Sep 04

July 31, 2013 – Week #33

Victoria and Kelly

It was beautiful – hot and sunny. I put on a lot of sunscreen and wore a protest t-shirt that I had not worn in a while.

The slogan on the front the t-shirt is “Sink the Ship Strategy” and on the back is a quote by former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in a final sense, a theft from those how are hungry and not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone, it is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, and the hopes of its children.”

Unfortunately, the print shop made the font size very small, so it is hard to read the quote on the back. Nevertheless, people have often asked me what it says and I am always happy to recite the quote to them. It is what I think about every week when I stand with my signs to protest outside the shipyard.

I got the t-shirt made just after the provincial government launched the Ships Start Here campaign in 2011. I just couldn’t stand seeing the posters, stickers and billboards all over the city cheerleading the warship contract. I also couldn’t bear the fact that the Dexter NDP government spent $620,000 on an untendered advertising contract for Ships Start Here. I hated the dishonesty of the federal and provincial governments saying “ships” instead of “combat vessels” or “warships”, which is exactly what is being built. All I could afford to counter the government propaganda was a $40 t-shirt with my message of dissent. I decided to wear it again today.

At my protest, I was so delighted to see Kelly again. And she brought a friend, Victoria, who brought her dog, Charlie. The first time that a dog has come to my protest!

Victoria is an artistic, positive person with a passion for the earth and the spiritual side of life. Kelly told me that Victoria has a great singing voice.

“You are lucky to have the gift of singing,” I said and showed her my sign “Make love, art & music: A creative economy. No warships.” She smiled and it and held to the traffic.

Victoria told me that she loves to sing and play guitar. She writes her own songs and has performed them publicly. We talked about the importance of art and culture in society. I told her that I wished the government valued the arts more and that artists didn’t have to struggle to make a living, because their work adds so much beauty and joy to life.

She told me about her interest in environmental issues particularly healthy food and organic farming. “We have to take care of the earth and we have to properly nourish our bodies,” Victoria said. She talked about her concern with GMOs and chemicals in the environment.

Victoria told me that she had most recently lived in Cape Breton but had also lived in Calgary. We talked about the terrible recent flooding in Calgary and I expressed my regret. She had an interesting perspective on the natural disaster – she said that she believed that it would be a good thing for the city because it would force people to have to rebuild together and live less individualistic lives. People would have to cooperate to get through the disaster.

I told her about the Norwegians rebuilding the country after the Second World War. The Nazis had burnt down much of the country, except Oslo, as they were retreating at the end of the war. The Norwegians made a commitment to rebuild together “no one left behind.” Calgary has that opportunity to rebuild the city by leaving no one behind. I wondered if that would happen.

As we were talking, a navy guy on his motorcycle leaving the dockyard, pulled over and started to yelling at us.

“You like living in this country, don’t you?” he shouted. “We need a military to protect our country.”

With the roar of the traffic, I couldn’t hear everything he was saying, so I said to him, “Why don’t you come over here to talk to us. I can’t hear you very well,” and I waved him over.

“I have a letter from Peter Mackay,” he shouted more loudly and started to rummage in his backpack. He couldn’t find his letter.

He shouted again, “We need a military for security. If not, we are going to be living in the woods. Do you want to live in the woods?”

“I have lived in the woods,” Victoria called out to him from across the street.

I waved at him again to come over to talk to us. “Come here. We’re women. Peace activists. Nothing to worry about. Let’s talk,” I urged him.

The guy crossed the street. He was walking toward us when all of a sudden, he looked at Victoria and said with surprise, “Victoria!”

She looked at him with amazement and said, “Adam?!” – then they gave each other a hug.

Incredibly, thirteen years ago they planted trees together in northern Ontario and haven’t seen each other since.

“What’s going on here? Do you agree with this?” Adam said to Victoria as he pointed to my protest signs.

“Ya, I think we need to spend our energy healing the earth,” Victoria replied.

Then I explained to Adam why I started this protest.

Adam countered that we have a good military and talked about Canada’s reputation as a respected force in the world.

I disagreed and said that Canada has lost its standing in the world since our failed combat mission in Afghanistan, our bombing of Libya, our withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol and our failure to take to action on climate change. “We lost our bid for a seat on the UN Security Council because of our poor reputation,” I argued.

He said angrily, “You don’t know what you are talking about. Canada is on the UN Security Council. It’s a member. I know I was just at the UN.”

“No,” I explained, “Canada is not on the Security Council. We lost our bid in 2010 because the African, Arab and Muslim countries voted against us. Canada is a member of the UN, the General Assembly, but not a member of its Security Council.”

