In late June 1961, a small contingent of the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace made multiple attempts to swim from a boat into France to continue the Walk there. They had walked all the way across the continental United States and were now crossing Europe with a simple but radical demand to save humanity: universal disarmament. The Walk team had been thwarted early by French authorities, but they quickly regrouped and planned another attempt. With hundreds of witnesses as well as at least one reporting team with a TV camera present, these water stunts themselves became demonstrations for peace. Millie Gilbertson was one participant whose account we highlighted last time. She noted that, with how everything played out, “I can’t help feeling the French [government] would have been better off letting us walk. I just heard a newscast: ‘The Ban the Bomb Marchers swam to shore and have been returned to the ship.’”
(See our post from last week here: “We Try to Enter France Again” (1961))
That same day, the team of swimmers made another attempt, but was this time put in jail before negotiating their release. The response they got from the authorities was predictable: “One was telling us that all France wants peace. France would disarm if only Russia would do it first. What can be done? Same story, different language.” While many ordinary French citizens seemed to be moved by the Walkers’ actions, and a contingent of the Walk already on the French side fulfilled the route themselves (with signs simply reading: “censored”), their government remained determined to participate in the arms race.
But in Belgium, the reception was remarkably different. One of the principal organizers of the Walk, Brad Lyttle, reported that “[a]t almost every city we are being given an official reception by the burgermeister.” Perhaps due to Belgium’s history of neutrality (and its violation) in the World Wars, many Belgians keenly understood the costs of war. Even while their national leaders would not publicly advocate for universal disarmament, the local leaders and communities seemed almost universally supportive of the Walk’s international humanitarian message.
In our own time, it is increasingly disturbing to witness our own federal government and major political figures continue to dismantle longstanding civil protections and rights, leaving such responsibilities to often underfunded local governments and nongovernmental institutions. There is no doubt that our central government’s perversion and abandonment of our most basic principles has spelled disaster for countless people, and will continue to do so. But as the federal government retreats, perhaps this presents an opportunity for radical progressives and leftists to take up the ceded ground and lay a new foundation to support grassroots social justice movements.
(Click the image below to download the PDF version of the original clipping)
The CT Committee for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons organizes pro-disarmament demonstrations throughout the year. To participate in these demonstrations against nuclear arms and in support of the UN’s Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, please get in touch with us on Facebook at facebook.com/voluntownpeacetrust or email us at email@example.com.
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Lyttle, Bradford. “Walkers in Belgium.” The Peacemaker. (Vol 14, #10)
“Peace Walkers Cross Belgium; To Enter West Germany Today.” The Peacemaker. (Vol 14, #10)
Gilberson, Millie. “We Try to Enter France Again.” The Peacemaker. (Vol 14, #10)
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