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Where do we go from here?

Matthew Clark — October 1984

Now that the federal election is over and the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign is entering its final phase, the Canadian peace movement finds itself in a period of transition. In an effort to identify some of the questions we face, I’ve been talking with a variety of peace activists, and I’d like to present here some of their ideas (and some of mine as well). These comments are intended not as final answers, but as just the beginning of a disucssion the peace movement should be conducting.

The comments of the people with whom I talked seemed to fall into six categories: (I) Evaluation of the current campaigns, (2) A national coalition, (3) Short term planning, (4) Long term planning, (5) Program, and (6) Cooptation. This categorization is to some extent arbitrary, and I don’t promise to stick to it rigidly, but it does help to put some order into a wide variety of ideas.

(1) Evaluation. The period just ending has been a new experience for the peace movment. We have attempted to organize a national campaign on a broad, grass roots basis, and we have attempted to make peace an issue in the federal elections. To what extent have we succeeded? An evaluation of our efforts seemed called for. According to Anne Adelson (of the Toronto Disarmament Network and the New Politics Discussion Group), “Only on the basis of an evaluation will we be able to plan the future course of the movement. We need to know what effect the campaign has had politically and what effect it has had on our own ability to organize. And we need to know the implications, both positive and negative, for the possiblity of a national coalition.” Adelson has offered to collect written evaluations of the P2C2; you can write to her at the Toronto Disarmament Network, 736 Bathurst St., Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2R4.

Some other opportunities for evaluation will occur during the next few months. On October 21st, the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign will hold an evaluation meeting in Ottawa, and the Southern Ontario Disarmament Network has called a provincial conference to be held in Waterloo probably in late November (at press time the date had not been definitely determined). Anyone interested should write the Waterloo Region Peace Network, Box 133, Station C, Kitchener, N2G 3W9. The Southern Ontario Network also hopes that other regions will hold conferences, so that the movement can work towards a national coalition from the bottom up.

A national conference, to be held early in the new year, seems the logical next step; a number of activists – including Andrew Yan Velzen (of the Cruise Missile Conversion Project), Don Bates (a board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility), and Gary Marchant (of End the Arms Race) – advocate a national conference, though they don’t all come from the same perspective. At the Ottawa P2C2 evaluation meeting, the Toronto Disarmament Network will ask that a committee be formed to plan a national conference.

(2) .National Co-ordinating Committee. Many peace activists now see the need for a national coalition of some sort. Don Bates says that “the more coordinated the peace movement is, the better.” He does not advocate “excessive centralization, but just occasions to talk to each other.” Gary Marchant said (in an article published in last month’s issue of The Peace Calendar, “The need for some type of national coordinating body for the Canadian peace movement has become obvious. Recent examples such as the relatively uncoordinated ‘Refuse the Cruise’ campaigns, the difficulties encountered in initiating the PPCC, 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 secondary function of a national coordinating body would be to serve as a method of communication between groups across the country.”

Some activists. however, especially those from small towns and rural areas, have expressed fears that any national organization would be dominated by the urban coalitions. My impression is that the advocates of a national organization are quite sensitive to these fears; the peace movement ought to be find a structure which would ensure that no region or tendency could unfairly dominate. In my opinion. a properly constituted national organization would in fact protect the interests of the smaller regions and organizations. As things now stand. for example, the media looks to spokespeople from Ottawa or Toronto or from one of the nationally-based organizations; these people are of course responsible only to their own organizations. If there were a national coordinating by other regions and organizations could playa part in selecting spokespeople and in formulating positions.

(3) Short Term Plans. Several peace activists expressed confidence in what the peace movement has been doing, and said that one thing we should do is to continue the sort of work which we already do. Don Bates pointed out that 85% of the Canadian public now favours a freeze and he added that we must “counteract the false impression that the peace movement is on the wane.” Carolyn Cowan said that, among other things. the peace movement should continue “the strategy of basic grass roots expansion and education.”

Michael Manolson (national coordinator for the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign) thinks that a new national campaign would be beneficial. Because of the P2C2, Manolson says. “a lot of groups got very excited, they had a sense of purpose to be part of a national campaign. and they were able to share resources.” He believes that a national coalition should not be a self-perpetuating bureaucracy, but should be constituted around specific campaigns.

Several other activists spoke of the advantages fo a new national campaign; I was surprised to note. how:ver, that few had any concrete ideas about what the campaign might be. Anne Adelson tentatively proposed a campaign to promote a binding referendum on cruise testing; she hopes that whatever project is agreed upon will have a strong educational component.

