Canadian Peace Movement: A British Columbia Perspective

By Helen Spiegelman | 1987-10-01 12:00:00

It seems, lately, that peace groups are often working side by side without joining forces. There is duplication of effort; lack of information sharing. lost opportunities of synergism. And often feelings of isolation leading to the experience people refer to as "burnout." There's lots going on, but the people who are carrying it out don't see that because they are tightly focused on their own projects. They turn to other groups for mailing lists, for endorsements, for donations and volunteers, for signatures on petitions. The result is a group of struggling projects that sap each other's strength and compete for resources.

"There are too many peace organizations," says Sheilah Young, who has been working with the Women's International League for decades. "Young people get an idea and want to do their own thing." Sheilah expresses a concern, shared by some people I talked to, that the Canadian peace movement needs to 'get united". We need to agree on a priority and coordinate our energies more efficiently. But ask ten people what the priority is and you're faced with eleven different answers. They are not willing to bump their projects down from top priority. This sort of triage can't be carried out because there are no clear criteria for determining our priorities.

And for good reason: the proliferation of projects is arguably a strength rather than a weakness. Rather than trying to unite on one project, arbitrarily abandoning ten others, maybe we should look for other ways to make our work more effective and get ourselves out of the doldrums.

One way is to recognize that things may not be as bad as they seem. Bob Light, a former Greenpeace activist who has recently coordinated actions against visiting warships at both ends of the country, theorizes that we aren't running out of steam' but just shifting gears. This is the transition, he says, between "first generation" and "second generation" peace movements. The first generation saw education and large-scale public demonstrations reflecting the newly aroused public awareness that there was a problem. But inevitably there comes a time when the demonstrations will stop growing. The growth of the peace movement will no longer be measured in bigger and bigger marches ("quantitative change") but in a shift from one kind of action to another.

And in fact this shift is already evident. In the early years of the decade, a massive public protest was mobilized "Against Cruise Testing." The cruise missile was an acute symptom that ordinary people could point to and say "No!"

But the cruise missile testing went ahead and the world has survived and the public is confused. Efforts to mobilize public opinion against Star Wars or warship visits have not been as successful.

Despite this, the peace movement has not dried up and blown away. Campaigns are emerging that go beyond protest. While early campaigns are focussed on Problems, these later campaigns contain within themselves Solutions. We are moving beyond "missile counting." We are beginning to design campaigns that not only sound the alarm and put out the fire, but engage people in acts that will keep fires from getting out of control in the first place. Three examples stand out:

The Nuclear Weapons Legal Action does more than challenge a particular policy: it changes the framework within which policies will be made. In the words of Bruce Torrie, the Vancouver lawyer who launched the project: "A favorable decision in the NWLA would reinforce the Rule of Law. It would enhance the Nuremberg principles by providing another challenge to the concept that whatever governments do is law."

While the NWLA takes the peace issue above politics, the Canadian Peace Pledge Campaign will operate within the political process and strengthen it. This campaign addresses the dysfunction in our electoral process that has made it possible for an electorate to walk for peace -- and then vote in governments that support weapons tests and development, warship visits, and fleets of nuclear submarines. If the CPPC is successful, it will make Canadians more thoughtful and discriminating voters. And it will encourage greater participation in the voting process, which is central to the healthy workings of democracy. The Nuclear Weapons Free Zone campaigns go beyond protest as well. They establish a set of conditions which will have far-reaching implications -- social and economic as well as geopolitical. The NWFZBC campaign has set up a research committee to prepare recommendations for economic alter-natives to nuclear and other defence-related development in the province. In this regard the Nanoose Conversion Campaign has provided the peace movement with a model for a collaborative process involving and community groups in local goverment, business, labor, planning.

What distinguishes these campaigns from early ones is that they address some underlying causes of the nuclear crisis, which include political apathy, loopholes in law, and contradictory assumptions about our social and economic priorities.

Another growth area in the peace movement is education. Curriculum materials are being developed at all levels of education that will legitimize and refine the study of conflict management and peace studies. Moreover, there has been a process of self-examination going on in many of the professions to accommodate the nuclear threat. The B.C. Medical Association has just produced a 68-page brief which is the outcome of six years of discussion in the profession and which is intended as a tool for public education as well as lobbying. Other professionals, including social workers, lawyers, psychologists and scientists, have begun to examine their work in the context of the nuclear threat, and to define strategies to deal with it.

