Karen Talbot, fighter for peace and justice

Karen Talbot, a talented activist for peace and justice whose work was permeated by unshakable internationalism, died Oct. 12 in San Francisco after a two-month struggle against cancer. She was 69.

Talbot was born in Denver, Colo. For all her adult life she identified with progressive ideals, and acted on them with skill and effectiveness as a speaker, educator, organizer, and journalist.

She is probably best remembered for her untiring efforts to oppose nuclear weapons and U.S.-led wars – from the Vietnam War to the current war and occupation of Iraq. Her vision of a peaceful world included a deep rejection of racism and inequality. She was a staunch opponent of South African apartheid, anti-Semitism, and racism in the United States, and supported freedom and self-determination for the Palestinian people. For Talbot, peace and justice were indivisible.

Talbot served on the executive committee of the World Peace Council (WPC), and for a number of years worked as its secretary in Helsinki, Finland. That work brought her into contact with leaders of peace and anti-imperialist movements, several United Nations secretaries-general, members of Congress, world cultural figures and activists.

Romesh Chandra, former president of the WPC, cites Talbot’s role during the Vietnam War in organizing a conference of Vietnamese and U.S. peace activists. Because the U.S. government would not issue visas to the Vietnamese, the conference had to be held in Canada. Talbot’s role in making the conference a success, says Chandra, “gave added strength to the U.S. movement to end the war in Vietnam.”

Upon returning to the U.S. from Helsinki, Talbot worked closely with the U.S. Peace Council and later founded and directed the San Francisco-based International Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ). She was also a leader of the San Francisco chapter of the Gray Panthers, an advocacy group for seniors.

A strong supporter of the rights of organized labor, Talbot was sometimes called upon by trade unions for advice on international politics and solidarity. In 1998 she spoke on behalf of the World Federation of Trade Unions before the United Nations on the prevention of racism and discrimination.

Talbot’s research and journalistic skills produced a wide-ranging body of writing that won her an international readership. In recent years she wrote on the Balkans, Central Asia, and the Korean peninsula. Many of these writings are available on the ICPJ web site, www.icpj.org. She often wrote for the People’s Weekly World. This year her PWW article, “Coup-making in Venezuela: the Bush administration and oil factors,” was selected by Project Censored as one of the 25 most suppressed stories of 2002-03. Talbot won this distinction twice.

Juan Lopez, chair of the Communist Party USA in Northern California, said Talbot was a true internationalist and lifelong advocate of socialism. “When it was sometimes difficult to speak out against U.S. foreign policy, and when others were timid or held back, Karen didn’t flinch. She was a strong and courageous woman … always there when the cause of peace and justice needed a clear and unyielding voice.” At the time of her death, Talbot was a member of the national committee of the CPUSA.

Those who knew her say Talbot was a modest, caring person, whose heart would go out to others needing help. She was an excellent pianist and a lover of classical music, following in the footsteps of her father, who was an accomplished musician.

Karen Talbot is survived by three daughters, Peggy, Sonya, and Majken, and her brother, Claude Sandell. The family is planning a memorial in San Francisco in early January.