World Peace Congress, Helsinki, 1965

Ann has already written extensively about her life and much of that writing will be found in her book. Because she has her writing from that time, it has a fresh quality. It’s not a recollection of something that happened 50 years ago, it’s of the moment!

Many people wonder what inspired Ann’s trip to China. There was certainly her love of adventure – new places and new people. But a decision to attend the World Peace Conference in Helsinki led to a decision to go to China.

Ann portrait

Here is the first part of her description of the conference.

August 1965

Dear Friends,

I have been on an adventure that puts Alice in Wonderland to shame! I attended the World Peace Conference in Helsinki, Finland, during the week of July 10 to 15. Let me describe that meeting a little bit, since I am sure that our U.S. newspapers have not reported the event favorably or in detail.

The Congress (full title was The World Congress for Peace, General Disarmament, and National Independence) is not exactly the type of meeting that we of the U.S. are generally encouraged to go to, nor even to read about. But it was an experience that I consider valuable and would like to share with those that will care to read about it. Of course I can only tell fragments of what was an intensive and exhausting week at Helsinki. But to begin.

As you know, I am a person who will speak and be heard when I have an opinion, whether or not those around me will approve or disapprove my point of view. Being such a person, I decided that I would venture into this World Congress of Peace, despite the label of “Communist” that is given to it by all official U.S. sources and newspapers. Well, there were plenty of communists there, but there were a lot of non-communists, too. And, regardless of the labels of the parties to which the people belonged, there was a lot of interesting discussion.

There were 1500 people, from 98 different countries (both socialist and capitalist systems) and there were representatives from 17 international organizations (which ones I never did try to find out). There were many world famous artists, poets, writers, etc., as well as members of parliament from various countries. Quite an astounding group, all in all.

From the U.S.A. there were 94 of us, with a range of opinions that was enough to exhaust us in trying to pull ourselves together to function in simple democratic processes. We had one of the largest groups from any country, and also one of the least organized before leaving, it seems to me.

Among us were five religious leaders; a Quaker, an Episcopalian, and 3 Methodists. About 22 of our women were members of Women Strike for Peace and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (the latter group is one that Jane Addams of Hull House Settlement had helped to found some 50 years ago). As political affiliations were not discussed I cannot report on how many belonged to various political groups. Because of his public stand in the U.S., Dr, Herbert Aptheker, anoted historian and national figure of the Communist Party, can be cited as one among us who surely carried a political label. There were several Negro men (but not one Negro woman) who participated, including the man identified as the leader of our contingent, a medical doctor from San Francisco, Dr. C.B. Goodlett. (We agreed that, since few of us were present as guests of the World Peace Council, others as observers and none of us as delegates with voice to speak on behalf of organizations at home, we would refer to our group as a “contingent” rather than a “delegation.” Most groups came with power to represent large organizations in the home country…and groups from Socialist countries often came with official voice of government policy.) There were representatives from newspapers, from the National Guardian, from The Worker, and some others, as well as a reporter from Radio Station WBAI. (I’m told that Newsweek and the Voice of America Radio had reporters at the Congress, too, but they did not participate in our daily meetings.) Our union representation was small.Quite a few people belonged to unions, but only two who were in any way sponsored by a union group. Nevertheless, this is the first time there have been official union delegates from the U.S.A. (From some Latin American countries, e.g., there were top union officials.)

So…this is to give some idea of our own group. It is to show that we were a varied group, knowingly including communist and non-communist. We all had spent some time working for peace and most of us had to pay our own way to travel to the Congress. Everyone who came obviously believed that it is necessary to work for better understanding between the capitalist and the socialist worlds, and that to do this one must take part in meetings where both systems send their representatives. Yet we of the U.S.A. fought bitterly among ourselves in the course of that week, with reasoning and with emotions, too. The arguments were basically around the methods to make peace in the world, which naturally involved discussions of the different social systems, yet was not centered on determining whether each person was “for or against” capitalism or socialism. The business of our congress was to gain better understanding of the way to a peaceful life for all people.

To be continued with a description of the conference….

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