Our Communicator of the Month series showcases individuals whose voices have made a lasting impact on our country. In 2023, we recognize 12 Proponents of Peace who were dedicated to resolving conflict and envisioned a world without violence. Whether they advocated for civil education classes or found the common link between the civil rights and peace movements, the efforts of these activists mitigated hostile conditions in many of the world’s most divided countries — including our own. Their cooperative processes led to negotiation, reconciliation and growth — and are still teaching us how to connect back to our shared humanity, even in times of strife.
“Peace is not something you wish for; it’s something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away.” — John Lennon
October 9, 1940 — December 8, 1980
John Winston Lennon was an English singer, songwriter, musician and peace activist who gained worldwide fame as the founder, co-songwriter, co-lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist of The Beatles.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Lennon used his celebrity status to advocate for peace and raise awareness about various social and political issues. His peace activism was often characterized by his strong opposition to war, his calls for unity and understanding among people, and his emphasis on love as a driving force for positive change.
Lennon’s peace activism gained momentum during the late 1960s, coinciding with the Vietnam War era. In 1969, he and his wife, Yoko Ono, staged their famous “Bed-In for Peace” events, where they spent a week in bed at various locations to promote nonviolence and global harmony. This unconventional approach garnered significant media attention and highlighted Lennon’s commitment to using his fame to draw attention to what was happening in the world. He wrote songs like “Imagine” — where he sang of a world without borders, religions or possessions — things that have historically served as a catalyst for war. Additionally, he wrote and released “Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” “Power to the People” and “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)” to carry his messages about humanity and doing what is right.
Capturing the spirit of protest and collective action, “Give Peace a Chance” quickly became an anthem for the anti-war movement. The song was sung by a quarter of a million demonstrators at the second Vietnam Moratorium Day in Washington, D.C., on November 15, 1969. A month later, Lennon and Ono continued their peace campaign by launching a billboard campaign in 12 major cities around the world, from Tokyo to Toronto to New York, which declared, “War Is Over! If You Want It” in various languages.
Beyond his musical contributions, Lennon employed bold and direct actions to express his anti-war sentiments. He famously returned his MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) medal to the Queen in 1969 as a protest against British involvement in military conflicts. This gesture further demonstrated his willingness to challenge established norms and institutions in pursuit of his ideals.
After moving to New York City in 1971, Lennon’s criticism of the Vietnam War resulted in a three-year deportation attempt by the Nixon administration. Lennon was embroiled in a continuing legal battle with the immigration authorities and was denied permanent residency in the U.S. until 1976.
Tragically, John Lennon’s life was cut short when he was murdered in 1980. However, his legacy as a peace activist continues to inspire generations. His unwavering dedication to promoting love, unity and nonviolence left a lasting mark on the world, reminding us of the power that individuals — even celebrities — possess to effect positive change.