A couple of weeks ago we posted the beginning of a letter Ann sent to her friends after attending the World Congress for Peace, National Independence and General Disarmament in Helsinki in 1965. Here’s some more:
The Congress itself was set up for several plenary sessions where all 1500 people met together and heard speeches by simultaneous translation through earphones. Seven Commissions were set up and met daily and far into many evenings: Vietnam, Colonialism, Atmosphere for Peace (including religious work, United Nations, and other factors) and other major topics.
I spent very little time in these commissions, as the most valuable thing of the entire Congress, to my way of thinking, was the opportunity to meet and talk with people from almost any country of the world.
Wouldn’t you like to sit down and talk face to face with five people from Vietnam? Wouldn’t you like to ask them why they say there is no room for negotiations of the present war? WE DID IT! And on other occasions ten of us sat with representatives from North Vietnam and spent hours asking and answering questions. We did this with the Chinese, too; always in small groups so that there could be real discussion between the participants, but I know of two such meetings held with the Chinese, and two with the North Vietnamese, so that more than ten of our 94 had the opportunity for such talks. (Incidentally, it should be clear that Taiwan was not represented at this Congress!)
Luncheons were special occasions, too. The Soviet women invited all women to one luncheon (which I missed because I succumbed to a chest infection from lack of sleep while traveling to the Congress). The Soviet cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, was there. Mrs. Fucik was there, too. (She is the widow of a Czech anti-fascist fighter, Julius Fucik, who was murdered by the Nazis in 1943. She was also an underground fighter in her own right.) These are only two among the many famous and wonderful women. We hosted a luncheon for the various South and Central American delegates, who told us stories of their countries and the problems they face. We also hosted an evening party for all the Western Hemisphere delegates. I, using my Spanish, managed to talk with Cubans, Argentinians, Peruvians, and many others, including a Canadian (in English, yet!). Very exciting times these were, and, of course, with constant exchanges of lapel buttons, gifts, and home addresses for future contacts. People from Spain, France, Albania, England, India, Indonesia, Outer Mongolia…you name it…we talked with them.
By now you must realize that these meetings were set up in the cracks of time between the major planned meetings of the Congress itself. In order to do the work of the Congress, we had to write a paper for our contingent, and to do this we had to have daily meetings. (This left hew hours for sleep. Life was running, exciting, and valuable, if weary.) The major issue that our contingent discussed concerned the position we would take about Vietnam. This was first discussed in preparation of a speech to be given at a plenary session, and secondly in relation to the way we voted on the final resolution that came out of the Commission on Vietnam and which was presented for vote to the entire 1500 in the final session. The whole week in Helsinki was, for the United States contingent, a struggle of ideas about the issues involved in Vietnam and in our country
The next excerpt from Ann’s letter will describe the issues they discussed. Coming soon…