The Evolution of the Peace Sign and Its Use in Protests

It is no secret that the peace sign, also known as the “Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament” symbol, has become a universal symbol for peace and anti-war activism worldwide. However, not many people are aware of the history behind its creation and evolution as a symbol of peace. From its humble beginnings in the 1950s to its current role in contemporary activism and advocacy, the peace sign has always been a powerful emblem of unity, hope, and resistance against oppression and injustice. In this article, we explore the origin and evolution of the peace sign, its impact on protests and movements around the world, and its continued relevance in today’s world.

The Origin and Evolution of the Peace Sign

The Origin And Evolution Of The Peace Sign
The peace symbol has become one of the most recognizable and iconic symbols in the world, used in many different contexts. The origin of the peace sign can be traced back to the 1950s, when it was first created by a British artist and anti-nuclear activist named Gerald Holtom. Holtom was inspired by the semaphore signals for the letters “N” and “D,” standing for “nuclear disarmament.” He combined them, creating the familiar peace symbol we know and love today. The symbol was initially used in the context of the anti-nuclear movement, but it quickly spread and became adopted by other movements for peace and activism. As the peace symbol evolved, so did its meanings and interpretations, inspiring different movements to use the symbol in new ways.

The Influences and Inspiration of the Design

The peace sign is an iconic symbol of peace and nonviolence, recognized internationally. However, few know the origin and inspiration of the design. The Influences and Inspiration of the Design of the peace sign were stated to originate in the 1950s and 1960s, during the Cold War era. During this time, there was fear of nuclear war and people’s’ consciousness moving towards world peace. British graphic designer Gerald Holtom creates the peace symbol in 1958, which later became the universal symbol of peace.

Holtom designed the symbol by combining the semaphore signals for “N” and “D” which stand for nuclear disarmament, circle around it which represents unity and peaceful movement. Gerald Holtom was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), a British organization advocating nuclear disarmament. His design represents the hope and determination for a world without nuclear weapons.

Interestingly, the symbol also looks like an inverted cross with broken arms, and this prompted religious scrutiny and belief that it was anti-Christian. Holtom himself was Christian, and he said this about this symbol: “I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself… a man in despair… The representative of an individual in despair with outstretched hands… I proceeded to draw this symbolic man with the inverted ‘V’ symbol on his forehead and then enclosed the whole in a circle.”

The peace sign design has also been influenced by various other symbols and movements, such as the anarchist symbol of the Letter A with a circle around it, the symbol for the Landauer Bund protesting German militarism, and the anti-Vietnam War movement. The design has been modified and adapted numerous times to fit different purposes and contexts.

The Spread and Adoption of the Symbol Around the World

The Peace Sign’s Symbolic Power Spreads Across the Globe

The 1960s was a tumultuous decade marked by political and social upheaval all over the world. At the same time, the peace sign was growing in popularity as a universal symbol of peace, love, and unity.

In Europe, the symbol was adapted by anti-nuclear and peace movements. It was prominently featured in protests against the Vietnam War, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and the deployment of U.S. missiles in Europe. In the United States, the peace symbol was also adopted by the counterculture and anti-war movements. It was often seen on protest signs, clothing, and jewelry.

The peace symbol continued to spread globally, becoming a ubiquitous sight in protests around the world. Below are some examples of the peace sign’s spread and adoption across various countries:

Country Event or Movement
Japan Anti-war and anti-nuclear protests
South Africa Anti-Apartheid protests
Poland Solidarity labor rights movement
South Korea Student and labor protests against authoritarian rule
Burma (Myanmar) Pro-democracy protests, including the Saffron Revolution

The peace sign became a universal symbol for various social and political causes that aimed to end violence and oppression. Its adoption in other social justice movements spanning from LGBTQ rights to labor rights, demonstrates its continuous relevance today.

It’s worth noting that the peace sign was not the only symbol that gained prominence amid global protests. For instance, the rainbow flag has become a symbol for the LGBTQ+ community, while the raised fist is known for its association with resistance and solidarity. Protest slogans and even pieces of clothing such as the red beret also carry strong messages of protest and resistance.

Despite the rise of these new symbols, the peace sign continues to hold relevance as a powerful and iconic symbol of hope, peace, and unity.

The Use of the Peace Sign in Protests

The use of the peace sign in protests is a powerful symbol of nonviolence and the desire for peace. The peace symbol emerged in the 1950s as a response to the Cold War and nuclear arms race, and it quickly became a popular emblem for anti-war movements. In the United States, the peace symbol was initially associated with the anti-nuclear movement and later adopted by the anti-Vietnam War movement. The peace sign has also been used in civil rights and social justice movements, such as the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Today, the peace sign remains a relevant symbol in activism and advocacy for peace and nonviolence. Whether used as an image on posters and banners or as a gesture during protests, the peace sign continues to represent a universal desire for a world without war or conflict.

The Emergence of Anti-War Protests and the Peace Symbol

The peace sign gained popularity through its adoption by opponents of the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s. Prior to this, the peace sign was mainly associated with anti-nuclear activism. However, as the Vietnam War escalated, it became a symbol of broader anti-war sentiments. The symbol could be seen on banners, clothing, and buttons of those opposed to the war.

The peace sign’s use in anti-war protests was particularly significant because it was a symbol of peace and unity that transcended borders and cultures. It was employed by people of different ages, races, and backgrounds who wanted to express their desire for an end to the conflict. The symbol was also used in “teach-ins,” where anti-war activists gathered to discuss and promote their cause. These events were important in engaging the public and raising awareness of the consequences of war.

