Retirement means I’ve been able to visit places with the family I never thought I would see. Earlier this year, we journeyed to Paris and Amsterdam, experiencing The Louvre, Napoleon’s Tomb, the Anne Frank House and much more.
In Amsterdam, we stayed in a hotel with a link to Beatles history.
The Amsterdam Hilton opened in 1962, but its greatest fame came seven years later when the presidential suite, room #702, became the honeymoon suite for newlyweds John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
From March 25-31, 1969, Lennon and Ono hosted media members from around the world at their “Bed-in for peace.” The idea was to use their highly publicized marriage to bring attention to the importance of ending the Vietnam war.
With their nonconformist artistic expressions (cf. Bari: 33), such as the nude cover of the Two Virgins album, the press were expecting them to be having sex, but instead the couple were just sitting in bed, wearing pyjamas—in John’s words “like angels”—talking about peace with signs over their bed reading “Hair Peace” and “Bed Peace”. After seven days, they flew to Vienna, Austria, where they held a Bagism press conference.
The Bed-in was a PR stun intended to draw attention to the couple’s pro-peace message. As such, it was quite successful. The Bed-in for Peace received a huge amount of news coverage worldwide. The North American leg of the Bed-in (Montreal, June, 1969) was the site for the recording of Lennon’s peace anthem which was an international hit.
Whether one considered it silly or serious, the Bed-in drew attention. It irritated President Nixon whose infamous “enemies list” included Lennon, an outspoken and extremely famous anti-war activist.
This morning, I watched a news report on the anniversary of the “Bed-in.” The report noted “the PR stunt didn’t end the war.”
Well, no. The war didn’t end, this week, 49 years ago.
Neither did the mass anti-war demonstrations that took place throughout the 60s end the war. At least, not during the 1960s. Those also could have been described as “PR stunts.”
A stunt is an event designed to draw attention. An anti-war PR stunt is intended to get the attention of people who don’t usually consider the cost of war. It raises the question, “Is it worth it?”
Small demonstrations, like the Bed-in, and large, like the December 1969 March on Washington, helped shorten the war. Over time, those on the fence examined their attitudes and decided the war wasn’t worth the cost. Moving people to the “it’s not worth it” position ended the war.
Saturday’s demonstrations against gun violence haven’t ended end gun violence.
But, there was palpable energy and commitment emanating from the huge crowds of young people participating in the March for Our Lives events throughout the country on Saturday, including those in Washington D.C., Springfield, Chicago, and its surrounding areas. That’s what a movement looks like.
If you show up in large numbers to promote a powerful message and, if you’re in for the long haul, you will eventually win. That’s what we learned from the anti-war movement and from the civil rights movement.
It’s not hard to imagine John Lennon would have been marching against gun violence in New York on Sunday. Others of his generation marched in his place.
Battles aren’t won by PR stunts, but when stunts are part of a strategy and supported by highly motivated people dedicated to a cause, they can help achieve goals worth fighting for.
The Amsterdam Hilton is name checked on this Beatles single which features Lennon on guitar and McCartney on all the other instruments. Ballad of John and Yoko