1961--Students join the two-day Easter peace march from Sunnyvale to San Francisco
About one hundred marchers started out on April 1, 1961, in Sunnyvale, California to walk to Union Square in San Francisco for a big Easter peace rally. Many of my friends were on this march, and the spirit was upbeat. It felt good to be on this "hike," getting some exercise in the open air, singing songs and chanting as we walked through middle-class neighborhoods that didn't pay us much attention.
We spent the night in the San Bruno Recreation Center, eating there and sleeping wherever we could. There was a party atmosphere as some of the bolder peace marchers held an impromptu dance. Smoking was the normal thing in those days, and we lit up and talked, and talked, and talked. I was tasked with taking photographs for the People's World, which someone had brought along to sell. I was there with a friend, and we thought it was fun, an adventure that took us out of our normal routine of studying for exams. Some members of the local community showed up at the Recreation Center to welcome us.
The next morning we again hit the road in good spirits. As we walked, we were entertained by local singer and guitar player James Fromer. We were amused by a guy who looked and dressed like a well-known North Beach comedian who made a career out of playing hip "Father Guido Sarducci." We reached San Francisco, passing a pretty neighborhood park and then reaching an elevation where we had a view of San Francisco's beautiful 1915 Beaux Arts City Hall building. A big cloth banner was brought out, proclaiming "Students Here and Everywhere March for Peace." At the rally in Union Square, we saw and heard a number of well-known peace activists, including San Francisco sculptor Beniamino Bufano and Nobel Prize Winning Chemist Linus Pauling.
The "doomsday clock"
This peace march and the many peace actions to follow in the early sixties were inspired by the threat of nuclear Armageddon, famously dramatized by the "doomsday clock" of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The "clock" is still updated yearly and has become a universally recognized indicator of the extent of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change and other effects of human activity on the health of the planet. The clock is currently set to 11:58:20 PM, 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been.
For the young people of the current generation the Cold War it is not much more than a footnote to history. At the time, however, many of us felt the fear of nuclear annihilation in a visceral way. Those of us who remember the nuclear drills we experienced in the fifties, crouching under our school desks with our hands over our eyes and the occasional chilling P.A. announcement that "this many not be a drill," know why we marched against the arms race in the early sixties.
Prelude to the anti-Vietnam war campaigns
The anti-nuclear campaigns took place several years before the war in Vietnam erupted into a deadly confrontation that killed almost 60,000 Americans and over one million Vietnamese. With the military drafting thousands of young men to fight overseas, fear of the bomb was replaced by the fear of sudden death in the jungles of Vietnam and repulsion at the horrific toll taken on the Vietnamese people by the War and the military's use of the destructive "defoliant" chemical "Agent Orange."
Walking through residential Sunnvale. So quiet;, I guess everyone was at work.
Starting our two-day trek in Sunnyvale, home to defense industry R&D labs and production facilities.
In San Bruno, we stopped at the Community Recreation Center to spend the night and socialize with the locals.
Camaraderie at the San Bruno rest stop.
Socializing, while we smoked. We thought we knew the solution to everything back then, but were clueless about the dangers of smoking.
"People's World" writer and future editor, Carl Bloice, my roommate for a while, cutting a rug on the Center's "dance floor."
Catching up on the news in the Communist Weekly "People's World" newspaper.
We slept wherever we could.
Spring had sprung in the City, and its parks blossomed with the Easter message of hope and rebirth.
Through the virtual time travel of photography, the view of 1961 from (almost) sixty years later acquires a rosy tint.
Do you remember being this young and enthusiastic?
There's that banner again, with the City Hall Rotunda in the background.
Jon Fromer, talented musician and future producer of many beloved KQED childrens' programs.
Someone even younger than her must have created this imaginative sign.
Doesn't this man look like the North Beach comedian who created the hilarious hip character "Father Guido Sarducci?" He's cracking up these two young women.
The crush of demonstrators waiting to enter Union Square for the rally.
A group of musicians who entertained us in Union Square.
Finally, we arrived in Union Square, thousands of us. Easter peace rallies like ours were held simultaneously in major cities throughout the nation.
Singing, clapping and hoisting signs in Union Square.
Another view of the crowd in Union Square.
Beloved creator of humanist public art in San Francisco, sculptor Benny Bufano.
Preview of the Haight-Ashbury's "summer of love" Note the flower in his mouth.
We dragged our kids to demonstrations, made them signs, and hoped they'd learn something about the world they would soon inherit, or at least, encouraged them pose for poignant photos.