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What forms of peace activism took place in the UK?

In the UK, the largest peace organisation was the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Founded in 1957, the CND’s popularity had dwindled in the 1970s. The early 1980s, however, saw a huge surge in memberships as people across the UK became increasingly concerned with the growing prospect of nuclear war. An influential Europe-wide peace group, European Nuclear Disarmament (END), was also founded in the UK in 1980.

Peace activism took many different forms in the UK. Perhaps the most iconic manifestation was the Women’s Peace Camp set up at Greenham Common, one of two UK military bases where Cruise missiles were to be deployed. This inspired women’s peace camps in other parts of the world, from Comiso, Sicily to Cole Bay, Saskatchewan. CND is perhaps best known for its large demonstrations. The biggest, held in Hyde Park on 22 October 1983, gathered approximately 300,000 people, making it one of the largest public demonstrations in British history.

What forms of peace activism took place in the UK? What forms of peace activism took place in the UK?
What forms of peace activism took place in the UK?

Aside from these headline-grabbing events, peace activism took many forms. Groups such as the CND organised letter-writing campaigns, lobbied MPs, and campaigned for candidates advocating anti-nuclear policies. Actions also varied across the UK, as much activism was relatively local. Activism in Scotland often focused more on opposition to Trident – which would be based near Glasgow – while activism in England and Wales typically emphasised opposition to the Cruise missiles that would be deployed in Cambridgeshire and Berkshire.

Find below a selection of archival materials relating to peace activism in the UK in the 1980s:

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A Programme for 1983
This report, prepared by Ian Davison for the CND Executive sets out the organisation's strategy for 1983, including campaign themes and activities for the year.

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Peace Canvas 1983
This information pack was sent out to CND members across the UK and encouraged them to canvas households to ascertain levels of support for nuclear weapons across the country. The last two pages include the results of this peace canvas.

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Nuclear Free Scotland. A Campaigners Manual
This publication, intended for activists in Scotland, sets out different anti-nuclear campaign themes and offers advice on effective strategies.

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Prepare for Peace. Demonstrate then Celebrate
This poster produced by Scottish CND advertises a demonstration on Saturday 2 April 1983, the day before Easter. The focus of the this event is opposition to Trident, which would be stationed at Faslane, near Glasgow.

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Stand Together. Easter 1983.
This poster advertises CND activities over Easter 1983, including a blockade of Greenham Common and making a human chain.

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Stand together!
This CND leaflet sets out some of the organisation's campaigning priorities and includes the lyrics to a song that featured at CND rallies. Readers are encouraged to join the CND.

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CND mass demonstration, 22 October 1983
This CND press release announces a major demonstration in October 1983, which would be held in Hyde Park. This is described as 'just a small part of a worldwide proitest movement of millions of people mobilising during United Nations Disarmament Week'.

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CND Mobilises!
This pamphlet advertises the Hyde Park rally of 22 October 1983, providing both practical information about the event and details of other demonstrations being organised around the world.

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Official programme Oct. 22
This is the official programme from the Hyde Park rally, including the programme of events.

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Our response to Cruise deployment: time for action, 14 November 1983
This letter, sent out shortly after the arrival of the first Cruise missiles at RAF Greenham Common, sets out the anti-Cruise activities being organised by the CND in the coming weeks.

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Welcome to the Greenham Common Blockade. A non violent direct action, Easter 1983
This pamphlet provides participants with information on taking part in a blockade of RAF Greenham Common, where Cruise missiles would be deployed from the end of 1983. Readers are encouraged to engage in direct action, and extensive legal advice is given to clarify what forms of action are legal.

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Thousands of Women will reclaim Greenham Common on Sunday 11th December '83
This poster advertises direct action at Greenham Common in December 1983, when female activists used mirrors to 'turn the base inside out', one of many forms of action taken to protest against the deployment of Cruise missiles at RAF Greenham Common.

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Letter to George Bush from Joan Ruddock and Bruce Kent, 3 July 1985
This letter to then Vice-President Bush sets out CND's opposition to the British Government's involvement in the Reagan Administration's Strategic Defense Initiative (popularly known as Star Wars).

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Questions and Answers about Space Weapons
This CND pamphlet sets out the case against the development of the Strategic Defense Initiative which was being pursued by the Reagan Administration. 


The image in the page header is a Creative Commons image courtesy of Christine McIntosh on Flickr.

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