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The June 12, 1982 March and Rally for Peace and Disarmament
June 12, 2010 8:52 AM   Subscribe

... on June 12, 1982, approximately a million people demonstrated in New York City's Central Park against nuclear arms and for an end to the arms race of the cold war. Nothing like it had ever happened before. It was not only the largest antinuclear demonstration but the largest political demonstration of any description in American history. Nothing like it has happened again, either. The tide of protest was at its high-water mark, and thereafter receded steadily. - Jonathan Schell, 2007.

... the No Nukes rally that began at the United Nations ended on the Great Lawn where performers such as Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez, and Linda Ronstadt sang to a crowd estimated at hundreds of thousands. - New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
posted by Joe Beese (27 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Well, it all seems pretty pointless when the news cameras show a wide shot of the half million people in your protest, then spend 5 minutes closeupping the 6 guys with the counter-protest signs, while headlining stuff like, "protesters and counterprotesters are both out today, representing both side of this contentious issue. Back to you Bob, with dog stuck in hole #34."
posted by Aquaman at 8:56 AM on June 12, 2010 [8 favorites]

Aquaman: "... it all seems pretty pointless... "

To be sure, none of it made a difference. In the end, it would all come down to Gorbachev. But there could have been no predicting him then. And the odds of making it another 28 years the way things were going seemed discouragingly slim.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:07 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

A good way of thinking about this (although perhaps too simple) is that roughly 1 in every 250 Americans were there.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:15 AM on June 12, 2010 [6 favorites]

Good for them, contributing to the end of the arms race. I'm sure they changed a lot of minds.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:22 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

They must've had bigger free speech zones back then.
posted by Back to you, Jim. at 9:47 AM on June 12, 2010 [16 favorites]

I was there in the park. I had ridden my bike (stupidly?) and so only lasted through Jackson Browne and Joan Baez. The crowd was impenetrably thick, and I thought I might get stuck in it for the rest of my life. And I am a native Manhattanite not unused (then, anyway) to crowds. And I was nineteen. I was overwhelmed.
posted by emhutchinson at 10:02 AM on June 12, 2010 [6 favorites]

I remember that. I really wanted to go, but it was New York City, traffic was bad, and I was stuck in a uterus.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 10:08 AM on June 12, 2010 [23 favorites]

Didn't some politician (Reagan?) dismiss this as a "fringe element"?
posted by stevil at 10:21 AM on June 12, 2010

Reagan broke the back of many things
posted by edgeways at 11:10 AM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

People say that our generation doesn't get motivated like this, but does anyone remember when all those Jericho fans sent CBS nuts in the mail? I sure do! Also, when all those people bitched about what jerks Fox is run by and they got Dollhouse renewed even though no one watched it? Yep. It's true that there was no demonstration when Dollhouse was canceled, and for a while there it seemed we just didn't care anymore. But when Chuck was on the chopping block, was there a flash mob? There was. And did it work? It did! So don't tell me that we don't do enough, and for damn sure don't tell me that what we do doesn't matter. We can take the Pepsi Challenge with some weird old hippies who hate electricity any day. We got this.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:36 AM on June 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

Nothing like it has happened again, either.

Wait, "nothing"? Does he mean that there hasn't been that large a protest since? What about the the million or so who protested in Beijing in 1989? (At first, I thought it was Orville Schell, and I was going to be really surprised.)

Does he mean there hasn't been a larger protest since then specifically focused against war? That's directly contradicted by the "approximately a million" link; about 3 million people marched in Rome against the US war in Iraq in 2003.

Maybe he means there haven't been protests that large in the US since then? But what about the March on Washington for GLBT rights in 1993 that had around a million people (and which, I might add, I'm very glad to have been at)? What about the Million Man March, which got estimates as high as 2 million?

I'm confused. He must mean something other than 'there hasn't been march on a similar scale since then', right?
posted by jiawen at 12:09 PM on June 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry, there was no political protest, and certainly no protest music in the 1980s. The Boomers and Gen Y both told me so.

posted by immlass at 1:27 PM on June 12, 2010

Didn't some politician (Reagan?) dismiss this as a "fringe element"?

Caspar Weinberger, interviewed on WNET-TV (the day before the event happened), said, "The fact that a very large number of people turn out for an event is certainly something that people notice. But I don't think that anybody rushes back and says, 'We have to change our policy,' or something, because there's a rally."

Out of the mouths of dolts .....
posted by blucevalo at 1:41 PM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

I lived only a few blocks away from Central Park at the time, but I didn't bother to go. I hate Jackson Brown, and Joan Baez embarrassed herself so badly with "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" that I can't really bear to be in the same crowd with her.
posted by Faze at 1:48 PM on June 12, 2010

A good way of thinking about this (although perhaps too simple) is that roughly 1 in every 250 Americans were there.

Which is remarkable, until you start to think that, for example, roughly 1 in every 250 Americans is a current New York City public school student.
posted by The Bellman at 1:54 PM on June 12, 2010

Well, I guess the USSR might still be around if we'd listened to the rally.
posted by A189Nut at 1:56 PM on June 12, 2010

How was Weinberger a dolt? Reagan won the election on no-bones-about-it-rearmament platform. A republic means that policy isn't the particular province of people with the free time to hang out in Central Park and wave signs.
posted by MattD at 3:04 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

bluecevalo was referencing the saying, "Out of the mouths of babes", MattD. Weinberger was a dolt who said something true once.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:07 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was there tripping on acid and hoping that I'd get to experience something like the political passion of the 1960's; I was 17 at the time and was tired of being told my generation missed everything and were useless and doomed anyway. At the same time, the punk, cynical pose both repelled and attracted me-- so I hung out with this group that listened to both the Dead Kennedys and the Grateful Dead. Anyway, somehow, I'd managed to get backstage passes but the only thing we used them for was to get access to a bathroom.

