Compared to other organizations, the YKU was smaller and had fewer resources. Despite this, they gained public recognition through their passion and drive. In May of 1986, the YKU successfully petitioned the city of Berkerly, California to declare “The Day of the People of Gwangju” to commemorate the Gwangju Uprising.
The YKU also organized the “International March for the Peace and Unification of the Korean Peninsula.” This march was a monumental event for the Korean progressive movement. It brought together the movement for Korea’s unification and the movement for international peace.
The Festival of Youth and Students was an international festival that was held in a different city. In July of 1989, the 13th Festival of Youth and Students was held in Pyeongyang, North Korea. North Korea invited special guests – Lim Soo-kyung, a representative of the national council of college students of South Korea, as well as 200 members of the international solidarity organization sent by the YKU. The two organizations, YKU and the national council of college students of South Korea, had each sent representatives without prior consultation. As the South Korean media chose to focus on Lim Soo-kyung's visit, the international coalition led by the YKU did not get much attention at the time. Nonetheless, the participation of the international solidarity organization was significant, given the scale and historical context of the unification movement.
Having established an international network through their participation in anti-nuclear and anti-war campaigns, the YKU decided to use the festival as a platform to raise international awareness on Korean issues. Most Americans at the time were not aware that 40,000 U.S. troops, along with nuclear weapons, were stationed in South Korea.
Yoon’s plan was to have YKU representatives organize a march for international peace after the Festival of Youth and Students was over. They were to march from Baekdoo Mountain to the DMZ (panmunjeom). At the same time, the YKU members in the U.S. would march from New York to Washington to deliver their petition to the U.S. Congress.
The YKU had to plan carefully to navigate their way around the U.S. government and the North Korean government. The YKU submitted an official inquiry to the U.S. about their visit to North Korea, but set up their base in England to avoid legal regulations. In England, they set up the ‘Preparatory Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea,’ which organized participants for the march.
The preparatory team was based in London, and Hugh Stephans was the leader. The base in Asia was in Manila City, the one in the Pacific was in Melbourne, and the one in North America was in Washington D.C. Of course, the YKU members in the U.S. did most of the planning and Yoon Han-bong oversaw the entire process. It was decided that the fees for participating in the march would be paid by the individual, but that the YKU would pay part of the fees for participants from third world countries.
Yoon did not want the YKU to take sides between the two Koreas. He insisted that the International Peace March be strictly separated from the Festival of Youth and Students. Thus, the YKU refused to co-host their march with the North Korean government.
After months of preparation, they were ready to begin their march. Before they began, Yoon clarified that the march was hosted not by the YKU, but the International Solidarity Committee. He wanted to make it clear that the march was not exclusive to Koreans – the purpose was to invite “outsiders” to join in and take interest. As to whether or not Lim Soo-kyung, the delegate of the National Council of Students, should march with them, Yoon thought it was a decision best left to her. Since the march was for unified Korea rather than North Korea, Yoon reminded YKU members to be on guard and act cautiously.
The International Peace March was backed by an impressive list of sponsors, including the Green Party of Germany, 70 progressive parties from all over the world, and several organizations for peace and women’s rights.
The YKU sent eight members to Pyeongyang, the capital city of North Korea, in July, 1989. In a press interview, the preparatory committee revealed that there would be a simultaneous peace march in London, England, Manila, Philippines, and Melbourne, Australia in addition to the ones in Pyeongyang and Washington D.C.
Upon arrival at Pyeongyang, the preparatory committee found themselves in conflict with North Korean officials. The committee members insisted on having affiliation with neither North nor South Korea; the International Solidarity Organization, a private organization, would host the entire peace march. But North Korean bureaucrats refused to cooperate. They unilaterally informed the preparatory committee that they would co-host the march, refusing to negotiate.
But Yoon was just as firm and uncompromising. When he received word that North Korea wanted to intervene with the peace march, he commanded the preparatory committee to stand their ground, even at the risk of cancelling the peace march. Though representatives were sent to talk to the North Korean officials, the meeting ended in a deadlock. The YKU members started a sit-in at the Korea Hotel where they were lodged. One member, Yan Young-kook, recollects:
Yoon was, too, very worried. He said, “We are on the brink of a crisis. If we step down, the whole solidarity movement will be ruined. We must block North Korea’s intervention, at any cost.” The whole situation was very tense, and we weren’t getting anywhere by negotiating. That’s why we started the sit-in.