Housing co-op members are very practical people. We regularly gather to work out spending priorities and review financial statements. Balancing competing needs seems to be second nature for many who have found a home with a housing co-op. We have become experts at balancing competing visions of how to share the resources we jointly bring together. We should have no hesitation in applying these skills in the political arena—social change includes making fundamental choices in how we use the wealth of our society.
Currently there is an initiative jointly called by the Canadian Peace Alliance and the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee to transfer two billion dollars from military spending to the development of new affordable housing—-this is an additional 1% of the federal budget and would be used specifically to address a major social need. As well, this effort calls for the ending of the Canadian military presence in Afghanistan.
At this time, various co-operative and non-profit housing initiatives have endorsed, or are considering endorsing, this initiative. It makes sense—-those involved in affordable housing see the need for new housing very clearly. We deal with the victims of violence on a regular basis. We see the need and, knowing that we live in a society with great resources, want the resources we communally create used to meet the needs of the community.
There is a related call for active solidarity with people of Afghanistan, but such support is to be non-military in nature. The argument that we show we care for the people of Afghanistan primarily through the use of force is one that undercuts the possibility of a lasting and transforming relationship based on mutual aid and seeking to build trust between forces and communities in conflict.
What TDRC and the Canadian Peace Alliance are asking for is for more of the wealth created in Canada to be used to address social needs and less used for war—both here in Canada and globally. There is a particular focus on the war in Afghanistan and affordable housing in Canada—-but it has far broader implications.
There are times when I feel I am engaged in the same political debates as in my much younger days. I was roundly criticized by some on the left for not supporting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. For many, the Soviet invasion was the only guarantee that women would be educated, for economic justice and for the possibility of a truly democratic society to evolve. I sympathised strongly with the aims, but could not accept that a military solution was the only solution.
Instead, I did argue for an end to arm sales and military support to those opposed to the Soviet invasion—-the mujahidin and other forces that ultimately took power in Afghanistan with western support. I also opposed arms sales to Indonesia, the U.S. and any other country involved with oppressive state violence. Through a number of programmes Canadian tax dollars are used to support the development and sales of weapons and concentrating on what Canada was (and is) doing to promote war seemed a more appropriate focus of action.
The invasion of Afghanistan by a western coalition has the same idealistic aims as the Soviet invasion—liberation and justice and hope. And yet I still can not accept that a military solution is the only solution to the evils that are inflicted upon so many in Afghanistan.
One could raise the argument that both what the Soviets and the current Western forces have attempted in Afghanistan is close to a just war—-certainly in terms of the objectives, even if on no other basis. I don’t agree with the argument, but I do find validity in them. And both in the early 1980s and in the current time, I am challenged by them.
But ultimately I can’t accept that using weapons against others is valid—even if I can’t always articulate a reasoned argument for non-violent initiatives even in times and places of violence. We do not build a world of peace and justice through the use of force and oppression.
If we want to end homelessness, we need to build new housing. If we want to end war, we have to stop participating in it. The Housing Not War campaign is one way to help achieve two laudable goals and is one that deserves wider support.