International peace movements and the tradition of Easter marches
The origin of the Easter march tradition is something we have explored in previous blog posts, and through various exhibitions at the museum; it is well represented in our collections. However, something that we haven’t explored in much detail is how widespread this tradition became internationally, and what it looks like today.
The first peace march to take place on the Easter weekend was the CND march to the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire in 1958. Aldermaston was the main site where Britain was developing nuclear warheads at the time, and so was a natural destination for a march opposing the production and use of nuclear weapons.
Many of the people present would go on to become key figures in the organisation, including Hugh Jenkins, who would later become the chair of CND, and Pat Arrowsmith, who would become a lifelong anti-nuclear and LGBTQ+ rights activist. Our collection contains portraits of both these people, painted by Margaret Glover, as well as these placards which were used in the first Aldermaston march.
Placards donated to the museum by Godric Bader, who used them in the 1959 Aldermaston March. They had previously been used by unknown members of CND during the first march in 1958.
Following this first march in 1958, the event was repeated for a number of years, including in 2004, in reaction to renewed plans for nuclear weapons research at the same site. The marches however, are not bound to the site of Aldermaston, or indeed to the opposition of nuclear weapons specifically. Over the years, marches have taken place at different sites across Europe and the USA, and the tradition has evolved to encompass other issues threatening peace today.
One of the cities in which Easter marches were held in direct response to Aldermaston was New York, from starting in 1959. While the first of these marches was relatively small, with only 600 people attending, by 1962 as many as 5000 people marched in New York, and in 1961 25,000 people marched across the US: the biggest anti-war demonstration since World War II. Leaflets from these marches included phrases such as “peace activity OR radioactivity” and “compete with ideas not arms”, reflecting the original anti-nuclear message of the CND marches, as well as more general calls for an end to war.
For more information on the New York marches, and to see some of these leaflets, you can visit: Easter Marches – NUCLEAR NEW YORK (google.com)
Germany has perhaps the most enduring tradition of peace marches over the Easter weekend, with these marches still being important events in the calendar of peace organisations today. The first Easter march, or ‘Ostermarsch’ in Germany was held in 1960, again modelled off the marches in the UK. The protestors marched for up to three days to the NATO Military training area Bergen-Hohne, to demonstrate against the development of nuclear missiles. Today, these marches take place in over 120 cities across the country.
Much like Easter marches in the UK and America, the movement in Germany grew to cover more than just anti-nuclear activism. This year the focus of the marches turned to the Russia-Ukraine more, as demonstrators opposed Putin’s invasion of the territory, although not without some controversy within the movement itself. Some involved disagreed with the organizers opposing all arms deliveries to forces in Ukraine, and their focus on a completely non-violent end to the war.
“Are we marching against the East? No! Are we marching against the West? No! We are marching for a world that no longer believes in weapons!”
One of the songs sung by protestors marching in Germany, translated into English
You can find out more about this year’s marches in Germany at Easter march in Hamburg for peace and against rearmament | NDR.de – News – Hamburg
International cooperation has always been key to peace movements with a focus on disarmament, and the spread of the Easter marching tradition far beyond its origins in the UK is a testament to the universal message of peace.
The stories within this blog post are just two examples of action for peace over the Easter weekend – if you know of any other examples, please get in touch with us at [email protected]