Peace Marches Allow People To Take First Step For Peace

By Gary Marchant

ON APRIL 27TH, THE streets of Vancouver filled with tens of thousands of peace marchers for the fourth consecutive year. Nevertheless, some people, both in and out of the peace movement, have begun to question the tactical effectiveness of peace marches. As an organizer of the End the Arms Race (EAR) Walk for Peace in Vancouver, I'd like to offer my views on the value and importance of what has become North America's largest annual peace event.

It is important to first underline the two distinct roles I believe the peace movement must play. The first role is that of a political lobby force. The movement attempts to change government policy on immediate proposals and issues such as the cruise, freeze and Star Wars by lobbying politicians and exerting political pressure.

The second role of the peace movement is that of a mass movement for longer-term change in society. A mass movement educates, raises the consciousness of and activates larger and larger numbers of people, until fundamental changes are brought about in the perceptions and perspectives of the general public. If we are to survive as a species, the general public eventually must accept the military uselessness of nuclear weapons and the need to settle international disputes without resort to weapons and violence. This is the goal of the peace movement as a mass movement.

The peace movement must be both a political lobby force and a mass movement -- since one without the other would be ineffectual. For example, to focus only on specific changes in government policy might bring about some "Band-Aid" solutions, but would ignore the underlying causes of the arms race. And yet, if the peace movement were to put all its efforts into longer-term changes in society, specific events might occur which would make such long-term change impossible to effect.

Because of the precarious situation the world is in, the peace movement must simultaneously address the symptoms as well as the causes of the militaristic mindset.

Vancouver's annual Walk for Peace plays a key role in both the creation of pressure for long-term societal change and the realization of more immediate political goals.

For example, the tremendous growth of Vancouver's mass movement of people concerned about the arms race and active in trying to stop it has been in part a result of the Walk for Peace.

Each year, thousands of new people take the first step in doing something specific and immediate about the arms race by participating in the Walk for the first time. Many of these people and organizations go on to participate in other disarmament activities throughout the year. A primary focus at this year's rally was to inform people of constructive and effective actions they can take for peace throughout the coming year.

The Walk for Peace also re-motivates and re-invigorates people and organizations who have worked for peace in small and large ways throughout the year. The Walk is an opportunity for all these people to come together in one place to celebrate their unity of purpose and caring.

So, by bringing new individuals into the movement, raising the issue in new forums and organizations, providing information through year-round activities, and recharging the batteries of individuals already working for peace, the Walk plays a central role in the growth of a mass movement for peace in Vancouver.

The Walk for Peace is even more important as a means for putting political pressure on governments. Large protest marches all over the world have created the political necessity and political will for the Geneva arms talks.

But there is no room for complacency:

while the negotiations drag on, nuclear weapons are being produced at a faster rate than ever before. The governments are listening and talking, but not yet acting. Public pressure must continue to bring about the first essential step -- a bilateral and verifiable moratorium or freeze on further testing and deployment of nuclear weapons by the two superpowers.

In Vancouver, we have seen signs of the political punch of peace marches. In the five federal ridings within the City of Vancouver, the Liberal, Conservative and NDP candidates all, with one exception (John Turner), publicly supported a freeze and an end to cruise testing during the last federal election campaign. Granted, there is no reason to be cynical when certain of these candidates have been silent on this issue since being elected. But what this situation requires is more pressure, not less. And to be fair, there are solne politicians, such as Bill Clarke (the former Tory MP of Vancouver Quadra) who have been genuinely won over.

There are other important political effects of the Walk for Peace. For example, the size of the marches in recent years has given the Vancouver municipal government the political leeway and incentive to take many important disarmament initiatives.

As well, the Walk for Peace gives the peace movement in Vancouver the media access and credibility that allows us to begin to challenge and counter the bias of the mainstream media.

It is true that the changes we seek have not come about as fast as we might have hoped. One of the speakers at this year's Walk, New Zealand MP Jim Anderton, brought us a very important message -- patience.

New Zealand's fine example of becoming a nuclear-free zone only came about because of twenty years of persistent, and at times frustrating, work by the New Zealand peace movement. Here, too, we must be patient and keep constant, intense political pressure on our government if we are to also be successful.

Peace marches, such as the Walk for Peace, have put the peace movement on the political map in Canada. And marches will continue to play a key role in the future as a show of strength and a means for bringing new people into the movement. New strategies and tactics are needed to complement, not to replace, peace marches.

Peace groups in Vancouver, like those elsewhere, are striving to meet the challenge of finding new ways and new ideas for building public pressure and involvement for disarmament. And we have begun planning for next year's Walk for Peace, which will be one of the keynote events of Vancouver's 1986 Centennial celebrations.

Peace Magazine June 1985

Peace Magazine June 1985, page 26. Some rights reserved.

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