What's there left to wish for, since the election?

Several Canadian peace activists met in mid-December to review the prospects for the movement after the November election. The participants in htis session are: Sheena Lambert, who coordinated the Peace Pledge campaign for the Canadian Peace Alliance; Christine Peringer, who directed the Election Priorities Project in Ottawa; Robert Penner, Coordinator of the Canadian Peace Alliance; Simon Rosenblum, the Ottawa-based representative of Project Ploughshares; and Fergus Watt, who runs the Ottawa office of the World Federalists.

By Simon Rosenblum, Fergus Watt, Christine Peringer, Robert Penner (panelists) | 1989-02-01 12:00:00

Simon Rosenblum: We're all disappointed and trying to carve out some role for ourselves after an election that was not to our satisfaction. A number of Western countries have had similar outcomes. The reality is that, while the public is increasingly favorable to what the peace movement has been saying, it is also beginning to go to sleep on us. Peace is at hand! With the INF agreement, with the likely START agreement in the next year or so, and with the relaxation of a number of regional disputes, the world is becoming a peaceful place. And as anxiety is reduced, the role of the peace movement is less obvious.

Fergus Watt: The post-INF world has left us with a less energetic movement, but the majority of public opinion is still with us. The optimistic side is that there are more opportunities because of the way the international situation is evolving. The Soviet foreign policies are particularly hopeful. They are challenging NATO and revitalizing the U.N.

Robert Penner: There's still a good base of support. In some places, the peace movement did more this year than the past several. In the Peace Pledge Campaign, for example, some communities (such as Edmonton, Halifax, and Saint John) had more volunteers than on any previous campaign. Vancouver's "Walk for Peace" still draws close to 100,000 people. There's still a lot going on, but not at the same level as a year ago. It's up to us to organize according to the level of support that we have. We need simpler tactics to get people involved - such as, say, a monthly letterwriting campaign or phone banks.

Rosenblum: This lull may be a short term phenomenon because the relaxation of tensions following the INF Treaty may be short-lived. There is enormous pressure within NATO to do an end run around the INF treaty, to modernize nuclear weapons, to put them out to sea, to live up to the letter of the law while actually escalating the nuclear arms race in Europe. And that may be followed by a sham strategic nuclear arms agreement that simply lowers numbers but allows for the modernization of the existing weapons, so that we get leaner, meaner nuclear forces. The public will then become aware of the mockery that has been happening between the superpowers. If the Western countries fail to reverse militarization, the public will know it.

Christine Peringer: The lull in the movement gives us a time to reasssess our strategies and work for the longer term. For me that has two prongs. The first is continuing to oppose militarism and the nuclear war-fighting strategies of our government. The second is the development of an alternative vision for how the world can be, instead of being militarized - a world that shares resources and that doesn't allow one nation to dominate others. A lot of that kind of work is already going on in local areas, in community development programs. People such as Walt Taylor in Smithers, B.C. and Kay and Jim Bedell in New Brunswick. Militarism is increasingly being used as a means of local economic development and the need for jobs motivates a community to woo the military. We have to be part of a process of setting up goals for community development, so that when the military does come, there's already a policy in place. That way, we won't have to continuously be opposing. Part of the population will never be comfortable with the oppositional stance, which keeps them from joining with us.

Sheena Lambert: The peace movement is going to have to decide whether to get involved in political parties. I think that our disappointment with the NDP underlines how important it is to get active in the party in setting its peace agenda. I know that some of you say that it's a long term process to shape the NDP and that we have to accept the fact that our resources are too limited. And there's a question, if we do get involved with the NDP, whether to do it individually or as a unified force. I feel strongly that we need to do it as a force. I think that what makes us strong as a peace movement is that we are enough people to make certain demands on existing structures, and one of those structures is the NDP. It's the only party whose platform is compatible with ours. There are a few good Liberal candidates, but we can't shape that party, though we should try to influence the Liberals where we can.

Rosenblum: I think the way for a social movement to affect the political system is to educate and mobilize the public so that these issues become central to the public debate and therefore get on the Canadian political parties' agenda. But I think it is incorrect to expect any political party to be the central carrier of our message. That is our own task.

Unlike others here, I am not so disillusioned with the NDP. It has a strong peace program. In the midst of a one-issue election, free trade, it may be pushing things to expect our issue to be as central as we might like. We have work to do on all political parties and we have to avoid putting all our eggs in one basket. We have to relate to all political parties, even those that are clearly averse to our ideas. Insofar as we are clearly identified with one political party, we will lose our leverage on another. So I'm quite nervous about the over-politicization of the peace movement.

