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Obstacles to formation of national coalition can be overcome

Gary Marchant — September 1984

The need for some type of national coordinating body for the Canadian peace movement has become obvious. The relatively uncoordinated ‘Refuse the Cruise’ campaigns, the difficulties encountered in initiating the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign, the lack of a united response to the establishment of the new Peace Institute, the absence of a clearly defined election strategy, and confusion in the media and government about who speaks for the peace movement in Canada have all reduced our potential effectiveness, as both a mass movement and political force.

A number of major problems have inhibited the formation of such a national coordinating body in Canada. These problems must be understood and worked out in time. What is important now is that we begin the process.

An obvious obstacle in the formation of a national coordinating body in Canada is geography. The vast distances between different regions make personal contact, the most effective means of coordination, very expensive and difficult. There is a natural tendency for power and decisionmaking to become concentrated in Central Canada, as in the case of the Canadian Committee of the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign.

Another related difficulty is that there are a very limited number of major centres to serve as ‘meeting places’ in Canada. This fact means that events or annual conferences held in a centre such as Toronto or Vancouver tend to be dominated by peace activists from those cities.

Another major obstacle to the formation of a national coordinating body is the tremendous diversity in the nature, scope and size of the many organizations supporting disarmament in Canada. Some examples of the different types of organization include:

(1) coalitions-in major cities; (2) smaller groups within major cities, most of which belong to the city’s coalition; (3) organizations in smaller towns; (4) regional networks (such as Vancouver Island Network for Disarmament, Coalition quebecoise pour Ie desarmement et la paix); (5) national organizations (Operation Dismantle, Project Ploughshares); (6) sector organizations (Canadian Labour Congress, National Action Committee on the Status of Women, United Church Peace Network); (7) political parties; and (8) professional groups (Science for Peace, Physicians for Social Responsibility). It is difficult to envision how such a variety of different organizations could be integrated within a single formal structure.

As well as a diversity in the types of organizations, there will undoubtedly also be differences in the degree of commitment to a national body. Some organizations may be very enthusiastic and be willing to become formally associated, while others may prefer a more observerlike role with no formal commitment. These points suggest that an unstructured national coordinating body, possibly centered around an annual general meeting, would be preferable to a formal coalition or a monolithic organization, such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), a mass movement and political force.

A number of major problems have in hibited the formation of such a nationa coordinating body in Canada. These pro blems must be understood and worked ou in time. What is important now is tha’ we begin the process.

An obvious obstacle in the formation 01 a national coordinating body in Canad< is geography. The vast distances betweer different regions make personal contact, the most effective means of coordination, very expensive and difficult. There is ana. tural tendency for power and decisionmaking to become concentrated in Central Canada, as in the case of the Canadiar Committee of the Peace Petition Caravar Campaign.

Another related difficulty is that there are a very limited number of major centres to serve as ‘meeting places’ in Canada. This fact means that events or annual conferences held in a centre such as Toronto or Vancouver tend to be dominated by peace activists from those cities.

Another major obstacle to the formation of a national coordinating body is the tremendous diversity in the nature, scope and size of the many organizations supporting disarmament in Canada. Some examples of the different types of organization include: (1) coalitions in major cities; (2) smaller groups within major cities, most of which belong to the city’s coalition; (3) organizations in smaller towns; (4) regional networks (such as Vancouver Island Network for Disarmament, Coalition quebecoise pour Ie desarmement et la paix); (5) national organizations (Operation Dismantle, Project Ploughshares); (6) sector organizations (Canadian Labour Congress, National Action Committee on the Status of Women, United Church Peace Network); (7) political parties; and (8) professional groups (Science for Peace, Physicians for Social Responsibility). It is difficult to envision how such a variety of different organizations could be integrated within a single formal structure.

As well as a diversity in the types of organizations, there will undoubtedly also be differences in the degree of commitment to a national body. Some organizations may be very enthusiastic and be willing to become formally associated, while others may prefer a more observerlike role with no formal commitment. These points suggest that an unstructured national coordinating body, possibly centered around an annual general meeting, would be preferable to a formal coalition or a monolithic organization, such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in Europe.

It will, however, be necessary to have a minimal amount of structure, so that there is some process for making decisions, designating spokespersons, and financing travel costs and other expenses. However, structure should be kept to a minimum and care must be taken to ensure openness and maintain equal representation in terms of both geography and gender.

The primary function of the national coordinating body should be t’O organize and coordinate major national campaigns that require, for their success, the participation of all peace-supporting organizations. The nature and direction of these campaigns should be decided by a consensus of the broadest collection of organizations possible. Other campaigns and activities should be left to existing groups. Care must be taken that the activities of the national coordinating committee do not interfere with or replace the very important organizations and activities that already exist.

A secondary function of a national coordinating body would be to provide a means of communication among groups across the country (such as War Toys Campaign, or a campaign against military research.) The coordinating body and its meetings could also be a forum for exchanging ideas, suggestions and opinions among different groups.

Although the formation of a national coordinating body is important, we must not neglect the difficult and ongoing task of building and maintaining local and regional coalitions, and sector peace networks. A national coordinating body will not represent the peace movement per se, it will only be part of it. Its spokespersons cannot speak for the movement as a whole, they can only speak for specific campaigns and projects.

The process of forming a national coordinating body will be long and difficult, and will require considerable discussion, thought, compromise, patience and creative problem-solving. However, the difficulty of the path we face should not deter us from beginning the process. Our first step should be to agree to hold an annual general meeting open to all organizations willing to participate.

A next step may be to agree to a national program or platform. I would suggest that such a program should consist of the following three points:

  1. cancelling cruise missile testing!
  2. declaring Canada a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, and;
  3. supporting a bilateral U.S. /Soviet freeze.

These three points fit together like the parts of a jigsaw puzzle, and the omission of anyone of them would be a serious tactical and strategic error. Together they provide a natural, comprehensive and attractive package to offer the Canadian public.

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