This month, we mark the 61th anniversary of the completion of the CNVA San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace. In October 1961, flanked by enormous crowds of Soviet citizens and surrounded by press and filmmakers, the core group of walkers stepped into the Red Square in Moscow. Over the previous 10 months, they had crossed the entire span of the continental United States, then the span of Europe, almost completely on foot. Between the Walk’s initial conception at the Hygienic Restaurant in New London, Connecticut in September 1960, all the way to the Walk’s conclusion in Moscow, Soviet Union in October 1961, the CNVA received significant domestic and international support. Thousands of supporters sent material or monetary donations in preparation for and during the Walk. Hundreds met and accompanied the core group for long stretches of the journey, while thousands more across the route came out to hear what these unusual strangers had to say. With reporting from the AP, CBS, and other major news companies, countless more people around the world would learn about the story. With the help of their many supporters, a hardscrabble team of peace activists had shared their message with both the United States and the Soviet Union: a true end to war can only happen when one side voluntarily chooses to demilitarize; true peace can only start with “unilateral disarmament.”
The Walk, and especially the climactic demonstration in Moscow, was full of surprises. From the countryside to the cities, the Soviet people were extremely eager to hear out the unique perspectives and arguments of these Americans who had walked for thousands of miles like religious pilgrims to reach them. These were unlike any Americans the Soviet people had heard of. And contrary to expectations, the CNVA activists were permitted to speak freely and openly with the Soviet people everywhere they went. While the Soviet Union had its own state-sponsored “Peace Councils” which advocated for universal disarmament, most suspected the “PC” officials of being, if not disingenuous, then perhaps controlled by Soviet political leaders. And yet, the PC officials that the CNVA walkers encountered were generally very helpful, reasonable, and sometimes downright permissive — especially compared to some of the treatment those same activists encountered at the hands of US government officials at home. Indeed, as the walkers experienced for themselves, Western media and government officials were the ones who were often blatantly hypocritical, shadily disingenuous, and full of both hidden and naked prejudices.
Not everything on the journey went perfectly, and logistical issues dogged the group even to the last days of the Walk, but “considering the proportions of [their] assignment,” the completion of the project was a truly impressive feat. We at VPT are proud to be connected to this amazing world odyssey for peace.
(Click on the image below to download a PDF version of the original pages)
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. You Come with Naked Hands: The Story of the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace. Greenleaf Books, Raymond, New Hampshire: 1966.
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