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PPCC canvasser moving on

Paul Dilse — August 1984

It was with hesitation, and not enthusiasm, that I began my canvassing for the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign. I had taken a training course one spring afternoon, attended monthly information meetings, reported to the organization that I represented at these meetings, secured a donation from the group, even got the members to sign the petition at our annual general meeting. I realized, however, that the crunch would come when I would walk down the lock-tiled alley into the area to be canvassed, knock on doors and ask, my retiring personality in full gear, for signatures.

I saved the last two weeks of June for canvassing, the demands of my career and the World Federalists’ national conference behind me. And at last, a, PPCC button pinned to my sweater, I saw myself trudging into the area assigned to me.

The area, my neighbourhood, might be termed a microcosm of urban Canadian society. Lying on the eastern edge of downtown Toronto, the neighbourhood is composed of semi-detached Victorian houses (each with a gate to open and porch steps to climb) and some newer construction. Many of the buildings have been divided into apartments. The population is eclectic – wealthy and poor, gay and straight, Oriental and Caucasian. In my neighbourhood, demographic differences are separated only by shared walls.

First let me recount my negative experiences over six weekday nights canvassing. I experienced only one incident of rudeness when a man slammed the door in my face. There were a number of middle-aged men (although there was one young man too) who did not sign the petition, speaking in defence of American military policy. One well-to-do man, for example, looked pleased when he told me that “we need the cruise.” Another sounded as if he were reciting from one of Ronald Reagan’s appearances on television – the perceived Soviet nuclear superiority, Canada’s obligation to accomodate U.S. military strategy, etc. I also met a young woman who enthusiastically signed the petition despite her distrust of the Russians. Apathy was prevalent. I remember the older woman who told me she doesn’t sign petitions of any kind. A young man who politely listened to my request answered a flat “no” without looking at the petition. One woman sitting in a patio chair waved me on. I heard some rather far-fetched excuses for not signing; one that kept recurring was: “I don’t live here” (or anywhere else in Toronto). I saw or heard people inside who wouldn’t answer their doors. The saddest case in my six nights canvassing was the man who agreed with the petition but wouldn’t sign it since he didn’t approve of “our” strategies, i.e. bombing Litton, throwing paint on the constitution. He walked away before I could respond to the accusations.

But then there were the ninety who signed the petition, those who wished me good luck and thanked me for coming, those neighbourhood friends who supported me with tea and encouraging words after an evening’s walk. A young man from an adjacent building and an older woman who recalled the horrors of WWII in Europe came to my support when the Reaganite pursued an argument with me. A Toronto celebrity signed. The roommate of the man who didn’t approve of our strategies signed. I got a signature from a resident in the tenement house that was the least appealing to visit. The most fulfilling case happened in another tenement. A middle-aged woman told me about her recent dream in which she was a survivor in a nuclear war as others around her cried in agony. She had never demonstrated for peace before or had signed a petition. The dream inspired her to sign the petition and be active in the future.

What did I learn generally? Thursday evenings garnered me the most signatures but even on Thursdays, many people were not at home. Of those at home, certainly more than half were in favour of the petition; perhaps sixty five per cent signed. I did not discern differences in response due to demographic characteristics, although of those who didn’t sign, men felt compelled to give me their opinion whereas women avoided the issue. Only two or three had heard of the campaign before I reached them. On the other hand, everyone had heard about the cruise. Some had difficulty reading the petition and understanding the syntax; (I endeavoured to make people sure about what they were signing so as not to distort the petition’s intention). The terms “nuclear weapons-free zone” and “free vote” in Parliament puzzled a portion. In one instance, I took a great deal of time to explain the purpose of a NWFZ. I found a significant amount of misinformation, misunderstanding and prejudice. Soviet nuclear superiority, the relative low cost of American military spending and dishonesty of the Russians were cited to me. I finished my stint as a canvasser thinking that the greatest task ahead of us is one of education. Among the solutions I considered were – greater distribution of The Peace Calendar; the opportunity for the general public to take courses on the workings of P;;uliament and the function of peace activity; the availability of courses on peace issues and international conditions for journalism students; or the offering of peacerelated lectures to clubs? The big unknown underlined by my canvass centres around those who don’t care. What (besides a bomb dropping on their heads) will dispel their apathy?

When a supporter asked me if I thought my canvass had been successful, I answered facetiously that a dog hadn’t bitten me. What I could have said is that the canvass did not live up to my expectations. I expected nothing more than completed petition forms, nothing like the personal rewards that in fact accrued to me. I got in touch with people (none of whom I understood to be peace activists) on the issue that concerns me most – world peace. My initial hesitation was replaced with enthusiasm, one that should abide with me into my next peace project: I signed up to help in the Election Priorities project.

13 questions to ask

Editors’ note: In the Election Priorities survey, each of the “13 Questions” is prefaced by two or three sentences which place the question in a larger context. The EPP kit also provides extensive summaries of the issues referred to in the specific questions.

  1. If elected, would you support national and international efforts to reduce military budgets and to reallocate the funds to meet human needs?
  2. Would you support increased untied overseas development assistance to the world’s poorest people in countries whose governments are committed to meeting the basic rights and needs of their citizens?
  3. Are you willing to explicitly oppose any superpower military intervention by either the Soviet Union or the United States?
  4. Would you support the establishment of an international arms register, as a first step to controlling the conventional arms trade?
  5. Do you support full and immediate public disclosure of all Canadian military expots?
  6. Do you support the funding of efforts to convert from military to non-military production and the abolition of the Defence Industry Productivity Programme?
  7. If elected, would you support the cancellation of the Canada/US “umbrella” weaponstesting agreement and the cruise tests?
  8. Do you support Canada’ declaring itself a nuclear weaponfree zone?
  9. Do you believe that Canada should support a bilateral and verifiable freeze on the production, testing and development of all nuclear weapons?
  10. Would you support a Canadian vote for a “no first use” position on nuclear weapons in NATO and at the UN?
  11. Do you support an increased role for Canada in United Nations peacekeeping efforts?
  12. Do you support a UN sponsored Global Referendum on Disarmament?
  13. If elected, would you join the Parliamentarians for Global Order?