Even as these campaigns have arisen to meet a need, the "protest" campaigns have not outlived their utility. They have instead become part of the larger process of lobbying. The newer campaigns represent the peace movement's own agenda of constructive projects, building the structures and strengthening the processes of a peaceful world -- lobbying, including protests, on the other hand, are reactive campaigns, launched (on warning) to provide feedback on government policies.

The Defence White Paper is a case in point. The peace movement must be ready to respond quickly and effectively when decisions are made (or even proposed) that threaten peace. This reactive function is part of the political process in a healthy democracy. The peace movement has a role to play in formulating the arguments against bad policies and making sure the public is exposed to a thorough airing of the arguments. Beyond that, the peace movement can provide opportunities for channeling concern: petitions, demonstrations, and letter writing.

One other side of lobbying, underused by everyone, is lobbying approval rather than disapproval. The only political process for signalling approval has been re-election. This is much too imprecise a mechanism. The peace movement can reinforce and encourage even tentative steps in the right direction by awarding politicians public kudos whenever they are earned.

Bob Light predicts that the "second generation" peace movement will see the emergence of more determined shows of force by the peace movement. If first generation protest "demonstrations" were a symbolic display of the power of large numbers taking a stand together for something they believe in, then the second generation peace actions will see people not "demonstrating" their power but "using" it to effect real change. When not five but five hundred little boats take to the harbor to greet a warship, the ship will have to turn back. When peace becomes a voter issue, politicians will change their policies. When the ineffectiveness (let alone the inhumanity) of nuclear weapons is understood at all levels of society, and the viability of alternative ways to define security is proven through experience, then the healing process can begin and our culture can move beyond greed, fear, and complacency as driving forces.

That being said, there is plenty of room for improvement in our techniques. The urgency of the threat and the historic imperative that has called large numbers of well intentioned and thoughtful people into the peace movement have brought us a long way in recent years. But in conversations with seasoned peace workers, I have collected some suggestions of areas where most of us can fine-tune our organizational skills.

(1) Volunteer appreciation: Although the peace movement is evolving to the point where some peace work is legitimized with pay, most groups will continue to depend on a pool of volunteer labor. Bev Olds, who administers the Peace Education Resource Centre in Burnaby, suggests that peace organizations can learn from "mainstream charities" about managing a volunteer labor force. In courses in "Certified Volunteer Management" offered by the United Way, she learned that there is a science to using volunteers effectively (including generous and regular gestures of volunteer appreciation). As well, through networking with mainstream charities, peace organizers can exchange information about funding opportunities as they arise.

(2) Networking: the potential of efficient networking has yet to be realized. Sheilah Young would like for a massive phone tree to alert people all across the country when issues arise that require simultaneous and instantaneous response from the public. This is already happening on a modest scale on Vancouver Island, where a phone network alerts a highway sign brigade when a warship enters the harbor. A few years ago a nationwide phone tree mobilized thousands of phone calls to Trudeau's office about cruise testing. Along with the phone, the computer is still waiting to be harnessed.

(3) Fundraising: We are moving into a second generation fundraising era. Most projects will still depend on volunteer donations for basic operating costs, but increasingly peace groups are turning to granting agencies for funds. The creation of CIIPS is a step forward, but there's lots more lazy money out there that's looking for ethical investment.

(4) Not posing the government as The Enemy. Good conflict management techniques will result in more effective lobbying. And the same thing can be said for the peace movement. Internecine strife saps the movement of energy. Conflict is inevitable, even among colleagues. There are bullies in the peace movement, no less than in the outside world. If we can't work together and resolve conflicts in an orderly and civilized way (I hear voices crying in BC's faction-torn wilderness!), then we have nothing to teach the politicians. For some of us, that will mean lodging protests and arguing them persuasively before our peers. For others it will mean withdrawing from The System and creating alternative structures as models. Either way, let's all demonstrate a spirit of goodwill and an abiding confidence that we are meeting the challenge.

Helen Spiegelman is going to California for a sabbatical year.

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1987

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1987, page 19. Some rights reserved.

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