In 1960, after two years of marches and meetings by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, there was a feeling by some that something more dramatic was required to demonstrate the urgency of the need for 'banning the Bomb'. The Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War had since 1957 enabled small groups of committed people to attempt to blockade the building of rocket bases in the countryside, at risk of imprisonment, but now was developed the idea of 'mass civil disobedience', thousands of people sitting down in the street, or wherever, not as a protest against traffic, but as a very public gesture of widespread discontent about nuclear 'defence'.

Bertrand Russell, who was already President of CND, agreed to launch the Committee with a manifesto 'Act or Perish', and he headed a list of a hundred notables committed to the cause. A series of 'sit-downs' began in February 1961. By autumn that year the government became sufficiently concerned to arrest Russell and other other leading members and invite them to be bound over not to take part in a sit-in planned for Parliament Square. Russell refused, and was sentenced to two months in prison, later reduced after public outcry to seven days (he was 89). On the day of the demonstration Parliament Square was blocked by police, so the sit-down was in Trafalgar Square, leading to 1314 arrests.

Later demonstrations led to sentences of up to 18 months, but with the decline of the nuclear disarmament movement in the mid-1960s, the Committee wound itself up in 1968. The experience of the Committee, however, has been developed not only in the revived nuclear disarmament movement of the 1980s, but in other nonviolent protest movements such as those of against civil nuclear power, road building and exploitation of animals.

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