Penner: It's not really a question of the peace movement as a movement becoming partisan. It's just a question of orienting more to the processes of policy development in political parties. It's just a different orientation toward all three parties. It's a mistake for the peace movement to approach all three parties as if they were the same, because they aren't. And the NDP presents a whole different set of challenges - in the next period, a more interesting set of challenges than the other two parties.

I'm not advocating going out and joining the NDP, but I am advocating working as an organized force, not just as individuals. It's fine for individuals, but we're strong as a movement, and we have some leverage as groups. I think that we should apply that to policy development processes within the NDP. We have to do that because the political debate in Canada is shaped by the political parties as the big players. There's still a role for the movement totally outside parties.

Peringer: As you know, I was coordinator of the Elections Priorities Project (EPP), which combined environmental, peace, and development campaigns. We took our questionnaire to candidates and it worked fairly well. The environment is obviously becoming the issue of key concern to Canadians. We don't want to be seen as opportunistic, jumping into their spotlight. Joint campaigns can only happen in areas where we do have a common agenda. For one thing, the movements are set up in very different ways. The peace movement is comfortable focusing on the federal government; it is broad based and grass roots in nature. The environmental movement is also grass roots but is more used to focusing on the provincial government because that's where most of the environmental jurisdiction lies. The development movement is used to focusing on the federal government too but in a completely different way. First of all, they are very well funded by the federal government, at least the national coordinating groups. They don't have nearly the same grass roots base. There are a few chapters, such as Crossroads International or CUSO or Ten Days for World Development, but they have nothing like the peace movement's grass roots groups. So you couldn't just apply the same strategies to all three movements. Most of EPP's funding came from the development and the development/ peace groups like Project Ploughshares, becaues they had the most to give. We had a $40,000 budget, of which $5,000 came from Ploughshares.

Rosenblum: One thing that took us a long time to sort out between the environmental and development movements was the sense of common terms of reference. The three social movements will be very distinct. At the same time, the threats of global survival have strong linkages to each of these three social movements. It took time to find the right blend so that the uniqueness of the three social movements stayed intact. We gained a better understanding of the implications of international militarism for peace, for development and for environment. We can work through it on a wide variety of issues without submerging any movements.

Watt: I think that the EPP had beneficial educational results from this kind of cooperation - a cross-fertilization of ideas. The environmental movement became more globally oriented. The development community became more aware of the effects of militarism on their work. The peace movement probably became more conscious of non-nuclear threats to security. We benefitted attitudinally.

Lambert: The Peace Pledge's successes are structural - unifying the movement around certain issues. Strength is gained by simply doing one thing on the same day, such as polling 10,000 people on cruise missile testing or nuclear submarines. And around Goose Bay, where the Innu are, opposition to militarization can be increased and we can build solidarity with their civil resistance. It affects our compassion and our emotions on a human level. Also Vancouver, where the warships come in and where people are already resisting militarization in the ports. Let's focus on the subs and the cruise. There is massive opposition already; it's winnable. We can't win the cruise missile with this government but perhaps with a Liberal government. But we could gain a huge amount in public education. Support for NATO most recently in the CBC poll had gone down from 80 percent to 69 percent. We need a vehicle to continue to engage in the NATO argument. The NATO base in Goose Bay provides a visceral Canadian way for us to expose the negative things that NATO stands for and that people don't know about yet.

Penner: The key site for cooperating with other movements is the Pro-Canada Network. Free trade is going to remain an issue for years, and it's the coalition that's working on free trade. It's already wide - environmental, church, labor. Everybody has figured out some way to cooperate on these issues. They haven't figured out a strong ongoing structure, but that's in the offing and I think that the peace movement's participation in that coalition is the most concrete way to work with other groups. It is fine to talk about comprehensive campaigns in the abstract because we all view things that way in our own heads, but how do you translate that into action? Well, sometimes there are real convergences of concern, such as the Pro-Canada Network. There are going to be direct implications down the road when they start militarizing the economy to satisfy the free trade agreement. Or when we start seeing the environmental consequences of the free trade agreement. When they start closing plants.The Pro-Canada Network is the place to be if you want to broaden the campaign, and it needs our help.

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1989

Peace Magazine Feb-Mar 1989, page 24. Some rights reserved.

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