Discontent had been simmering under the surface for decades, but by 1968, it had well and truly boiled over. Protests – some violent, others peaceful – were erupting all over the world. In China, Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution was in full swing; In France, student demonstrations over University reform transformed into month-long protests; and in America, the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King led to violent riots in over 100 American cities. Amid the socio-cultural shift of the late 1960s, an unlikely leader emerged: John Lennon.
Lennon was the perfect fit for a young disaffected generation desperately seeking a guide. These were tumultuous times, and there was a strong desire for a leader with enough cut-through appeal to galvanise their fractured world. As the leader of one of the biggest bands on the planet, John Lennon was already known for attracting huge crowds and had demonstrated his ability to implement real change through the power of music, albeit on a cultural rather than political level.
After meeting Ono and leaving The Beatles behind, he began using his fame to advocate for world peace. In 1969, Lennon and Ono decided to turn their honeymoon in Amsterdam into a week-long bed-in. They repeated the publicity stunt a few months later in Montreal. To the general public and much of the media, their actions seemed sincere to a fault, but Lennon refused to back down, using advertising to spread his message across the world. “If I’m going to get my name in the papers, I might as well do it for peace,” he said. “We’re happy to be the world’s clowns if we can get the message across. And that’s what we’re doing.”
In this footage, taken around the time of John and Yoko’s bed-ins, Lennon expresses his belief in the power of true democracy: “The people are unaware. It’s like they’re not educated to realise that they have power. They’ve put the politicians in power; they vote for the local mayor; the people do it, but the system is so geared that everybody believes the father will fix everything – the father being the government. ‘The government will fix everything; it is all government’s fault; shake your fists at the government’. Well, we are the government. The people are the government, and the people have the power.”
This footage refreshes a side of Lennon that has been mythologised almost beyond recognition. If you haven’t already, make sure you check it out. below.