AN EXCEPTIONAL PEACE CONFERENCE
by Hannah Hadikin, VOW Board director
When some two dozen peace activists come together, it is no surprise that the energy in the room is something to behold. Such was the case at the Mission Creek Folk School in Kelowna recently. This idyllic setting was the venue for the recent BC Southern Interior Peace Coalition Conference (BCSIPC). The Kelowna Peace Group folks were superbly gracious in hosting the event. Aside from the splendid coffee which was supplied by a member who spends substantial amount of his time assisting Guatemalan coffee growers, the delectable food preparations were an amazing example of local agriculture, clearly within the parameters of the 100- mile diet.
Individuals representing their respective peace and justice groups addressed critical issues including the ongoing wars and armed conflict, climate change and global warming, food and water security, increasing poverty and the devastating plight of refugees.
Reports from member groups described the wide range of activities which individuals have been participating in since the BCSPIC Conference a year ago, with the overarching focus on peace messages designed to reach a larger segment of the public. The struggle for peace and justice does not dimish. Canada’s ever increasing militarization was a priority agenda item. The Canadian military has slowly but surely transformed its public image from peacekeeping to war-keeping, with the emphasis on identifying enemies on the basis of group membership which then subsequently must be destroyed. With the swelling militarization, recruitment campaigns offer promises of travel, adventure, free education and skills training specially designed to attract disadvantaged youth. The military exploits the economic inequities by offering an exciting military career with all the perks.
The issue of military recruitment is a social justice case. Are students being informed of every side of the story, including the statistics of military causalities, liabilities, suicides, and lifelong PTSD? Young people are offered protection by law from risky behaviour such as the right to drive a vehicle before a certain age, yet military recruiters can entice the youth to join their ranks without a second thought to protecting them from a decision that may cost the young recruit their life. Educators, parents and activists have a critical role in the push-back and to protect the youth from these predators.
Given the overwhelming crises facing our world—environmental, economic, social—, it is essential that people join together in a common focus to call attention to the size of the global military expenditures. “For decades the platform of all the major parties in the US and Canada have continued to feed the war economy and the relentless drive towards militarism…The people who pay for wars with their tax money, with environmental devastation, refugee crisis and with their lives do not support their governments’ actions. The politicians have tried to persuade everyone that the only two choices in foreign policy are bombing people or doing nothing. A clear voice against war and nuclear weapons has never been more necessary. “ ( Mark Haley, Kelowna Peace Group). United we can move from a culture of fear to a culture of peace. At the peace table scientists, lawyers, academics, educators, grass roots activists are all welcome to strengthen community-based actions. These include the International Criminal Court’s work to end impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the abolishment of nuclear weapons and the establishment of a nuclear-weapons-free world for present and future generations.
Traditionally, during the month of November, affiliates from the peace groups endorse the white poppy campaign with the message to remember to end all wars. In 1933, women in the British Co-operative Guild, who had lost family members in the First World War, started the white poppy campaign, as a “definite pledge to peace and that war must not happen again.” Peace supporters and activists all over the world continue this tradition, with the white poppy as a symbol of hope, optimism and determination to bring an end to war. The white poppy can be worn alone or with the red poppy which offers a way to remember those who are killed, of whom, in modern warfare, the majority are civilians, including women and children.
The afternoon session “ Remembering for Peace: Rethinking Remembrance Day Commemorations”, was facilitated by an Associate Professor of Cultural Studies at UBC Okanagan and two teachers from School District 23. The educators shared their experiences of broadening the discourse around the significance of Remembrance Day in their classrooms. Until more recent times deviating from the norm vis a vis the sacredness of Remembrance Day, threats of losing a teaching position were not uncommon. It was encouraging to hear about progressive changes in the K-9 new curriculum guidelines. Teachers will have the autonomy to introduce socially responsible resource materials in certain subject areas that are most appropriate for critical thinking. In our small group sessions we learned about substantial resources that are available to educators.
One such resource in the form of a “toolkit”, designed by the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW), is available for use in the curriculum for peace education. The peace “toolkit” idea was conceived and developed by the Manitoba VOW Leadership camp for young women. “VOW seeks to work with youth to uncover the tools necessary to creating a culture of peace and to discover the potential of each individual to make a difference. Through active participation, students will develop skills related to peace building, conflict resolution and social change…In addition to expanding knowledge on peace, students will also have the chance to build relationships with others who share an interest in social justice and to be part of the academic process.” (VOW website).
Of the several resolutions which were adopted and which will form central approaches for furthering the work of the regional peace groups, one unanimous resolution was the affiliation with the Canadian Peace Congress. The Canadian Peace Congress is a member organization of the World Peace Council. BCSIPC will work in solidarity with these organizations on the world struggle for peace, environment, social justice and disarmament.
“The Canadian Peace Congress stands for: peace, disarmament and genuine global security; human rights and cultural heritage; and ecological preservation…respect for the full rights and self-determination of all nations and peoples…Peace is Everybody’s Business” ( Constitution and Principles of the Canadian Peace Congress)