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Who are these people?

Robert Penner — September 1984

Two recent surveys of the composition and motivations of the participants in last year’s October 22 disarmament protests have been completed. The results of these surveys provide insights into the still largely undefined Canadian peace movement.

One survey was undertaken by research associates Kim Killeen and Michael Pearson of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs (CIIA). According to Killeen, this survey “was a response to the problem of stereotypes we saw in the course of our research into the peace movement.” In the course of their survey, Killeen and Pearson found “that those stereotypes were not credible.”

The second survey was conducted by the Toronto Disarmament Network (TDN). According to organizer Wendy Wright, the survey “was undertaken in order to understand who was coming and why they came, in order to help with future organizing.”

The CIIA survey was conducted in person by interviewers who asked 23 open-ended questions at the October 22, 1983, marches in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver. 326 respondents provided the data to be analyzed.

The TDN surveyed by mail 140 respondents whose names were gathered in various ways during the Toronto demonstration.

Although survey methods differed, the results of the two surveys were generally consistent in those areas where questions overlapped.

Both surveys found that the demonstrators were primarily middle class. The CIIA survey showed that 28 % of the demonstrators were professionals and 31 % students. 9% were skilled technicians. Only 7% were employed in the clerical and sales fields, and 4% were labourers.

The TDN survey showed that, at the Toronto demonstration, 38% were professionals, 25% were students, 5% worked in the sales and clerical fields. None of those surveyed were labourers. Although not specifically asked, 4% of the respondents mentioned trade union involvement of one form or another.

Of interest to the TDN survey organizers was the source cited as .providing the first information about the event. The most frequently cited source of information about the rally was friends (34%). This was closely followed by media at 28%, posters at 25% and involvement in the peace movement at 21 %.

The CIIA survey gave almost identical results in response to a similar question about what brought people to the October 22 events.

In the CIIA survey, one third of the respondents had been to two or fewer disarmament demonstrations, and 13% had never been to any. The TDN survey found that 35% were attending a disarmament event for the first time.

The two surveys are not necessarily inconsistent on this point, as the averaging of results from five different cities could have lowered the CIIA results somewhat, particularly since some cities did not organize as heavily for the October 22 events as the TDN did, and were therefore more likely to reach the “veterans” of the peace movement.

Of those attending their first demonstration in the Toronto area, over half had never before been involved in any other kind of social change movement. There were also some interesting differences between “novices” and the wider body of those surveyed.

First-timers cited the influence of friends and the media (rather than peace movement literature) is the reason for attending at a rate over 1/3 higher than those who had attended previous demonstrations.

About the demonstration itself, new people were also about twice as likely to comment favourably on the orderliness and organization of the demonstration, perhaps revealing the negative preconceptions nondemonstrators have of protest marches.

Unlike the TDN survey, the CIIA questionnaire also focussed on the political opinions of those in attendance. In a summary of their findings, the CIIA researchers identify some interesting trends among the demonstrators. When asked which issues were of most importance to them, relatively few demonstrators mentioned the cruise missile. Only one in five mentioned it at all, and only some of these suggested it was a priority concern.

For most protestors surveyed, it seemed probable that the cruise was perhaps at most just a symbol of a wider problem,” Killeen and Pearson say in their analysis. They note that most respondents cited a more general concern about the issues of nuclear weapons and nuclear war, despite the united anti-cruise focus of demonstrations held across Canada on that day.

When asked what concerned them most about cruise testing, 39% said that it compromises Canadian policy, and 37% were opposed to the tests because the new missile would escalate the arms race. A much smaller percentage suggested that the cruise was not easily verifiable, thus making arms control agreements more difficult, or that it was a first-strike weapon.

One of the myths contradicted by the CIIA survey is the charge that the peace movement is pro-Soviet, and preoccupied with criticizing the US and not the USSR. Over 70% of the respondents said that both the Soviet Union and the United States were equally to blame for the failure of CUITent anns negotiations. “While more people believed that the U.S. was the problem (20%) than believed the Soviets were (2%), these proportions are small by comparison to the 70% majority.”

Interestingly, the CIIA also found that 50% of its respondents thought that the Canadian military was too large, compared to a total of 40% for the people who felt that the existing level of military forces was satisfactory or insufficient.

According to Killeen and Pearson, this finding suggests that those who argue that Canada could have more in fluence in halting the nuclear arms race by beefing up its conventional role could have a difficult time advancing that position in the peace movement of today.

The TDN survey also included the question “What would you say were the strengths and weaknesses of the rally?”

The most common positive comments given in response to this question referred to the quality of organization (20%), followed by the turnout (14%) and the programme of the rally (8%). The negative comment which occurred most frequently was the length of the rally (8%) and displeasure with the route of the march (5%).

It is interesting to note the diversity of opinioQs represented in such a survey as well as the common trends. For example, 8% objected to the division of the marchers into categories (i.e. church, labour, etc.), while 4% mentioned this as a positive aspect. The comments were equally divided pro and con among those who chose to mention the quality of the speeches.

The CIIA and TDN surveys represent modest attempts to understand the growing Canadian peace movement. Understanding the movement is a key challenge to those involved in it. Feedback from the more peripherally involved can be viewed as a way of expanding the democratic processes to include the opinions and participation of all those who hope this movement reo resents them.