Be a Citizen Diplomat in 2017

By Sharon Tennison

Editor’s Note: PeaceWorker Editor Peter Bergel traveled to Russia with Sharon Tennison and others in June 2016 on a citizen diplomacy mission. He calls it “the trip of a lifetime.”

For the whole of 2016, we have been actively deliberating how best to use the Center for Citizen Initiatives’ 33-year experience in the US-Russia field––since Russia is increasingly being declared America’s enemy #1––which we totally reject.

We’ve concluded that our successful programs of the ’80s are precisely what is needed again in today’s baffling environment.

Center for Citizen Initiatives’ Background

For those unfamiliar with our history, a few words follow:  In 1983 at the height of first Cold War, twenty of us mainstream American citizens landed in Moscow with the goal to try to understand the deadlock with the “enemy” country. Sixteen days earlier, the 007 Korean airliner had been exploded in air by Soviet planes killing 269 persons aboard, some of them Americans.  America’s Congress and U.S. media burst forth in natural outrage.  The prospect of Nuclear War hung heavily across the world as we entered the Soviet Union. We first-time travelers to the USSR understood that more than ever that it was critical ‘to get eyes on the enemy’––to try to understand their mentalities and learn if the US-USSR relationship was utterly hopeless.

We began our investigations in Moscow with ‘eyes only.’ We didn’t confront, condemn or try to change the Soviets’ angst; we listened and spoke up … trying to remain neutral––which was difficult, since they were obviously frightened an all-out war could ensue. We passionately yearned to reduce the risks of Nuclear War for both Americans and Soviets––but as ordinary Americans were helpless to do anything but listen and try to get more information about the 007 flight. Long days, multiple meetings, confrontations and deep sharings by the Soviets about their experiences of WWII sped by. On leaving the USSR, our brain cells were scrambled with conflicting accounts of the horrible tragedy still in the news worldwide. Flying home we made the decision to return to the USSR … somehow realizing that our work had just begun. It was a momentous decision for several of us.

Like magnets drawn to metal, we scheduled a second trip and took other Americans with us … then third and fourth trips.  Soon we were making friends on the streets in Soviet cities and starting small projects with some of our new contacts (getting A.A. across the USSR was one of the projects that succeeded beyond anything we could have ever imagined). Thanks to Gorbchev’s ascension to power in 1985, we got permission in 1987 to bring non-Communist party members to visit America––those whom we had met in parks, schools and in their small apartments.  All together, we brought Soviet travelers to 264 American cities in 1988 and ’89 (thanks to Steve Wozniak)––where both sides realized they really enjoyed and respected one another.  Among ourselves we declared that the Cold War dead!  Other American groups like ours had also entered the “citizen diplomacy” field.  By this time we collectively were making a difference in the mindsets of citizens across both Superpowers.

Our CCI travel activities in the ‘80s succeeded because they destroyed decades of myths, stereotypes and fears between Soviet and American citizens––and they began to reduce deeply-held resentments and fears of Soviet officials.  Soon, Gorbachev and Reagan met at Reykjavik, Iceland … and the rest is history. Cold War I vanished without a trace remaining.

Now 25 Years Later, We are into Cold War II

Senior US-Russia historians tell us as 2016 ends, we are closer to Nuclear War today than anytime since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Yet most Americans aren’t aware of this since interestingly, the facts are not being reported in our mainstream media. Despite these grim forebodings, we citizens active in the ’80s experienced for sure that ‘intractable standoffs’ between the two Superpowers can be … and were set aside once before.  Normal relations were worked out fairly quickly under the more open next decade.

It if happened once, it can happen again! Keep in mind that both Gorbachev and Reagan had numerous high-level VIP naysayers pressing them to maintain the Cold War; but despite them all, the two of them pushed forward, declared a truce and began working together to create peace between our countries. Following that nuclear weapons were radically reduced on both sides.

Our generation of Americans and Russians experienced pure euphoria when the Berlin Wall came down!  No longer did we need to fear Nuclear War at each others’ hands––what a relief. We had proven that when Russians and Americans meet, we quickly find common ground. Strangely enough, our two populations have a  natural affinity for one another. Yet, how odd it is that enmity has erupted again between today’s policy leaders.  Mainstream media tout the same messages at the current leaders. Unfortunately, most of the generation that experienced “what’s possible,” are elderly or gone––and new impressionable minds have been convinced by sheer repetition of questionable storylines that Russians are our mortal enemies!  It’s unbelievable to me.

It’s critical that we citizens get involved in this latest Cold War II.  If we do, it’s predictable that near magic will happen again, as it did in the 80s.  We urge you to consider signing up––and also, please pass this email invitation on to respected, open-minded friends, colleagues and family members in your cities and beyond.

My warmest wishes to each of you for this New Year we have just entered!




You Can Have a Role in Rebuilding Relations and Trust between the U.S. and Russia

Dare to make a difference!  We invite you to apply for the first-ever Mega Delegation of up-to-100 American citizens who will travel to Russia in April of 2017 to hold hundreds of discussions with Russians from all walks of life in 10 regions throughout Russia. Too many travelers go to Moscow, spend a few days, talk with a limited number of people set up for them and come back to America with a very limited point of view. Hence this trip will guarantee that we are exposed to multiple points of view and get them documented with surveys and notes from discussion groups in far-flung north-to-south and east-to-western regions.

We will investigate both countries’ perspectives on why the relationship deteriorated to this place again––and what it will take to rebuild equitable relations and trust between these two nuclearized Superpowers.  And hopefully, the spectre of Nuclear War … or surrogate wars of any kind may be avoided in the future.

We citizens have the opportunity to be the human links during this extremely critical juncture––and make no mistake, the situation is extreme and it is critical.  More than ever, we need to have “ears to the ground,” listening and fact-checking assumptions and exaggerations relative to both countries. We need to comprehend both sides of the issues that have grabbed the angst of today’s policy makers. We need to understand the assumptions and major stick points regarding Syria, Iraq, Libya, Iran and China that divide our leaders––then use our voices nationwide and worldwide to call for sane alternatives. Future outcomes and solutions need to be open, honest and fair to all countries concerned.

As 2017 begins, we can organize the following:

1)  American citizens need to travel to Russia to make independent analyses of Russia, Russian people, Russia’s interests and points of view––and return home to educate on how to work toward and promote reasonable solutions for both countries. We need to create public awareness and public discourse regarding how to create a sustainable future for us all.
2)  Russian citizens and public figures need to travel to American cities to share their concerns and perspectives for rebuilding constructive relations and accommodating to each others’ politics and needs.
3)  Stop Cold War II demonizations and narratives which feed fears across both nations;
4)  Rebuild citizen and VIP human connections within both populations as rapidly as possible.
5)  Provide “truthful information”––refrain from fake news, rumors, disinformation and fabrications.