Freedom Sunday for Soviet Jewry
Following the 1986 Reykjavík Summit in Iceland between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, talk spread of another summit in 1987, this time in Washington. In May 1986, Natan Shcharansky, finally released from imprisonment in exchange for a Soviet spy, proposed a seemingly impossibly large demonstration on behalf of Soviet Jews.
"While Reagan can use quiet diplomacy, American Jews should not take this approach... When Mikhail Gorbachev arrives in Washington for talks, at least 400,000 Americans should come to Washington to remind the Kremlin that 400,000 Soviet Jews who have applied to leave the Soviet Union have been denied exit visas." - Natan Shcharansky, May 1986, at the Conference of Presidents and Leaders of American Jewish Organizations
Photos of Reagan and Gorbachev at their December 7-10, 1987 summit in Washington D.C.. Courtesy of the Reagan Presidential Library.
"That Figure is totally unrealistic. If Sharansky keeps calling for 400,000, he is only going to embarrass the community and undercut the effectiveness of the demonstration when inevitably far fewer demonstrators show up." - Anonymous Jewish Leader, 1987, in the Washington Jewish Week
Front page article of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 7, 1987
October 30, 1987, President Reagan announced that the anticipated summit would take place in Washington on December 7. Only hours later, Shcharansky's proposed rally was officially announced for the proceeding day, December 6, 1987. Worried about hindering the progress that Reagan and Gorbachev were making in terms of human rights and emigration, the organizers decided to give the event a positive objective. Instead of protesting either leader's action, the rally would instead demonstrate solidarity with Soviet Jewry.
Speech of Vice President George Bush at the Freedom Sunday for Soviet Jewry, December 6, 1987. Recorded by C-Span.
The Ludington Daily News, December 7, 1987, "Gorbachev on way to U.S. for Summit Talks."
"The next day, President Reagan explained to his visitor that the American people wouldn't permit improved U.S.-Soviet relations until Moscow ensured the free emigration of those wishing to depart the Soviet Union." - Natan Sharansky in Students and Housewives vs. Evil Empire