Two Views of the Canadian Peace Alliance

As the founding convention of the Canadian Peace Alliance draws near, we review two views about what it should be:
We can call them the "minimalist" and the "maximalist" positions. Dimitrios Roussoupolos, a Montréal-based publisher argues for keeping the structure simple and suggests a limited number of Canada-wide activities. David Kraft, an organizer with the Toronto Disarmament Network, has more ambitious ideas about the organizations potential.

By Dimitrios Roussopoulos, David Kraft

Minimalist

BY DIMITRIOS ROUSSOPOULOS

Effective action arises from consideration of where to start, how to organize ourselves, how to decide on priorities, how to avoid closing ourselves off, how to communicate, and -perhaps most importantly - bow to avoid flying apart. As many people as possible need to be involved in deciding how to start working together.

Like it or not, power exists in all relationships and situations, and the goal of all peace action is to alter the distribution of power. Power can be seen as a relatively fixed, durable, independent, self-perpetuating given which can be changed only by overwhelming physical might. But an alternative understanding locates the sources of power in the various parts of society. In this view power is fragile, because it depends on the continuing support and acceptance of many groups within the society - any of which might at any time withdraw their support.

Some individuals and groups seek to seize power for themselves (whether through elections or coups d'etat); others seek to equalize and share power so that relationships and structures function in open ways which satisfy the needs of all participants. The sharing of power among all participants involves a basic restructuring of social relations so that power comes not from the top down nor even from the bottom up, but "horizontally." Such a shift requires more openness and communication than occurs in traditional groups. The structure of power itself must be changed, and not merely the identities of the power-holders. Such decentralized peace action means that each group determines its own priorities, yet is part of a larger process. In a vast country like Canada, this approach is more likely to succeed than centrally administered organization which "executes national campaigns" by "coordinating" the actions of the periphery. Common action by various groups themselves is going to be more effective on the basis of this networking process.

What this process precludes is a "national coalition" which organizes campaigns. That means always waiting for the center to do things for us. The most dangerous illusion to entertain is that "the national office" is responsible. Local groups, and regional meetings of these groups, must sense their own responsibility and upon this basis choose freely to establish horizontal networks in the form of common campaigns which are facilitated by an annual meeting and common services.

All of the above is an elaboration of what has been advanced by La Coalition Québecoise pour le Desarmament et la Paix (see the article by Ronald Babin, p.23 in the August 1985 Peace Magazine). This position was first presented at the March Vancouver meeting of the Planning Committee and largely confirmed at the August Ottawa meeting. If the November conference in Toronto brings together the grass roots volunteers of the many peace groups from across the country and if the process undergone already is accorded its proper importance, we can expect a net advance in this same direction.

Coordinating Services

The size and diversity of Canada requires that a movement coordinate the production of its working tools. This, not political direction from some national coalition, is what is needed to gain organizational sophistication. A number of parallel institutions can be established or reinforced where they already exist, with attention being given to avoid duplication.

Among some of the services needed:

  1. a research and publication center which can monitor the research being done and produce attractive publications in English and French for the widest distribution. This would include the preparation of comprehensive bibliographies and literature lists making available the best material from movements abroad.
  2. an audiovisual center providing information on films, slides, videos for rent or sale. It could also record important events in the movement's history.
  3. the establishment of a computer communications network linking a series of urban centers.
  4. a Media Watch center which collects and processes all media mention of the movement and its concerns. It would also devise methods of public intervenation to democratize the mass media and make it accountable. Local peace groups could obtain these and other services on a fee-for-service basis and/or by contributing a sustaining fee.

Setting Priolities and Goals

Our goal should be to move Canada's external relations policy to that of positive neutralism or nonalignment. This means a policy which will keep this country outside the sphere of influence of either of the superpowers. We must apply the leverage of action campaigns mounted along many different fronts. The whole range of foreign policy issues must he our agenda.

The Parliamentary Commission offers the Canadian people a special opportunity to review Canada's external relations. This is without precedent in Western parliamentary systems. The peace movement should use the opportunity to educate itself and to intervene publically by offering an alternative external relations policy. Moreover, given the experience with the Parliamentary Commission on "Free Trade and Star Wars" and its abdicatory recommendations of a "qualified no", the peace movement should consider establishing an Advisory Commission on Canadas' Ixternal Relations and Security This public commission would bring together a panel of qualified people to review the literature and to elicit expressions of all elements of opinion: individual and organizational, specialist and general, expert and ordinary.

An interdependent network of autonomous horizontal organizations can work at different levels to move Canada's external relations toward alignment with human, rather than imperialist, concerns. This would provide our movement with continual sources of energy.

Maximalist

BY DAVID KRAFT

After more than a year of intensive discussion, the final preparations are underway for the founding conference of the Canadian Peace Alliance. (The new organization will not have a formal name until it is adopted by the founding convention. For the purposes of this article, Canadian Peace Alliance is the name being used.)