He disagreed so I encouraged him to check on his smartphone. A few minutes later, he looked up at me and said, “I’m sorry. You’re right. Canada isn’t a member of the Security Council.”

After that exchange, Adam seemed to soften a bit and stayed for a long time to talk with us.

We debated vigorously about the Canadian military overseas. I listed all the ways that the Canadian military was involved in illegal activities abroad – its role in the coup against the Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide, its participation in the war in Iraq, its killing of Afghan civilians, and its use of special forces with no parliamentary and public oversight.

He discussed the ways that the Canadian military was doing good around the world. He’s been with the navy for the past 5 years and when he was on a recent tour that he helped to seize drugs from “terrorists” off a boat in the Arabian Sea.

We talked about the military and its use of force, international law, the Arctic, and war resisters. We also discussed national priorities and what we thought of “human security.” I told him that I believed that affordable housing, food security, education and healthcare are essential to human security. He said Canada needed a military for its security.

Victoria sat beside us listening. Kelly stood with the signs and waved at drivers.

Adam sat and talked with us for half an hour. Then he stood up and smiled said, “I understand what you are trying to do. It was nice to talk with you. Some of us are trying to do a good job too.” We shook hands.

It was an amazing exchange to go from angry shouting to hand shakes. An example of how peace can come from dialogue and understanding.

I had trouble counting pros and cons because I was talking with Adam, but I did count a few.

14 waves and honks and 1 finger.

Then Victoria, Kelly and I went to Julien’s Bakery and talked about this amazing encounter with Adam.

Dedication: to Raphael Sperry. Sperry gave this amazing interview on CBC’s The Q. You can listen to it here. Sperry is an American architect, green building consultant, teacher, and outspoken advocate on the role of architecture in social justice issues. He founded and directs the “Alternatives to Incarceration / Prison Design Boycott Campaign” of the non-profit Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR). Sperry is concerned about the US prison system. He talked about the prisoners on a hunger strike in California and his opposition to solitary confinement. He argued that architects should consider how their designs enhance or impede human rights.

He said on air, “It takes more courage to lead with peace, to give people the opportunity to solve their problems non-violently…. It is pretty courageous for the prisoners to take a non-violent position to raise their grievances…. Over the most recent twenty year period, California built 20 prisons and only 1 university campus. The message that was being sent to kids across California was that we have place for you prison but not in the education system…. I would like to see a reinvestment in community infrastruce all across the country. If we are serious about dealing with crime, the most important question to address is what is going on in the neighbourhoods where people are committing these activities? Why don’t we have the mental health services that are needed,  why are the schools in decrepit condition, where are the public spaces and community centres that kids can go to after hours? All of that infrastructure has been lost, because the US has spent so much on prisons and its military-industrial complex.”

Sperry’s message applies to us in Canada. Why is that we are going to spend so much on fighter jets and warships and not invest in education, mental health, and community centres?

Aug 13

June 5, 2013 – Week #26


It was beautiful – warm, sunny weather – perfect for protesting and for World Environment Day!

Today is the United Nations World Environment Day. The theme this year is “Think – Eat – Save: Consider your Foodprint”.

On the UN web site, it states, “The World Environment Day (WED) celebration began in 1972 and has grown to become one of the main vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and encourages political attention and action. Through WED, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is able to personalize environmental issues and enable everyone to realize not only their responsibility, but also their power to become agents for change in support of sustainable and equitable development.”

I’m trying to be an agent of change – pushing to change the federal government policy from building warships to building a green economy.

At my protest, I greeted everyone who passed by with “Happy Wednesdays against Warships and Happy World Environment Day.”

I’m compelled to protest the planned new warships precisely because they are not good for the environment. The military is generally not good for the environment. I have a pin that I wear on my jacket with the slogan, “Militarism: #1 Polluter.”

A few minutes into my protest, Jeff came. It was nice to see him again. He picked up the sign “Make Love, Art & Music: No Warships” and held it toward the traffic. We talked about current events. I told him know about the Halifax Peace Coalition’s protest for the Guantanamo detainees outside the US Consulate’s office and the recent protest we had for Bradley Manning. Jeff and I also talked about the International Day of Action against Monsanto, agricultural giant. We discussed how Monsanto’s GMOs and chemicals kill bees and butterflies and threaten pollination and the food supply. I mentioned Monsanto and its link with Lockheed Martin – they share board members.

“Monsanto and Lockheed Martin are killing life,” I said. I told Jeff about the contrast with the plans that I have for my sons’ elementary school garden. “I want to create life and grow things.”

