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De-bunkering Debert

Debra Westerburg — April 1984

DEBERT, N.S. – In an attempt to call attention to “Operation Bold Step” – a Department of Defence and Emergency Planning exercise, taking place in Debert, Nova Scotia, women from the three maritime provinces staged a major demonstration on February 29.

Debert is a small rural town located a few kilometres away from CFB Camp Debert, which houses a NATO national ‘survival attack warning system, as well as one of Canada’s six regional emergency government headquarters. The Debert bunker is intended as a home for approximately 320 military, government and media personnel (21 of whom are women) in the event of a nuclear war.

A chain letter invitation was sent out four weeks prior to the day-long, women-only action, which was planned by three affinity groups. Almost 100 women showed up at the Debert Fire Hall on the morning of the 29th.

Some advance publicity was done under the guise of the alter”,” native “Continuing People Program,” as opposed to the “Continuing Government Program.” This scenario, worked out by one affinity group, replaced the 321 mostly male bunker roommates with the same number of women of child-bearing age. The idea was to set up a sperm bank, maternity clinic, daycare, etc.

This scenario caught the imagination and sense of humour of many Nova Scotians. By February 29th, most of Nova Scotia had heard about the planned Debert action. The day itself gave the participants a chance to explain to the public the reasons for their opposition to the bunker philosophy and, more generally, .to the prevailing irresponsible attitudes towards civil defence.

The event itself was set up to encompass four themes: mourn, rage, defy and reclaim. A funeral procession left the Fire Hall in the morning and arrived at the main gate to the camp, followed shortly by a group of women representing the survivors of a nuclear attack – scarred, bloody, battered and half-dead zombies, carrying their loved ones, who were the lucky ones – the dead.

Women gathered in a circle each hour to decide on approaches to each of the four themes. Sorrows and hopes were shared, sadness and rage were allowed to come forward.

According to the participants, “the strength we saw in each other that day will remain with us all. By coming together in this way, we are challenging the destructive powers and changing the world right now.”