Mister Boomer Assisted a Protest

A nationwide movement to raise awareness and minimum wages for full-time workers, especially in the fast food industry, among others, has been in the news lately. That prompted Mister Boomer to recall his first minimum wage job, and how he became involved in his first protest at that job.

Mister B got the job in the summer before his senior year in high school. Like many boomers before him, he would start his working career at minimum wage, in a fast food burger joint. Less than one month into the job, he was confronted by a disgruntled employee, asking him for support in his grievances. This boy, a college kid, was employed full-time during the summer and had some serious allegations against the manager and assistant manager. He alleged kids at the age of sixteen were working later than the time allowed by law; that kids were working without their required health certificates; that kids were not being given their legally mandated rest times; and most egregious, that kids were being clocked out before their work was finished. For good measure, the boy felt he deserved a raise, along with all the people who worked until 1:00 am, like Mister Boomer. Mister B listened to the boy, and concluded that if the allegations he mentioned were in fact city, state and national violations, then they should be brought to light. Mister Boomer was all about people playing by the rules, and he had witnessed these circumstances first hand. Mister Boomer had met his first whistleblower.

Since the workers were fearful of retribution should they become visibly vocal, the boy became a relentless bulldog, and latched on to Mister B and his coworkers to try to spark some sort of protest about the allegations. His proposed attack was two-fold: first, he wanted to go to the Labor Relations Board and file a report, and second, he wanted all of the workers to participate in a walkout. Reluctantly agreeing to go along with the first part of his plan, the boy drove to the Labor Relations Board with Mister B and two others of his co-workers. There he did file a report. One of the other boys signed on as a witness. Mister Boomer remained silent.

The second part of the plan is where Mister Boomer tossed in his two cents. The plan was very loose, but called for a walkout at a designated time. Mister Boomer and most of his coworkers were more than hesitant about this action. Mister B pointed out that if the group followed the plan, they had no leverage with the company and it would probably result in immediate dismissal. Instead, Mister B offered a suggestion. Two weeks from the time of the report filing, the company had planned a giant “buy one, get one free” weekend promotion. Mister Boomer suggested a visible protest line a few hours before the promotion launch was set. No one would stop working, just employees not scheduled would be on the line. A call to a local TV station could get some coverage for the cause that same day during the evening news. After an hour or so, the picket line would disappear as the point would have been made. This plan was agreed on and everyone was sworn to secrecy.

As in any situation, people are of different temperaments and orders of agreement, so it was that one boy ran to the manager with the info in hand before any further timing could be worked out. As the following day was a Saturday, the manager called an emergency meeting at 8:00 am. The manager, flanked by his assistant, got straight to the point. It was through gritted teeth that he announced that he knew of the protest plan and the allegations. In exchange for canceling the protest, all legal requirements would immediately be followed, and no, no one was getting a raise. He ended the meeting saying he expected each person to show up to work their scheduled hours, and enthusiastically support the company’s promotion that was expected to increase traffic flow.

Just when Mister Boomer thought the matter was over and he got up to walk home, the assistant manager called him over. “Ché Boomer,” he called him, referring to the Bolivian revolutionary who was killed by law enforcement in Bolivia in 1967. Ché Guevara had become an international symbol of revolution and something of a folk hero, with his image emblazoned on T-shirts sported by many in the counter culture. “You are very lucky,” he continued, “the manager first wanted to fire the whole lot of you.” Mister Boomer must’ve looked puzzled because he didn’t recall instigating anything, yet it sounded like he was being fingered as the mastermind. Mister Boomer had been a model employee, but from then on, was referred to as “Ché” by the assistant manager.

The workers had won. Once this manager was confronted with his alleged illegal actions, everything was made right. Mister Boomer did learn, though, that even though right was right, sometimes it is best to discuss a situation before heading straight for a full-blown protest. Yet he knew from then on that he wouldn’t hesitate to protest something he believed in. When school started in the fall, Mister Boomer quit the job and worked on the school newspaper instead.

When did you first have a work grievance, boomers, and how did you resolve it?

Boomers Gave the Peace Sign More Than a Chance

One of the most recognizable symbols of 1960s Baby Boomers was the peace sign. It was a circle divided vertically in half, with each side having an angled division forming an inverted “v” about a third of the way up from the bottom. Many people, however — including boomers — may not know the origins of this ubiquitous symbol of our Generation.

The peace sign, as we call it, didn’t start out as a symbol for peace at all, but rather, a symbol for nuclear disarmament. After World War II, the Soviet Union set about building their own nuclear weapon, and was successful in 1949. The United Kingdom became the third country possessing nuclear weaponry in 1952, while France jumped in as the fourth country to possess nuclear capabilities in 1960 and China became the fifth country in 1964. As each country wanted their own nuclear device, in the thinking that that would act as a deterrent against another country’s aggression, each country acquired more, prompting the other countries to increase their stockpile. This rapid rise of nuclear stockpiles — especially between the U.S. and Soviet Union — lead to the Arms Race.

This world-wide activity was not universally accepted by the masses in each country, so a grass-roots protest movement began to rise to remind people of the horrors inflicted with the use of the weapons against Japan. In England, a group called the Direct Action Committee, in conjunction with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament planned a protest march in April of 1958 from London’s Trafalgar Square to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston. One member of the group, Gerald Holtom, was an artist and designer who thought that a common symbol worn by the marchers would help unify the movement. He drew the now famous symbol, based on the “n” and “d” of semaphore flag signaling, grabbing the initials from the phrase “nuclear disarmament.” In this messaging system, the sender positions two flags to indicate letters. The letter “n” is formed by holding both flags downward at an angle. The positioning for the letter “d” is one flag straight up, and the other straight down. Combine the semaphore “n” and “d” and you have the “peace” symbol. Holtom drew a circle around it to balance the design. Eric Austen took Holtom’s drawing and made ceramic badges for the group to wear. These circular buttons were composed of a white glazed background with the nuclear disarmament symbol painted in black glaze. A thin black circle surrounded the edge of the button. Holtom’s original design now resides in the Peace Museum in Bradford, England.

original peace symbol with variations
The first drawing by Gerald Holtom (as pictured by Mister B in the top left) had little flares capping the ends of each line, and a thinner circle encompassing the design. Once it was adapted in the U.S. all types of variations were born, from simple straight lines within a same-thickness circle to oval-shaped symbols made into pendants, and elaborate colorations in stickers and buttons.

So how did this nuclear disarmament symbol become the symbol of the American anti-war movement? In 1958 an American pacifist named Albert Bigelow — himself a World War II Navy captain — sailed his boat the Golden Rule in the vicinity of nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean near the Marshall Islands, with the symbol on his sail. The U.S. Coast Guard intervened and he was briefly jailed.

In 1960, a student form the University of Chicago named Philip Altbach was in England to meet with British peace groups as a delegate from the Student Peace Union (SPU). On his return to the U.S., he persuaded the SPU to adopt the symbol for their own purposes since it had not been trademarked or patented. They did so by producing buttons to sell as a fundraising effort for their cause. Between 1960 and 1964, the group sold thousands of the buttons on college campuses across the country. As TV coverage of protests rose, the symbol became synonymous with demonstrators who wore the buttons and drew the symbol on banners. It had made the transition from “nuclear disarmament” to a more widespread anti-war sentiment, which then made its way back to Europe and rest of the world.

Mister Boomer knew back then that the symbol we called a “peace sign” was actually intended for nuclear disarmament. He used to remark how the symbol looked like a missile on a launch pad. He did not know the details of the story, though, until now!

What was your connection to the peace sign, boomers? Did you buy a button, wear it on a t-shirt or around your neck as a pendant?