This first appeared in The Activist, Saturday, 11 September 2004
I suspect that a small group of activists based in Southern Ontario in the 1970s changed the Canadian peace movement forever. Bruce Allen, Steve Dankowich and Tom Baker were part of the Totally Eclipsed Anarchist Collective. They were my first contacts with an effective alternative voice for social change—something different than the traditional left I was connected to. One particular approach that they had surprised me—consistency. As they became more formal, ultimately producing the North American Anarchist/Strike, they did some very unpopular things. They were willing to criticise all nuclear weapons—something almost unheard of in the Canadian peace movement of the time. As Bruce and Steve moved on to join the Act for Disarmament Coalition, they brought this with them.
ACT was the first broad based coalition in Canada to oppose soviet missiles as well as U.S. missiles. For them, nuclear disarmament was desirable and all those with nuclear weapons equally culpable for the escalation of the arms race and the effects of militarism on the world. A movement for peace must, I feel, be willing to take unpopular stances—both stances that challenge the powers-that-be and stances that challenge those of us we work among. We may have to, in the words I learned from anarchist Spanish civil war veteran Art Bartell, accept the fact that the enemy of my enemy is also my enemy.
As an example, consider the mainstream churches in Canada. Many have policies in support of peace efforts. There is an ecumenical coalition, Project Ploughshares, that attempts to prompt the world towards a more peaceful society. Yet one finds that the United Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Roman Catholic Church and other faith expressions provide some of the most effective supports for the military through providing chaplains to the military. There can be no greater statement that war is morally acceptable than to provide spiritual and moral support to and within the military. I do not believe that the churches can be a true voice for peace unless the churches are no longer a part of the military.
Or consider a factory that provides secure employment, but is able to do so as a supplier of weapons and components for weapons and weapons systems. This is one of the key arguments raised in support of Canadian participation in the son of Star Wars—the possibility of U.S. military contracts. As disruptive as it may be to a community, these facilities that employ our friends and neighbours are essential for modern warfare, indeed for some of the street level violence that is a problem in so many places around the world and if one wants to make a clear statement against war, one should oppose them.
Or consider the very problematic situation of a war involving a large power, say the U.S. and a smaller power, say the Taliban and allies in Afghanistan. Opposing the invasion by the U.S. is one part of opposing war. However, doing so in ways that does not legitimise the use of force or indicate solidarity with an oppressive structure is essential if one is to be a true voice of opposition to war. J.S. Wordworth’s vote against Canadian participation in the Second World War was a rare statement of commitment against war itself.
One real problem of much of the peace movement, a problem that goes back in my memory to the Vietnam War, is that we tend to oppose one side in a war and not war itself. What I am suggesting is perhaps revolutionary—let us oppose the support for war that is dominant in our culture, in the communities that we are a part of. If we are concerned with peace and a member of a church that has military chaplaincies, have that as the focus of a campaign. If one has a small arms factory in one’s community, take a lesson from those that fight to keep poor people out of their neighbourhoods—use the zoning and planning process to make life difficult for those that profit from the tools of war. If one is a professor, don’t participate in military funded research. If one is a student, expose the extent of military funding on campus, and compare it with funding for research that meets human needs. Consider how expressions of social violence such as sexism, racism and LGBTphobia feed into and support violence on a more global scale and look at ways to address that where ever one finds oneself. And, perhaps, take a few risks. Tease the government by participating in conscientious objection to military taxation—Conscience Canada can tell you how. Challenge the dominate co-operations by taking your money out of their hands—from purchasing fair trade products to creating equivalents of the Toronto Dollar to boycotting products from nations such as China or Burma. Learn about the Canadian criminal justice system first hand by doing things like praying on the grounds of a war show or blockading the entrance to the Department of National Defence—people from HASC (Hamilton Action for Social Change) have done this in the past. Learn about successful non-violent resistance so that you can respond to the despair and pathology that leads to the embracing of violence for social change.
And embrace the spirit of Emma Goldman—kicked out of both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. for being to radical, whose motto “If I Can’t Dance, It’s Not My Revolution” has inspired the Reclaim the Streets and other radical reminders that the commons is for us all and we should find a way to reclaim it in hope and in joy. Our movements must model the world we wish to live in. Let us take the hard path—stating war itself is the enemy.