Mostly I remember moving through seemingly endless, massive crowds and the fact that my best friend and tripping partner vomited up cherries at one point and I was surprisingly not grossed out. That, and winding up at a party at a huge elegant apartment on W 72nd Street held by a gorgeous guy who did yoga and seemed to have the kind of underground, druggy/political scene I'd been seeking. And clearly, wealthy parents.

Of course, I developed a huge crush on him. I started hanging out with him and his friends and it all seemed so sophisticated yet also spiritual. I had Indian food for the first time on 6th street with him; of course, he was a vegetarian. He had that whole guru thing down, long hair, skinny, perfect muscles, deep pronouncements on existential questions. We'd kiss for hours but he wouldn't have sex because he had to be celibate to preserve his sacred fluids or some such nonsense. Then, I found out he got back together with his ex-girlfriend. Sigh.
posted by Maias at 3:29 PM on June 12, 2010 [5 favorites]

How was Weinberger a dolt?

Well, let's start with how was Weinberger not a dolt and work backward. Maybe we'll meet somewhere in the middle but I kinda doubt it!

A republic means that policy isn't the particular province of people with the free time to hang out in Central Park and wave signs.

You've definitely read me the riot act!
posted by blucevalo at 4:18 PM on June 12, 2010

I think dismissing the movement as ineffectual is far too easy. Certainly it didn't directly change policy, but.. Well, I've heard it said that Reagan got a wake up call due to the repercussions of Operation Able Archer. Surely ideas percolating in the culture of the day helped shape his actions at that point, including ideas expressed at the protest.

Now the overwhelming protests against the travesty that was conducted against Iraq in 2003.. That was completely ineffectual. Sadly.
posted by Chuckles at 10:05 PM on June 12, 2010

Come to think of it.. I was at the White Sands Museum this spring, and I read the inscription on the Pershing II missile there:
This two-stage, surface-to-surface missile is sometimes credited with helping to win the Cold War.
Frighteningly twisted view of reality.
posted by Chuckles at 10:19 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"

Thanks for the reminder. I was looking for a new ringtone.
posted by telstar at 10:27 PM on June 12, 2010

Nothing like it has happened again, either...? I’m confused.

That confused me too, jiawen. I think Schell is saying that no one since has protested that much about nuclear weapons. Even though, according to this page, there still are about 23,000 of them in various places on the planet.

The protest back then was specifically about nukes, not just against war. It grew out of Schell's reporting in The New Yorker in 1982, later a book called The Fate of the Earth, which has been said to be the first work for the general public that tried to describe just what would come out of even a brief exchange of nuclear warheads between Russia and the U.S. I.E., the end of civilization as we know it.

There's a parallel between Schell and the writer/activist Bill McKibben’s reporting in The New Yorker in 1989, later a book called The End of Nature, which is considered the first work for the general public about global warming and climate change. I.E., the end of civilization as we know it?

Unlike Schell's topic, though, interest continues to grow in McKibben's, and with the help of a few college students he formed the organization, which turned 10-24-09 into an International Day of Climate Action, which is what I've heard called the largest protest demonstration ever. (The group says there were 5,248 rallies in 181 countries; in any case there are thousands of photos taken around the world on that day posted at the group's Flickr site.)

This year's day of action is planned for 10-10-10.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:27 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm also reminded of Gwynne Dyer's "obituary" of Ronald Reagan:
Ronald Reagan's great achievement was to figure [out that the Soviet Union was finished] for himself, with little help from the State Department and the intelligence services, and act accordingly.
posted by Chuckles at 10:28 PM on June 12, 2010

spent a sleepless night in Grand Central station the night b4 and after.
(those cops can be ruthless with their billy sticks. )
and the crowds were not too fun either.
the whole event seemed to lack any real passion. getting a million folks together in a passionless protest was quite a feat.
posted by dougiedd at 12:56 AM on June 13, 2010

"To be sure, none of it made a difference."

Absurd nonsense. The same thing was said of the anti-War protests of the 60s and 70s, yet the personal testimonies of the men who made that war indicate that the opposition to the war was a big factor in their decision-making. It didn't *stop* but it *limited*.

Even had anti-nuke protests *not* made a political difference (how many nuke plants have been built in the past 25 years?) it still made a huge psychological difference for the people involved, because it threw off the shackles of "rightness" and "patriotism" about the issue and faced the horrors of unshackled ideological posturing squarely in the face.

Furthermore it encouraged the anti-nuke films and television shows of that time which, along with discoveries like nuclear winter, made it clear to everyone that their leaders had led them in a direction for which there were no "shelters" and no executable "plans". Nuclear war was only "thinkable" because no one had thought about it. Thinking about it brought the madness of MAD upfront, where its conflict with our fundamental mutual humanity was self-evident.
posted by Twang at 1:37 AM on June 13, 2010

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