As we were talking, a young, tall DND employee approached us.

“Hi,” he said smiling, “I’ve been meaning to come out to talk to you. I have driven by you many times and wanted to stop, but this is the first chance that I have had to meet you and find out what you are doing. I’m Cameron. I work in Public Relations and Communications for DND.”

“Public relations!,” I chuckled and introduced myself, “They must be talking about me inside.”

“Yes, they are,” he admitted, “How’s your protest been going?”

I told Cameron that I have been protesting for seven months federal government’s planned spending of $25 billion on warships.

“But we need the ships,” he argued. “The ships that we have now are old and need to be replaced.”

“Warships aren’t a priority,” I countered. “The federal government should be spending money on our greatest security challenges: climate change and poverty.” I told him all the reasons that I’m opposed to the warships.

“How long have you been working for DND?” I asked.

Cameron told me that he has been working for the department for about three years. Before his current job, he did an undergraduate degree at Dalhousie University taking philosophy and political science. He told me how he is interested in spiritual philosophy – world religions. I didn’t expect to hear him to say that and thought he might be open to my moral arguments against the warships and the military.

“When you were at Dal, did you go to any Centre for Foreign Policy Studies events?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied, “I remember you. In fact, I was working for DND when Captain Skjerpen of the HMCS Charlottetown came to speak at Dal.”

“Yes, I was at that seminar in 2011!” I exclaimed.

“I know,” he said, “you asked him a tough question about civilian deaths.”

“I also asked about what Canadian special forces were doing on the HMCS Charlottetown,” I added.

Then Cameron, Jeff and I talked about Libya and Canada’s role in the bombing and the naval blockade of the North African country.

Jeff also pointed out that the bombs launched from Canadian warships off the Libyan coast and the bombing of civilian infrastructure, including schools, was a violation of international law.

I told Cameron that Canadians and the Parliament have no oversight of the Canadian navy and the special forces operating overseas and that I was concerned that too much of what the military is doing is illegal.

“I filed an Access to Information request on Captain Skjerpen’s seminar at Dalhousie University. I wanted to know what DND said internally about my questions and comments at the seminar,” I said.

“I suspected that,” Cameron said. “It was my first Access to Information request that I handled.”

“Wow! You processed my ATI!” I exclaimed.

I couldn’t believe we have this connection from Dalhousie and from my Access to Information request filed two and half years ago.

Then, Cameron and I talked about our perspectives on human security. He challenged me that the military makes our country and others more secure. I disagreed and said that I was opposed to the military’s use of weapons and war and that the military really makes things more insecure and that Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq are perfect examples of how the military makes things worse not better. I also argued that Canadians should have a say what the military does and that there should be a new federal white paper on defence and that Canadians should be consulted. The last time the Canadian public had a say in defence policy was back in 1993. Canadian tax dollars pay for the military, so we should have a say.

He seemed to agree with that but added, “We need a military. War is justified sometimes.”

I staunchly disagreed. I told him about the international movement to abolish war and demilitarize. I believed it was possible and that was why I was protesting outside the dockyard every week.

“I understand what you are saying and doing,” he offered with a smile. We talked for half an hour. It was a good discussion and it was incredible to discover how our lives have intersected in the past.

“I have to get back to work,” he said, shook my hand for the second time and left.

Dedication: My protest and post are dedicated to U.S. whistleblower and soldier Bradley Manning. He is the army intelligence analyst who released hundreds of thousands of classified cables to Wikileaks. The massive leak revealed the shocking Collateral Murder video – footage of US soldiers in an Apache helicopter killing innocent civilians and a Reuters journalist in Iraq, the Afghan War Diary, the Iraq War Logs, and the US diplomatic cables. Manning exposed the illegal activities of the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq and the covert machinations of the US state department in other countries.

Apr 03

March 27, 2013 – Week #16

Health care education environment sign_sm

I was alone outside the shipyard today. I brought my new purple sign: Health care, education & environment: No warships. “Happy Wednesdays against Warships”, I said to a shipyard worker who walked by me. I see him almost every week. He chuckled.

A car drove by, slowed down and the driver, a young guy, yelled and swore at me. Over the past four months, I have noticed that all of the people who swear at me have been men. Only one woman, a civilian employee who works at the naval dockyard, has told me politely that she disagrees with me.