At the second meeting of the Peace Alliance Planning Committee held in Ottawa August 18-20 participants representing more than 30 major organizations from across Canada adopted a Draft Structure Document. This document includes a statement of unity, an outline of functions, mandate, and conditions for membership in the new alliance, and a proposed decision-making process. It is being circulated as widely as possible for discussion prior to the November 9-11 conference in Toronto. (See this issue, page 20 for highlights of the Draft Structure Document.)

The founding of a Canada-wide peace alliance will mark a milestone in the history of the peace movement in Canada. As we enter the final stages of preparing for this important event, it is useful to step back and examine the process which has brought us to this point. What developments and experiences have convinced so many activists of the need for a peace alliance? What can we expect from the alliance and from the movement as a whole in the coming months and years? What obstacles are we likely to face?

Our Recent History

With some important exceptions, the peace movement in Canada is still a very new phenomenon. Most groups have been active for less than five years and this is certainly true of the overwhelming majority of their members, whose involvement probably goes back no further than early 1982. At that time the peace movement suddenly emerged as a major social force capable of mobilizing tens and even hundreds of thousands of Canadians. To take one example, the April 1981 peace march in Vancouver attracted fewer than t0,000. One year later, a similar even drew 35,000 and in 1983 over 100,000 participated in the Walk for Peace.

In its early stages the resurgence of the peace movement was marked by spontaneous and locally-based activities. These included frequent demonstrations, civil disobedience actions, peace camps, vigils, pickets, and other forms of highly visible public protest. All of this was accompanied by a terrifying sense of urgency, the feeling that "if we don't halt and reverse the arms race now, none of us will live to tell the story.

For some people a short period of intense activism was followed by a sense of failure and despair. Despite huge protests and the weight of public opinion, government decisions and policies did not change. The point was made in the most painful way by the Liberal government's decision to go through with the testing of the cruise missile in Alberta. But even while some were concluding that public protests could not halt the momentum of the arms race, or alter government policy, the movement as a whole was reaching a wider and more diverse audience. As the first flush of spontaneity began to wear off, activists turned their attention to longer term planning and organizing in two related areas: at the grass roots level and in the political arena.

Ad hoc short-term organizing has given way to systematic efforts to sink roots in the community. Local groups have used bake-sales, information booths at fairs and festivals, street corner leaflet distribution, door-to-door canvassing, and articles in community papers along with the more traditional techniques of public forums and film showings.

Attempts to organize in different constituencies have also become more systematic. Church, labor, and professional groups have formed peace committees, published newsletters, initiated special events devoted to disarmament issues, and generally worked their way onto the agenda of their associations. The results are evident in the continued expansion of peace organizing into new sectors.

Peace activities which have been directed at specific localities or constituencies have been accompanied by a succession of public campaigns which coordinated the work of groups in different areas of the community or regions of the country. From the earliest protests against cruise missile testing, efforts were made to coordinate marches and other protests between cities. The cruise campaign was followed by the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign which, for the first time, united groups from coast to coast when it organized the systematic intervention of the peace movement into the 1984 federal election. More recently, groups from across the country have enthusiastically participated in a Stop Star Wars Campaign which forced Brian Mulroney to send an official NO to Washington's invitation for government-to-government participation in the Star Wars program.

Public campaigns have served a dual purpose. First, place they have provided locally based groups with a focus for their own organizing efforts. The link with wider campaigns lends momentum and direction to local activities. In a more general sense, campaigns have helped to focus the objectives of the disarmament movement and direct the demands of the movement at the government. Successive campaigns have served to clarify the programmatic demands of the peace movement as well as providing an organizational vehicle for intervening in the political process. All-candidates meetings, lobbying, and letter-writing around specific issues and demands have greatly increased the political impact of the disarmament movement. The recent Star Wars letter campaign is a striking example of this. Coupled with lobbying, written submissions, pickets, and demonstrations, the Stop Star Wars Campaign exerted a direct and visible influence over the direction of a government policy decision.

The Role of the Peace Alliance

The current attempt to form a Canada-wide peace alliance flows directly from the needs of the moment -- to expand and deepen grass roots organizing, to facilitate and enhance the intervent ion of the disarmament movement into the political arena.

At first glance the formation of a coast-to-coast alliance has little to do with the tasks of local organizing. Some have even argued that the alliance project is a diversion of resources from the local level. However, a closer look reveals that just the opposite is true. With the formation of literally hundreds of groups across the country, there has been a tremendous need to develop networking structures which could keep groups informed of each other's activities, transmit educational materials, coordinate joint initiatives and common campaigns, and debate strategies and tactics for the movement. These networking functions have been fulfilled on an ad hoc basis by individuals, coalitions, and established national organizations. Structures such as the Peace Caravan national office, the Election Priorities Project, and more recently the Peace Alliance Planning Committee have served as a temporary clearing house. CANDIS and Peace Magazine have also attempted to fill the gap. But all of these arrangements have been ad hoc, with mixed results in the areas of communication and coordination.

