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What stimulated high Vancouver turnout?

Judy Wells — June 1984

VANCOUVER – With its impressive turnout for the April 28 Walk for Peace (estimated at approximately 115,000), Vancouver has informed the country in no uncertain terms that its citizens are solidly behind initiatives for peace. The success of the Vancouver event also raises questions about the relatively lower numbers who attended April 28th rallies in other cities.

Claire Perry of End the Arms Race (EAR) Vancouver, gives a number of reasons for the success of Vancouver’s Walk for Peace. (EAR is a coalition of almost two hundred organizations, including church, labour, student, professional, peace, women, ethnic and others who are united in their opposition to nuclear weapons and their support for the funding of human needs.) “It is not an accident that the Walk for Peace was again so successful in Vancouver,” says Perry. “EAR, which was responsible for the Walk for Peace, worked for a full year for this achievement.”

Perry also points out that during the year of preparation, churches responded more vigorously than ever before. New groups formed in more denominations and the results could be seen in the greater array of banners representing a wider variety of different faiths, as well as different individual church congregations.

The Trade Union Peace Committee also developed new groups and new support in the labour movement during the past year, Perry notes. It made connections between the arms race and unemployment which were written up as a centrefold advertisement for the Walk for Peace and distributed to union members in 100,000 copies of trade union newspapers. The Trade Union Peace Committee also paid for twenty-five expensive and highly visible bus stop signs advertising the Walk for Peace all over Vancouver.

In preparing for the Walk for Peace, and to follow up on Vancouver’s Cruise Awareness Campaign, Perry says that hundreds of letters were sent to mainstream organizations inviting support for the Walk, and 200,000 leaflets were distributed by EAR, advertising the Walk’s objectives. They were:

While the rally in Toronto also endorsed these objectives, the focus of the march in Toronto, as well as in some other cities, was against cruise testing and consequently was more sharply directed against Canadian government policy.

Some groups consider that Vancouver’s broader focus on peace may have been. partly responsible for the larger crowd. However, Bert Keser, Secretary of Against Cruise Testing (ACT) in Toronto, says “I don’t think it would have made a big difference to numbers if we’d watered down the demands of the march.” He also emphasizes that ACT will “continue to sharpen the focus against the Canadian government.”

Keser attributes the smaller numbers at rallies outside Vancouver to a “deflation” over the start of the tests, felt by many groups who had been working to prevent the testing. He also pointed to the nine other successful events organized by ACT during the past year which brought out good numbers in Toronto.

Bob Penner, a member of the Coordinating Committee of the Toronto Disarmament Network (TDN) , points out that since British Columbia has a political climate which fosters a high degree of citizen involvement on all political fronts, it is not surprising that there was a .greater turnout for the Vancouver March. He added that, wliether we like it or not, the “peace movement is basically middle-class and nonethnic,” and perhaps this character is especially consistent with Vancouver’s social make-up.

One thing is certain – there has been- a steady growth of support in British Columbia for peace issues over the past five years, as evidenced by the annual march, which gets bigger each year. Assistance from government, from the Mayor’s office to the Provincial legislature, has been a tremendous help.

As Frank Kennedy, President of EAR, says, “We had full endorsement from the Province and the Mayor’s office. The march was led by the Mayor and his family. And we had broad-based community support because we walked for peace. If you concentrate on one issue, as they did in some cities, you diffuse your forces. “

Matthew Clark of TDN says that the Network “didn’t organize a special effort for April 28 because we have put most of our recent efforts into launching the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign. TDN made a conscious decision to diversify tactics. There’s a danger of tiring your organization if you go all out for one single event. Each city has its own strategy and the PPCC is the strategy many people are picking this year.”

As Claire Perry says:” There is an enormous job ahead and the PPCC is the most immediate activity for most peace groups to undertake because of the need to make nuclear – disarmament the main issue before the people of Canada and its Parliament.”

While our strategies for achieving this goal may differ, each city, with sufficient time and energy, can realistically aim for a rally on the scale of April 28th in Vancouver.

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