The peace symbol’s association with the anti-war movement did not end with the conclusion of the Vietnam War. It remains a prominent symbol of anti-war protests to this day. It has been utilized in various forms of civil disobedience and direct actions, such as sit-ins and blockades, aimed at bringing an end to conflicts around the world. The peace symbol’s efficacy as a symbol of anti-war activism highlights the power of symbols in bringing communities together and promoting change.

If you are interested in the use of slogans as protest symbols, check out our article about it!

The Symbolic Power of the Peace Sign in Civil Rights and Social Justice Movements

The Peace Sign gained great importance in the Civil Rights and Social Justice Movements due to its powerful symbolism. The sign was seen as a rallying cry for those demanding equality and justice. The Civil Rights movement in the United States made extensive use of the sign to protest against segregation and racial discrimination.

With the slogan “Make Love, Not War,” the Peace Sign was displayed on posters and banners to call for an end to the Vietnam War. The sign was also used during the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, with activists demonstrating against the government’s discriminatory policy. The symbol was even used in Poland during the Solidarity Movement, with protesters opposing the communist regime.

The Peace Sign became an important symbol for different social movements all around the world, including the feminist movement, LGBTQ rights, and environmental movements. In each case, the Peace Sign represented their desire for peace and justice.

In the feminist movement, the Peace Sign was used during the protests against sexual harassment, domestic violence, and gender discrimination. It became a symbol of women’s empowerment, demonstrating the strength and courage of women who fight for their rights.

The LGBTQ community adopted the rainbow flag as their symbol, but the Peace Sign was also used in demonstrations against discrimination and violence towards LGBTQ individuals. The sign was used to demand an end to homophobia and discrimination, as well as promoting equality and diversity.

The Peace Sign has become an iconic symbol of resistance and hope for different social movements around the world. It is a reminder of the power of peaceful activism and the importance of fighting for justice and equality. Other symbols, such as the raised fist, yellow umbrella, and black power salute, have also been used in political and social protests, each with their own unique meaning and symbolism.

The Contemporary Relevance of the Peace Sign in Activism and Advocacy

The peace sign continues to be one of the most recognizable symbols globally and has remained an important source of inspiration for many activist movements. Although it was originally related to nuclear disarmament and anti-war movements, over time, its significance has expanded to other issue areas, such as civil rights, poverty, and racism.

For instance, the peace sign has become an emblem of various environmental campaigns, including those related to climate change and animal welfare. Many groups use the symbol to advocate for better living conditions for animals who are raised for meat consumption or for the protection of endangered species.

LGBTQ+ rights activists have also incorporated the peace sign into their protests, using it as a way of advocating for peace, love, and equality for all. During the height of the Hong Kong protests in 2019, the use of the yellow umbrella as a symbol of civil disobedience and peaceful resistance drew worldwide attention to the growing movement. While the umbrella has its own specific meaning in this context, the use of peaceful symbols such as the peace sign complemented it and reinforced the nonviolent nature of the protests.

The peace sign has also been used to call for peaceful solutions to conflicts and to offer a message of hope and solidarity to those affected by violence and war. In the wake of the recent wave of protests in the United States sparked by police brutality and racism, the peace sign has been adopted as a symbol of hope and unity. Its use can be seen in various forms of protest art, including murals, posters, and signs.

The peace sign remains relevant to contemporary activism and advocacy worldwide. Despite several decades since its inception, the symbol still holds a powerful message of hope, unity, and nonviolence that continues to be employed by diverse groups in their quest for peace and justice.


In conclusion, it is clear that the peace sign symbolizes a noble cause and has been utilized extensively throughout history in various protests and movements for peace, civil rights, and social justice. The evolution of the peace sign has been fascinating to observe, and it is now recognized globally as a symbol of hope and non-violent resistance. The peace sign remains a relevant and powerful symbol in contemporary times for activism and advocacy. Alongside other protest symbols that have gained immense prominence in shaping human history, such as the raised fist, Guy Fawkes mask, yellow umbrella, clenched fist, red beret, and black power salute, the peace sign continues to be a beloved icon, inspiring hope for a better future.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was the inspiration for the peace sign?

The peace sign was inspired by the naval semaphore codes, which were used to transmit messages between ships. The visual representation of the letter ‘N’ and ‘D’ in semaphore codes were combined to create the peace sign.

When was the peace sign first used in a protest?

The peace sign first appeared in a protest against nuclear weapons in London on April 4th, 1958.

Has the peace sign always symbolized non-violence?

No, in the 1960s the peace sign was also associated with the counterculture movement and was used as a symbol of rebellion against authority.

What other symbols are commonly used in protests?

Other symbols commonly used in protests include raised fists, Guy Fawkes masks, and the yellow umbrella.

What is the largest peaceful protest in history?

The largest peaceful protest in history was the Women’s March on January 21, 2017, which saw an estimated 5 million people participate worldwide.

What are the benefits of using symbols in protests?

Symbols create a shared identity and sense of belonging among protesters, can create a sense of unity and community, and can make protests more memorable and impactful.

Has the peace sign been used in protests other than anti-war movements?

Yes, the peace sign has been used in a number of other protests, including civil rights demonstrations, anti-nuclear protests, and environmental movements.

What is the difference between a protest and a demonstration?

A protest is a public expression of disapproval, while a demonstration is a public display of a group’s opinions or beliefs. Demonstrations can include events such as marches, rallies, and sit-ins.

What is the purpose of peaceful protests?

The purpose of peaceful protests is to bring attention to a specific cause or issue, to advocate for change, and to exercise the right to free speech and assembly.

Can protests actually effect change?

Yes, throughout history peaceful protests have lead to significant change, such as the civil rights movement and the movement against apartheid in South Africa.


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