Eryl Court in conversation with Elizabeth Raymer
Eryl Court is a tireless and long-time peace activist, was a very early member of the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, and remains active today. Toronto writer Elizabeth Raymer spoke with Eryl about her life in activism at her home in Toronto’s St. Lawrence neighbourhood on April 29, 2014.
ER: How did you first get involved in peace activism?
EC: My main inspiration in life was my father. I was born in England, in London, and I had two older brothers. My father was almost completely self-educated, very bright, and interested in the world at large. He encouraged me to “follow my star”.
From early youth, I was very interested in world affairs. As a young adult, I studied International Relations at the University of Wisconsin, where I obtained my B.A. I had one Professor who specialized in International Organization, and was very well-informed about the founding of the League of Nations which followed World War One. I was always very interested in the United Nations, which of course was the successor of the League of Nations, following World War 2.
I returned to England after obtaining my B.A. There I qualified as a social worker, and practised it for a short time. After a year or two, I came to Canada, where I was also a social worker. I became convinced, however, that this was not the profession for me, that I could no longer labour, like a nurse, in putting plaster on society’s wounds, but that I had to do something that would help to make a difference in the world, above all to work for Peace. My enthusiasm for the United Nations continued and grew. I re-entered my studies, at the University of Toronto, where I obtained an M.A. in Political Science.
I became so much involved in the work for Peace that I took on temporary jobs that I could leave if necessary in order to attend conferences in Canada or abroad. I enlisted with the Government of Ontario Temporary Services (“GO Temp”), doing word processing and other secretarial jobs, so that I could continue to pursue my main goal, the motif of my life.
ER: How did you come to get involved with VOW, and for how long have you been a member?
EC: Almost since the beginning, in the Sixties. I knew the famous, creative, vivacious Helen Tucker, a founding member, quite well.
ER: How many organizations have you volunteered for over the years?
EC: Very many. These include, amongst many others, The Canadian Peace Research Association (executive member), Science for Peace (Board member), the Hiroshima Day Coalition (steering committee). I’ve also been very active with (earlier on) the Toronto Peace Council and the Canadian Peace Congress; more lately, the Canadian Peace Alliance and the Toronto Disarmament Network. I’m a member of the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto, which is associated with the Unitarian-Universalist United Nations Office (an official “NGO” with the United Nations – and that has been very important in my life for many years). I have regularly attended their annual spring seminars in and near the great United Nations building in New York City (and these seminars are a fountain of inspiration and information for all “global citizens”). I have been a board member at various times, and have helped to carry on their work in Canada for a long time. To me the United Nations is the centre and the Capital of our “global village” (a term created by the famous Canadian social philosopher Marshall McLuhan).
All of this ties in with my commitment to the creation of a World in One Peace and One Piece.
I’ve had some wonderful experiences at the many peace conferences I have attended. One of these took place in Moscow – the 1973 “World Conference of Peace Forces”. It had 5,000 delegates from around the World, all accommodated at the “Rossia” hotel in the centre of Mocow. I met many fine people who were dedicated to peace research and action. One of them was the venerable and aged Lord Philip Noel-Baker of England, who had won the Nobel Peace Prize for his famous book “Disarmament”. He and I made common cause in workshops at that gathering.
I am convinced that Peace is humanity’s imperative, and I don’t think humanity or our Planet will survive unless we reach that goal. The perils of war, actual and threatened, around the World, and the persistence of nuclear weapons, in “free” countries and otherwise, contribute to the dire situation. In my view, we need to build a much more effective movement for worldwide Peace than we now have.
As I mentioned, in Toronto I’m involved with the Hiroshima Day Coalition, which of course aims for the abolition of nuclear weapons. That is critical. As long as I’m on the present plane of being, I believe that it is my job to foster this and other work to achieve a World in One Peace. One of UNICEF’s publications has the title “A world Fit for Children”. My job in life is to help achieve this outcome. All Earth’s children are entitled to grow up in a liveable world.
ER: How would you say that issues, or struggles, have changed over the years since you became an activist?
EC: I think that the struggles have grown and have become more constructive – and that the need now is to bring the World’s peace forces together. In my view, we have not been very successful in doing that so far.
When the Soviet Union existed, there was much more global activism for peace. The World Peace Council, then headed by the charismatic Romesh Chandra of India, called together the World Congress of Peace Forces in Russia (of which I spoke earlier). WE NEED TO FOSTER MORE SUCH GATHERINGS. I think that we in the West have been highly delinquent in this respect in the years since.
It’s my opinion that the vast majority of the World’s people long for Peace, and demand it. The American President Dwight D. Eisenhower (one of the West’s foremost military leaders in world War 2), wrote a book about his last Presidential term entitled “Waging Peace”. I think he had had a change of heart since his military days. He affirmed, “I think that the people of the World want Peace so badly that, one of these days, the Governments will have to get out of their way and let them have it.” He also warned, famously, about “the undue influence….of the military-industrial complex.” Collectively, we have not heeded that warning sufficiently.
All this shows humanity’s desperate situation and the imperative of Peace. I can’t think of anything more important to do in my life than to foster that process.
ER: What do you see as the biggest obstacles to the peace movement?
EC: I really think that the Big Money – perhaps above all in the West, is a major one. Many years ago, when I was first involved in the peace movement in Canada, to even mention the word “peace” was to draw people’s sharp, often hostile, attention to you. The population in the U.S. (and not excluding Canada), was thoroughly brainwashed by the Right Wing, by “McCarthyism”.
In my days as a social worker, a group of us initiated an organization called “The Social Workers’ Peace Association”. A world conference of social workers was held at the University of Toronto, and our association set up a booth there. Some American visitors came and showed astonishment that we had dared to do this! The director of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, where I was employed, sent me a note to indicate he did NOT approve of the Social Workers’ Peace Association – intimidation! But it did not stop me.
Many people in Canada (in the 1950’s and onwards) were investigated by the RCMP, which acted considerably like the American CIA, looking for “subversives”. My husband’s surname was “Roytenberg”. The peace movement initiated a demonstration in front of the U.S. Consulate in Toronto. A plainclothesman spoke to me and made a remark specifically mentioning my last name – presumably also to intimidate me!
Things have improved since those days – but not nearly enough, in my view. I think that public consciousness and independence of opinion has advanced. I have a badge that I like to wear on my coat. It is marked prominently, in large letters “WAR HAS NO WINNERS”. I’ve been followed down the street by many people – above all women – saying, enthusiastically – “That’s right” “I believe that!” etc. It is my most successful badge ever. I feel gratified!
It’s got to become UNIVERSAL, this demand for peace. It’s not just theoretical – it’s a matter of SURVIVAL. We’ve got a great deal of work to do, and it’s what I see as my job as long as I’m on “this mortal coil”. We’ve got to get our act together for Peace – universally!