Slippery Links

A new goal of the Canadian Peace Alliance is to "make links" between movements and campaign against all forms of violence

By Debra Ferrens

This is an exciting time for the CPA. Our mandate is broadening, we're moving outward and we're beginning to really build links between the various movements." This was the reaction of an Atlantic delegate at the biennial CPA Convention in Vancouver, June 26 to 28. Over the course of the weekend I heard many other delegates, representing a variety of groups and from diverse regions across Canada, expressing the same view.

Several campaign resolutions, such as those relating to aboriginal rights, prejudice, the constitution and the military's attack on the environment, reflected the broadening definition of peace. Past conventions built campaigns around the more traditional disarmament and anti-nuclear issues such as Star Wars, military testing and training, or military spending.

A new goal, added to the structure document and passed unanimously, recognizes and acknowledges the responsibility of the peace movement to campaign against all forms of violence and to identify them at their sources -economic, social and political. There was a particular focus on violence against women.

The campaign resolution "on prejudice" called for integrating efforts to counter racism and sexism into CPA campaigns and ongoing daily work. Several other campaign resolutions urged the CPA to support the efforts of other groups such as the East Timor Alert Network, aboriginal and anti-racist groups.

In their respective presentations the speakers on the Friday evening panel-Felix Lockhart of the South Dene Nation; Jean-Claude Parrot of the Canadian Labour Congress, Judy Rebick of NAC and Leyla Raphael of the Conference Mondiale des Religions pour la Paix Canada wove together the work of their different organizations.

Presumably the reason for expanding the definition of peace beyond disarmament and arms control issues is to make it easier to build broad based coalitions that can more successfully challenge and transform the prevailing power elites. Countless times during the convention, in casual conversation, in the workshops, and during the plenaries, delegates used the term "building links" with other social change groups.

Despite agreeing on the importance of "building links" we spent very little time discussing how to form coalitions. Only one workshop out of twelve, "Building links with environmental groups," specifically explored the topic. Neither did we examine how it might make our work more effective nor under what circumstances it might be wiser not to work in coalitions.

Sometimes it was unclear to me what exactly was meant by "building links" and other similar phrases such as" net-working" and "linking issues." Were we talking about coalition building, forming a common analysis, or simply appreciating and recognizing how peace issues are joined to other issues?

With most of our attention in the plenaries concentrated on making campaign decisions we missed several opportunities to clarify our terms and to discover what we meant when we said we needed to address and learn about "patriarchy," "the roots of violence," or "the corporate agenda."

On Sunday morning the assembled delegates received the distressing report that during the previous day's afternoon plenary, not only did men come to the mike more often than women (60/25) but they also talked a lot longer (they took 79% of the time). It saddened many of us to think that this could still happen even in a group like the CPA which strives for gender balance and is very sensitive to gender issues.

Similarly, when a young woman delegate drew our attention to the fact that our gathering was predominantly white and middle class we again missed the moment to address a serious concern mentioned repeatedly throughout the convention. In addition, the Women's Caucus report reiterated the observation that the convention was "very much one race oriented."

If we are trying to build coalitions we need to ask ourselves why out of the sixty-five different groups represented at the convention more than two-thirds came from the anti-nuclear/disarmament movements, with several labor, multicultural and women's groups making up the remainder. One aboriginal group and one youth group were represented. There were no environmental groups present. One delegate plaintively asked "Where's Greenpeace?" when we were discussing the campaign resolution on the military's attack on the environment.

Without a close look at ourselves who is the Peace Alliance, what other groups are we trying to attract, what organizations do we belong to (so far the Action Canada Network and the International Peace Bureau )- we run the risk of creating alliances that may look good on paper but are essentially meaningless; or aligning ourselves with groups which may place low priorities on gender or racial issues.

These problems are not unique to the CPA. It seems that all sectors of the social change movement face similar concerns. How do we build effective alliances and encourage minority participation in our work? How do we deal with sexism and racism within our own groups? Where do we find the time in the midst of our activism to engage in the political and social analysis that will assist us all in a better understanding of oppression, violence and militarism.

Perhaps we need to spend more time, both at the national and local levels, balancing our action planning and decision- making with reflection on our work; to recognize when we are limited; to celebrate and acknowledge our victories; and to evaluate how we achieved our successes. Exploring and sharing our terms of reference when we have the opportunity to meet in a large gathering and with many diverse groups may help us to discover and appreciate more fully our creative differences and our common concerns.

Debra Ferrens is a B.C. -based peace activist, who regularly writes our B.C. Notes.

Campers for Peace

The convention proved extremely supportive of youth concerns, initiatives and participation. Delegates unanimously accepted a resolution presented by the Toronto Disarmament Network to create or sponsor a Youth Camp or Conference that would teach activist skills. The camp will be organized by interested CPA groups, who will look forward to sending youth participants to camp in the summer of 1993.

The Youth Caucus reflected a gender balance and represented various ethnic groups. The caucus voiced concerns about the lack of representatives from visible minority groups in the convention as a whole.

The CPA Steering Committee presently includes one youth representative. Angail Dianan, representing the Ottawa Disarmament Coalition, was chosen by the Youth Caucus to fill this seat on the steering committee. Youth are hopeful that in the future there will be room for more than one youth representative.

Young people's commitment to peace is strong. We understand that peace incorporates many issues -human rights for all, a clean, nurturing environment, domestic peace and more. Youth delegates are committed to bridging groups and movements. For youth there is a special urgency. It is the future that lies directly in the balance.

By Lira Seisenoff, BC Peace Committee, Grand Forks BC.

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1992

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1992, page 20. Some rights reserved.

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