about. “As long as the Soviets are willing to accept us into their country,” he says earnestly, “we think that’s a significant step in the right direction. We don’t have to like what they are doing in Afghanistan; they don’t have to like what we are doing in Nicaragua. We can still work together for arms control. We have to let go of the rigid attitudes of the past. An incredible opportunity now exists. They’re changing; we’re changing--we can build on that.”

The accusation that Affeldt is a Soviet dupe has dogged him at every step. At this insinuation, Affeldt’s relaxed demeanor tenses a bit. “First of all,” he says, “it was our idea. We went to them. Secondly, they are taking an enormous risk bringing 220 Americans into their midst with our music, our movies and our ideas. Glasnost or no glasnost , many people in the Soviet Union are opposed to this. For the Kremlin to allow our values into their culture--that’s a scary thing.

“Are we propagandists? I suppose, but it depends on what you think propaganda is. The word just means to propagate, or to spread, and if the message that we’re spreading is one of peace and cooperation, then, by God, let’s all be propagandists.” And if the walk is an international success leading to “Reebok diplomacy” and propelling Affeldt to Bob Geldof-like fame? Affeldt shrugs as he answers the phone. “I’ll just go back to my trailer.”