A newly formed peace alliance would establish a permanent clearinghouse for information and activities of the peace movement. In a country as large as Canada and a movement as diverse, this will be an extremely valuable resource. But besides just increasing the flow of information, the existence of a national center will qualitatively improve our efforts to organize at the local level. To take one example, individuals who become active in their community will have one resource which can provide information about groups in their area

groups with a similar perspective to their own - and relevant activities. From this point of view, it is possible to envisage the formation of many new networks resulting from the alliance. The planning process for the founding conference of the peace alliance has already stimulated the formation of a number of new regional and provincial peace networks.

Effective organizing requires thoughtful planning and good quality educational materials. The formation of the alliance will smprove access to educational resources, the experiences of other groups, touring speakers- and films. Until now, community outreach and public education have been carried out on a relatively small scale. The formation of new networks and greater access to resources will make it possible for individual groups to begin thinking about outreach, education, and organizing in a more elaborate and systematic way and on a wider regional basis.

In recent years the disarmament movement has begun to clarify its objectives and expand its involvement in the political sphere. The formation of a peace alliance can be viewed as a necessary further step in this process. We should be clear that at this stage we are not forming a peace alliance which will speak for the peace movement as a whole or which will provide political leadership. It would be counterproductive to attempt to achieve a single political perspective for the peace movement in Canada. Rather we should view the formation of the peace alliance in terms of establishing a forum where the participating groups can regularly share information and exchange perspectives. Beyond this, the peace alliance can become the vehicle for promoting campaigns which are initiated by groups or regions. This will represent a tremendous advance over the partial and temporary structures of recent years It will allow us to focus on the crucial questions of disarmament issues, strategy, and tactics.

The Future of the Peace Alliance

The major decisions and future directions f r the Peace Alliance will be determined by the November founding conference. What follows are some very brief remarks based on the planning discussion of the past year.

The unique regional and linguistic diversity of Canada has resulted in the development of an extremely diverse peace movement. From the earliest discussions it was clear that the successful formation of the peace alliance would depend on fostermg sensitivity and respect for the differences of perspective within the disarmament movement. Looking back at recent progress it appears that the disarmament movement is uniquely suited to the task. Because of its relatively short history, bad habits are not well-entrenched. We are not faced with the job of overcoming past conflicts and divisions. More importantly, the techniques of consensus-building have been demonstrated to really work.

The formation of the peace alliance will be the greatest test in consensus-building to date. We should clearly establish that our objective is to form an alliance which includes the widest possible representation from groups active on disarmament issues. We should avoid decisions which exclude or restrict the involvement of some groups. This may mean a certain amount of frustration for those who are strongly convinced of a specific perspective, strategy, or tactic. But a broad basis of agreement at our foundmg conference will guarantee the future success of the alliance.

A related issue which has been raised in discussion over the past year has been the concern that in creating the Canadian Peace Alliance, the movement will also be creating a "peace bureaucracy" which will be too centralized and will undermine the work of existing groups. The planning discussion has addressed this issue by making it absolutely clear that the peace alliance will exercise no authority whatsoever over the autonomy of participating groups. Member organizations will be free to continue their work according to their own perspective. Further, it is proposed that the new alliance will have no authority to initiate activities or campaigns in its own name. Rather, the peace alliance structure will be designed to reinforce the initiatives of participating member organizations.

Coupled with our continued adherence to democratic principles, the proposed structure of the peace alliance will allow for the formation of a central body which will enhance the autonomy of participating groups and increase their overall effectiveness. There is no contradiction between the formation of a Canada-wide alliance and our continued adherence to building the movement through autonomous grass-roots organizing.

Conclusion

Despite the frustrations of the past few years, the peace movement has demonstrated great resilience and a continued ability to expand - in numbers and into new areas of society. The essential ingredient to our success has been the existence of a broadly-based popular movement. Activities ranging from demonstrations and civil disobedience to petition drives and letter-writing campaigns have repeatedly proved the existence of a broad public base of support for a program of genuine disarmament policies. Our future success will depend on our ability to build a well-informed, active, and truly mass-based movement. The work that has been done must be repeated many times over. Our movement must assume responsibility for public education on the whole range of disarmament and related issues. It must constantly search for new ways of organizing support and transforming sympathetic individuals into active supporters. And finally it must develop a program and a political strategy which will force the government of Canada to adopt a true program for disarmament in Canada and internationally. The formation of the peace alliance should be viewed with these over-riding objectives in mind. If we are to take ourselves seriously as a social force, if we are ~laying to win," then we must take the next bold step and bring together the entire movement into one alliance. The new alliance will make it possible to expand our networking capacity, serve as a forum for ongoing debate, and facilitate the promotion of future campaigns.

Peace Magazine November 1985

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

Search for other articles by Dimitrios Roussopoulos here
Search for other articles by David Kraft here

Peace Magazine homepage