Don Bates also argued for a continuing emphasis on education, especially in the high schools. “University is too late. An understanding of the nature of nuclear war must be part of everyone’s growing up. It’s as fundamental as sex”

My own opinion for the short term is that the peace movement must continue with the organizational work which the P2C2 began. In every riding where the campaign was organized thousands of people have now indicated that they support disarmament. Over the next year we should determine to make another. more substantial contact with each person who signed the petition; in this way we can build our organizations and extend our educational work, so that we will be able to mobilize more effectively for whatever campaigns we undertake.

(4) Long Term Planning. According to Bob Penner (of the Toronto Disarmament Network), “Campaigns such as the Peace Petition Caravan or the anti-cruise testing campaign are very unclear to our supporters: do we expect to make Canada a nuclear weapons free lone in one year? Did we fail in not immediately stopping cruise testing? How can we continue to raise such demands year after year, not achieve them. and keep the movement from becoming demoralizedT Penner suggests that some of these problems might be solved by adopting a Ipng term campaign, “perhaps a ten-year program to make Canada a nuclear weapon-free zone” Other, shorter programs could then take a place in the context of the long term campaign. Penner notes that in 1977 the Dutch peace movement launched a ten-year campaign under the slogan, “Let’s rid the world of nuclear weapons, let it begin in the Netherlands.” and he attributes their considerable political success to this program.

Both Don Bates and Andrew Van Velzen raise an issue which must have an impact on long range planning. “How do we get the Canadian government to pursue an independant policy on nuclear weapons?” Bates asks. “Canadian policy is made in the US, and our problem is far more determined by the US elections than by the Canadian elections.” Van Velzen believes that we must “further our analysis of the global situation and Canada’s role in it … Canada has little room to manoeuvre” because of our “economic and military subservience to the US.”

A long term project proposed by Carolyn Cowan is the development of the international peace movement. Cowan suggests that we need to develop direct formal links with the peace movements of other countries. “We need to begin forming into a cohesive. international. united family. This process takes a long time. so we would be smart to begin as soon as possible.” She suggests that an International Coordinator be appointed “to establish formal connections and exchange information, so that the movements can begin to support each other in public campaigns.” Perhaps such a task would be appropriate for a national coordinating committee.

(5) Program. Some activists, particularly (but not exclusively) on the West Coast, were disappointed that the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign did not emphasizc the nuclear freeze. Since the emergence of reports showing widespread public support for the frecze and the flurry of Liberal Party interest in the issue. more people have come to believe that the freeze is an area where the peace movement can make real gains. In the.course of my discussions. I was fascinated to see several people who had been dubious about the freeze as an issue talk themselves into it. Two qualifications remain, however: some feel that we must make it clear that the freeze is only a step. not our whole program; others felt that we must not de-emphasize the demand to stop cruise testing.

Carolyn Cowan’s suggested program for the peace movement goes much further; she believes that we should “articulate the peace movement’s vision for the future. We have a common vision. We need now to start talking about it.

The framework of the vision would include positions like non-violent conflict resolution through negotiations and cooperation rather than combat and violence; a future beyond not only nuclear weapons but beyond warr itself; decentralization of power. Although I like Cowan’s ideas, I doubt that they are the common vision of the peace movment. Some peace activists feel that this vision overlooks the causes of conflict and takes refuge in vague goodwill. Those of us who are sympathetic to these ideas need to elaborate a concrete program which does not deny the harsh realities of the world as it tries to overcome them.

(6) Cooptation. Although a “very large sector of the Canadian peace movement supported and participated in the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign and the Election Priorities Project, other individuals and groups in the movement felt that these campaigns only served to legitimize political structures which are themselves part of the problem.

The danger of cooptation has been a constant issue not just in today’s Canadian peace movement, but in the politics of social change throughout history. The same arguments have occurred in the anti-Vietnam war movement, in the civil rights movement, in the women’s movement and in the labour movement. The argument persists, I believe, because both sides are right: on the one hand. we must not fall into the trap of becoming merely a loyal opposition; on the other hand, we must not fall into the trap of becoming a permanent fringe. The balancing of these two opposing truths is not a matter of theory, but of concrete action in a particular historical context.

Disagreement about cooptation is inevitable; it can also be beneficial. by keeping the movment from becoming either opportunistic or self-righteous. I suspect that the differences in the current situation are not as great as they may seem. Many of those active in the P2C2 support and have participated in civil disobedience actions, and some of those who have been critical of the P2C2 took an active part in the recent election campaign. I fear, however, that neither side gives the other enough credit for understanding the nature of the problem.

Each of the issues I have touched on is worth extensive discussion; no doubt I have somewhat distorted the opinions of those I talked to, if only through selective quotation. but I hope that this brief overview may at least begin a necessary discussion and begin to put some of the questions into some sort of context.