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A concrete vacation

John Pendergrast — August 1983

These are not the beautiful people. They sit or lie uncomfortably on the sidewalk next to the Liberal Party headquarters on King Street, handing around a bottle of organic apple juice. The monotony of their vigil is broken by friendly calls of mock derision from supporters in a passing streetcar and by a desultory, mildly abusive denunciation from a middle-aged pedestrian.

On the Sunday following the July 15 Cabinet decision to permit cruise testing in Canada, there were twelve campers. This was down a bit from the eighteen or so who used to be at Queen’s Park, but the sidewalk is smaller, and concrete is harder than grass.

The peace camp has been a continual presence in Toronto since May 20, when a group of friends set up tents outside the Parliament buildings at Queen’s Park. There has never been a formal organization; there have simply been stubbornly asserting their right to stay where they are and to deliver their message against the cruise missile.

Although the stated purpose of the peace campers is to keep the issue of the cruise missile in the public eye. a number of the campers are self-proclaimed anarchists, and though they do not seek confrontation with the police, there is a limit to how far they will go to avoid it. According to Josh Grossman, a grade 13 student who has been at the camp since the start, “we are willing to get arrested to protest the Orwellian super-country of NATO.

“The cruise missile is a tool of Reagan to bring the NATO countries together as a solid block.” Grossman emphasizes, however, that the peace camp as such is not anarchist, and not all of its members share his views. People of all persuasions and all ages come and go; the point is to be there, against the cruise.

The strategy adopted by the police seems to be to make the campers as uncomfortable as possible. They are no longer allowed tents or sleeping bags; twice they have been ordered off the grass at Queen’s Park; and some have been arrested. On the Sunday after the decision, Grossman had had only six hours of sleep in the previous four days. But he was far from discouraged, maintaining that the peace camp was successful, and that public support was growing. By the time this article appears, the campers will have ended their vigil outside Liberal Party headquarters and should be back at Queen’s Park.

The attitude of the peace movement as a whole towards the campers has been somewhat ambivalent. Undoubtedly this is because of the unconventional appearance and occasionally abrasive manner of some of the campers. Their determination and sheer physical endurance, however, has earned them the support of many who were initially offended by the style and rhetoric of some of the more outspoken campers. There is little doubt that the campers will continue to be harassed, and they would appreciate encouragement. Honk if you want peace!