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Building a broadly representative base

Michael Galler — June 1984

Two months after its inauguration, the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign (PPCC) is well underway. Michael Manolsen, national coordinator of the campaign, was in Toronto on May 7 to meet with the local organizers and canvassers. He talked a bit about the progress of the campaign to date.

There’s no doubt that the momentum is building,” Manolsen says. “Word of the campaign is getting out, perhaps not so much in a broad public way yet, but certainly through the peace and activist community in Canada. Most of the major centres across the country have canvasses or canvass training underway.

Manolsen believes campaign activity is spreading fairly evenly across the country, although regional resources and levels of organization do come into play.

“Toronto is one of the most advanced in terms of the level of organization, “ Manolsen noted, “but, by and large, we’ve got more activity in the West than we do in the East – the Victoria canvass was the first to get off the ground. The Maritimes are a little slow going at this point, which is understandable. The network is a little bit more diffuse there. I think we’ll see more building there as time goes on.”

Special effort is being made to canvass some of the more inaccessible rural and northern ridings, in order to make the campaign broadly representative of Canadian society. At this point, both Northern Ontario and the Yukon seem to be well-covered.

This early in the campaign, statistics about response rates and numbers of signed petitions are hard to come by. In Victoria, at the halfway mark, about 11,000 signatures had been counted. At the April 28 rally in Vancouver, 10,000 petitions were printed up and distributed, an effort which could conceivably return hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Manolsen is most encouraged by reports that between 60 and 70% of the people approached are signing the petition. “I think that is in fact very good,” he said, when you consider that on the cruise test issue alone, we were hovering around a 50% rate, according to the Gallup polls. And the petition goes quite a deal further than cruise testing alone, in terms of dealing with the issues.”

(The petition contains four demands: that cruise testing be halted; that Canada be declared a Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone; that spending on the arms race be directed to fund human needs; and that these points be ratified through a free vote in Parliament.)

Manolsen also noted that the campaign is attracting people who previously had not been extremely active in the peace movement. “The campaign offers these people an opportunity to get involved,” he said. “We are getting calls from groups that have just gotten started and are quite excited about having something to focus on like the campaign.”

In contrast to the enthusiasm of those participating in the campaign, news coverage has been somewhat muted. Manolsen speculates that the kickoff of the campaign was given a low media profile because it came hard on the heels of the demonstrations and ,activities responding to the commencement of the cruise testing. “The campaign at this point is soft news,” he observed. “There are no demonstrations or actions.”

Manolsen believes, that the campaign serves two understated but important functions. The first is to take the peace movement in Canada beyond the single issue of cruise testing. The second is the campaign’s role in the movement-building process. He expects to see long-term changes at the political level resulting from a heightened awareness and commitment to disarmament issues.

Manolsen stresses PPCC’s role as a first attempt to forge a broad-based national disarmament coalition. For example, labour unions have endorsed the campaign, and have lent it their considerable organizing abilities.

The Canadian Labour Congress has produced about 100,000 leaflets on the PPCC, and the National Union of Public Government Employees is coming out with two booklets. Three major Quebec unions are active in the campaign. Says Manolsen, “I think that’s exciting, the Labour and peace movement connection, and it bodes well in terms of the success of the campaign.”

Many local groups will be completing their initial canvasses in the spring. One of the problems facing the campaign is trying to maintain continuity over the summer, since the caravan won’t begin before the early fall. In order to fill the breach, local campaign committees will be organizing other activities, such as festivals, fairs and demonstrations.

“As well,” Manolsen says, “the summer will be a time for the mass petition drives at fairs, concerts, shopping centres and in the workplace. Perhaps we’ll be looking at a national blitz, hitting the streets again for a week or two in early September, and then rolling right into the caravan and the closing rallies.”

Manolsen sees the task of his Ottawa office primarily as one of providing services and materials to local organizers. “The first priority was to get a fairly comprehensive package out on the canvass, so local groups could get their canvass organizing underway. We will be producing in the near future another couple of packages about fund raising and the media, and then later another on the caravan itself. “

Manolsen also sees the national office as a “liaison centre” for the channeling of experience from major centres out to many smaller groups. A small newsletter is also planned.

As for the future, the PPCC as currently structured will end October 20, when the caravan arrives in Ottawa. Manolsen, a 28-year-old Montrealer, who is a member of the board of directors of Greenpeace and who has been active in peace-related issues for nine years, says he is making no plans past October. “I think the campaign will facilitate discussion of an ongoing national coalition, or an ongoing process by which groups across the country can determine a national program of action. “

The Peace Calendar staff now has its own phone line and can be contacted directly. TPC’s editorial and advertising offices can be reached at 416-xxx-xxxx.