John Lennon was born on October 9, 1940. He rose to fame as a member of the iconic singing group, the Beatles. Lennon recognized that he could use his celebrity status to change the way people thought about issues.
He was committed to the anti-war movement raging over the Vietnam War. Starting with their famous “Bed-Ins for Peace,” Lennon and Yoko Ono who he married in 1969, turned the tables on the paparazzi that followed their every. Using their honeymoon at the Amsterdam Hilton in March 1969 to start their anti-war efforts, the Lennons invited the worldwide media to join them in their hotel suite. They sat in bed for two weeks from nine in the morning to nine at night, engaging in discussions about world peace. A second Bed-In followed three months later in Montreal, where Lennon wrote and recorded what became the unofficial refrain of the peace movement — “Give Peace a Chance.”
As Lennon explained:
What we’re really doing is sending out a message to the world, mainly to the youth, especially the youth or anybody, really, that’s interested in protesting for peace or protesting against any forms of violence... There’s many ways of protest, and this is one of them. And anybody could grow their hair for peace or give up a week of their holiday for peace or sit in a bag for peace. Protest against peace, anyway, but peacefully, because we think that peace is only got by peaceful methods, and to fight the establishment with their own weapons is no good, because they always win, and they have been winning for thousands of years. They know how to play the game violence, and it’s easier for them when they can recognize you and shoot you.
Lennon was prepared for public mockery and vilification. He explained, "Bed-ins are something that everyone can do and they're so simple. We're willing to be the world's clowns to make people realize it". (Richie York, 1969)
Following the Bed-Ins, Lennon and Ono lent support to the plight of the working class by way of a shipbuilders’ work-in, railed against the Vietnam War, voiced discontent over the brutal murders of 14 unarmed civil rights protesters in Northern Ireland (memorialized in “Luck of the Irish” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday”), bemoaned the death toll from the uprising at Attica Prison and held forth with leading American peace activists using music as the medium for their message. Released in October 1971, Lennon’s Imagine album became his call for world peace.
Lennon's involvement with the anti-war movement grew deeper and more directly political. "Give Peace a Chance" was the chant of the massive Vietnam Moratorium March in Washington in the fall of 1969. Lennon become the target of FBI surveillance for his part in the anti-war movement and engagement with leftist politics. A planned 1972 anti-Nixon tour with Jerry Rubin and Rennie Davis caught the attention of the authorities. A past drug's offence would be used to threaten Lennon with deportation. He would struggle to gain permanent resident status in the U.S.
Lennon's capacity and desire to move across cultures was evident in his art and politics. Inspired by his song "Imagine", Lennon called a press conference in 1973 to announce the establishment of Nutopia, "a conceptual country" that "has no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people.' Nutopia's national anthem- a brief line of silence- appears on the album Mind Games (1973). The event was intended to be both playful and provocative.
Right up until his death on December 8, 1980, at the hands of an assassin, Lennon remained true to the anti-war activism that had shaped much of his life. Time magazine contributor Martin Lewis noted in his remembrance of Lennon on the 20th anniversary of his death:
John Lennon was not God. But he earned the love and admiration of his generation by creating a huge body of work that inspired and led. The appreciation for him deepened because he then instinctively decided to use his celebrity as a bully pulpit for causes greater than his own enrichment or self-aggrandizement.