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One of the major debates at. the Winnipeg National Strategies Conference concerned the possibility of establishing a national structure for the Canadian peace movement.
Two interesting suggestions were put forward in the course of this debate. One was that a Correspondence Network be established to circulate unedited written proposals on this topic. The other was that The Peace Calendar reserve space in each issue for articles on this subject.
Obviously we cannot guarantee in advance that a specific amount of space will be reserved for any purpose. However, beginning with this issue, we will feature opinion articles on the national structure issue as often as we can.
We will edit these articles, as we edit all of our material for coherence and readability. Occasionally ,we may also have to shorten an – article. We won’t, however, change the substance of any submission, and we will cover any point of view that is consistent with the pro-disarmament position.
Please keep articles to between 500 and 750 words, and send them to: The Peace Calendar, CANDIS, 736 Bathurst St., Toronto, On., M5S 2R4.
We cannot promise to return articles, but please make sure to include your name, mailing address and telephone number, so that we can get in touch with you if necessary. Also, please include some information on yourself and your involvement in the peace movement, so that we can identify you for our readers.
The Canadian peace movement has now reached a stage in its development which requires a national structure to make its work more effective. However, the formation of any such organisation or coalition presents _ a difficult set of problems – none of which are necessarily insurmountable, but all of which will require careful thought and planning.
A national coalition would serve many functions. The three main ones, as I see it, are: I) to decide upon and co-ordinate nationwide campaigns; 2) to develop resources and synthesize skills and experience from across the country; and 3) to increase the public prominence of the peace movement in the national disarmament debate.
Is there a need for such a coalition? If we look back over the past year we can see clearly how the growth of the movement is pushing us toward this kind of l1ational organisation. The anti-cruise campaign is one example.
Although this campaign has not yet stopped the cruise, it has received national and international attention, and has probably built up the movement more effectively than any other campaign could have.
But it took time for this campaign to develop a national conference. It was emphasized by some organisations and not by others, and there was no forum to develop co-ordinated plans from the start. It was not until October 22nd, 1983, more than a year after it had become a major demand, that the Canadian peace movement was able to unite itself around opposition to cruise testing. We would have been much more effective if we had united our efforts much earlier.
Perhaps the best example of the pressing need for a national structure is the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign, which clearly illustrate! the disadvantages of trying to build a national campaign without a national structure. A tremendous amount of time and energy was required to simply have the campaign adopted at the local level. If there had been a national structure available to make unified decisions, much of their time and energy could have been spent building the program of action.
The involvement of the Labour Movement in the PPCC also points to the structural shortcomings of the Canadian peace movement. As a powerful national group, the Canadian Labour Congress needs a coherent national structure in the peace _movement o plug into. So, too, do other Canada-wide groups.
It is clear that the PPCC is making progress towards a national structure. But it would be I mistake to believe that a national structure will simply evolve through national work. On the contrary, if a national coalition is going to have any real meaning, it must be developed with as much input as possible.
Although the national disarm anent conference in Winnipeg demonstrated that there is general support for a national coalition, here was only enough agreement on specifics to take a tentative first step: the establishment of a :correspondence network to develop and circulate structural and procedural proposals for a national structure.
I would suggest that the next step should be the establishment of a task force to more effectively examine and synthesize proposals, and to begin to act on any emerging consensus.
This task force must be totally open to participation by any representative of any part of the movement. ‘It must also be structured to include at least some representation from as many different regions, sectors and types or organisations as possible. Most important, it should be as geographically representative of the Canadian movement as possible.
It is hoped that this task force will emerge from the correspondence network, the PPCC and other disarmament work. It could meet every several months, and could try to accomplish a number of initial. tasks.
It could systematically advance the debate on an appropriate structure for a national coalition. It could also try to synthesize ideas and concerns into comprehensive proposals that would resonate as strongly as possible across the breadth of the Canadian movement.
If it became obvious that we were, moving toward a national coalition, the task force could initiate a national founding convention for sometime in 1985. It could plan the agenda and organise the debate for such a convention in advance, so that the issues and proposals could be considered before the convention took place. This would allow delegated representatives to make the few key decisions necessary to permit a coalition to begin functioning.
Another function of the task force would be to begin fundraising for the potential coalition so that initial funding would be available should the coalition be established. In addition, this task force would increase communication and networking among participating groups.
The task-force and the potential founding convention should both strive for consensus and inclusiveness. There should never be the slightest attempt to limit the participation in either the task force or the coalition, and all work should be conducted as openly as possible. The work of the task force should also be carried out extremely tentatively, with a maximum of consultation, so that no person or group could feel that its interests were being ignored.
It should be clear, however, that total unanimity on a national coalition will likely be impossible, since some organisations will remain skeptical and some will not want a national coalition at all. In order to deal with these difficulties, I would suggest that the coalition should initially include a broad cross-section of the movement. Those who were unsure could join at a later point. Given such a gradual evolution, it is crucial that any emerging national ~coalition should clarify its relationship to the grass roots movement, and should never claim to speak for those whom it does not represent.
A task of this scope is indeed ambitious but the growing success of our movement to date indicates that we can begin to take this step forward with confidence. The urgency of the situation suggests that we cannot afford to wait.
NOTE: Proposals, ideas and discussion papers on the topic of a national structure for the Canadian movement can be sent to (and will be circulated by) the recently formed Correspondence Network, c/o the Toronto Disarmament Network, 736 Bathurst St., Toronto On. M5S 2R4.
Bob Penner is active in the TDN and the Cruise Missile Conversion Project. He is also working on the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign in Toronto.