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

June 12, 1987|KATHLEEN HENDRIX | Times Staff Writer

LEESBURG, Va. — 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."

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