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The National Strategy Conference held in Winnipeg February 2 – 5 brought together representatives from peace and disarmament, student, youth, women’s, native, labour and ethnic organisations from across Canada. Despite differences of opinion on an assortment of topics, a sense of enthusiastic unity prevailed at the concluding plenary session on Sunday afternoon.
During his closing comments to the participants, David Kraft of the broad-based Toronto Disarmament Network (TDN) emphasised that the main accomplishment of the weekend was the new strategic alliance that had been forged between organised labour and the peace movement. Kraft suggested that it was now up to the peace movement to demonstrate to its labour ally that “we can put on a good show.”
But what about those women and men who will be – in a very real sense – responsible for organising that “good show” in their local communities? What are the views of those grassroots representatives, some of whom were becoming involved with the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign (PPCC) for the very first time? To find out what their perspectives were, I interviewed – at random – a number of delegates. My questions were general in nature and dealt with the concerns of the peace movement as a whole, as well as with the PPCC. The comments made to me were always informed and meaningful, sometimes critical but never harsh or cynical.
Wendy Mancini of the Montréal-based Students Against Nuclear Arms (SAGE) said that “more work is needed to educate the young” about peace and disarmament. Mancini was distressed that the nuclear weapons freeze issue wasn’t included on the actual petition itself. Because of her involvement in teaching English to new Canadians, Mancini is acutely aware of the need for the peace movement (and especially the PPCC) to “reach out to immigrants. “
Mancini’s words took on an added urgency when she spoke of the necessity of the PPCC to translate documents into the mother tongues of immigrants. ltalian-, Greek-, Vietnamese-, Spanish-, and Portuguese-speaking people should have “ready access to peace material in their own language,” Mancini said, and it is incumbent upon the PPCC to make a strong effort “not to shove the ethnic minorities into a corner.”
David Delaunay, representing Project Ploughshares in Sudbury, compared the PPCC to “a baby being born.” All the initial conflicts, such as those related to the freeze issue, were, according to Delaunay, “part of the process of growth.” He pointed out that the PPCC was especially valuable for small urban centres in that it would permit them “to plug into the bigger movement.” Delaunay was emphatic in his view that the conference participants “reflected the aspirations of millions,” and that it is now necessary to expand our vision and mobilise that support.
Gordon Flowers, Executive Director of the Canadian Peace Congress, commented that “the peace movement is still too narrow” in its base, and that any attempts to exclude groups will definitely reduce the effectiveness of the Campaign. Flowers’ own organisation bore the. brunt of an attack during the opening plenary session. Flowers described the attack as “divisive and counterproductive.”
Angela Browning, an activist with Toronto’s Against Cruise Testing coalition (ACT), expressed concern about the hostility vented during the Friday evening debate over the inclusion of a pro-freeze demand in the petition. She felt that the vehemence of the debate was in large measure due to the lack of participation and input from many grass-roots organisations. However, Browning’s biggest questions were “How do you organise a country this big on a truly national level?” and “How does the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign ensure true democratic representation?” According to Browning, cruise testing must continue to be a primary. focus because “the peace movement has blossomed in Canada as a result of the testing.”
Randy Smith, like Wendy Mancini, is also a member of Students Against Nuclear Arms in Montréal. Smith said that the conference “has made me feel more confident about the PPCC.” However, Smith was -worried that “the regional and other caucuses were forgotten” in the general rush and enthusiasm of the conference. Like some others, Smith thought that a pro-freeze demand should have been included in the petition, but he was satisfied with the compromise position that pro-freeze literature be included in the Campaign handout material. Smith termed the debate around the freeze issue “healthy.”
Andrew Van Velzen and Paula Rochman of the Alliance for Non-Violent Action shared the view that not enough time was allocated during the conference for political debate and .for discussion of other tactics and strategies – such as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s peace initiative.
Rochman remarked that “many groups felt frustrated that other projects were not discussed.” And after we hand in the signed petitions, wondered Rochman, “what is our response going to be then?