At 12:45 pm, a group of naval personnel crossed Barrington Street toward me. At the same time, a fancy car with a little flag in the hood was pulling out of the dockyard, the navy personnel stopped and saluted the car going by. I could see that inside the car in the back seat there was a man  wearing a well-decorated uniform and hat. He was obviously a high ranking naval officer. I have seen this scenario before while I protest – these fancy cars with little flags shuttling around senior male officers. I have noticed that sometimes the drivers are women, but women are never the ones sitting in the back seat being chauffeured around. I really don’t like the male domination, the elitism and the hierarchy that I see in the military.

“Hello and Happy Wednesdays against Warships”, I said to the three naval personnel walking by me. “I’m here every Wednesday at noon. Check out my web site”

One of the naval officers, stopped and smiled, “You’re against warships? You want to get rid of the military?” he asked. He was in his 50s and friendly.

“Yes,” I replied. “I’m opposed to the federal government spending $25 billion on warships. They are not a priority. The priorities of Canadians are health care, education and the environment” and flashed him my new sign.

“We need warships,” he said.

“No, we don’t. We need affordable housing, investments in our schools and hospitals, and action on climate change. We have homelessness and hungry people in this country. We need to help them first,” I said. I tried to tell him about the children in my sons’ elementary class that come hungry to school and the poverty in my community.

“We need the military to protect our land. If we didn’t have a military they would come and get our land. They all want our land and our resources.” he said.

“Who?” I asked.

“The Russians,” he answered.

“The Russians! That is what they are telling you in there,” I said. “That’s preposterous.”

He insisted, “They are going around and putting flags in the Arctic. They want our land. They want to take over.”

“We have international law and diplomacy. That’s what we need to solve any conflict including with the Russians. In fact we are using the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea negotiation process right now with the Russians in our dispute in the Arctic Ocean,” I explained.

He shook his head and said, “Canada needs a military. It protects you. It gives you security.”

“No, your guns, warships and fighter jets don’t protect me. It’s quite the opposite. The Canadian military is fomenting conflict and violence around the world and not providing peace and stability.” I argued.

“We are doing peacekeeping,” he tried to say before I interjected and vehemently disagreed. “The Canadian military is not doing peacekeeping. You know that and I know that.”

We talked about the Canadian military’s role in Haiti, Libya and Afghanistan. He said that the Canadian military was protecting women in Afghanistan against the terrible Taliban. I said that the Canadian military did not go to Afghanistan to protect women and told him about Malalai Joya, the democratically elected woman from the Farah province to the Afghan Loya Jirga but was kicked out for her condemnation of the government corruption under President Karzai and the foreign occupation by the US/NATO. Joya has faced death threats but the Canadian government and the Canadian military did not stand up for her and provide her any protection. I asked him to tell me what he did for the Afghan women but he didn’t answer me.

“I’m totally against armed force, which is fundamental to the military.” I added. “The Canadian military has killed people in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq.”

At first, he said that Canada didn’t fight in Iraq. I reminded him that his former Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk commanded troops in Iraq and an estimated million Iraqis have been killed since 2003 in the U.S. war and occupation. We argued about how many Iraqis died and if Canada was complicit. He conceded the Canadian military did fight in Iraq and it shouldn’t have. “It was wrong,“ he said.

“We don’t solve conflict in our homes, schools and communities with weapons and violence; we shouldn’t use weapons and violence against our global family,” I said.

“We are going to get there,” he said.

“Yes, I’m trying to speed it up,” I said. I felt very heartened that he could envision this path of peace, non-violence and no military with me – he understood.

We shook hands. I enjoyed our vigorous debate.

“Well, I better get back to work,” he said and walked away.

I had 9 honks and waves and 5 fingers and scowls.

March 26, 2013 – Premier’s Office & Protest at the Legislature

Letter and book to Dexter

Today the provincial legislature opened for a new session. I decided that I would go down to protest and let the MLAs know about my opposition to the (war)ship contract and the provincial government handout to Irving Shipbuilding Ltd.

Last spring, Premier Dexter and the NDP government gave Irving a $304 million loan of which $260 million is forgivable to upgrade their shipyard. It is the largest government handout to a private company in our province’s history. Irving is one of the wealthiest family businesses in the country. As a private business, the public has no access to their financial statements and annual reports. The Government of British Columbia did not give Seaspan Ltd. any provincial money to upgrade their shipyard after they won the $8 billion joint supply ship package. This NDP government had a choice: invest in Nova Scotians or invest in Irving.

At 10:00 a.m., I went to One Government Place to give Premier Dexter a package with my open letter and a copy of William Hartung’s book Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex. The security guard in the building would not let me take the elevator up to the Premier’s office, so I asked if someone from his office would come down to meet with me. A woman named Lana came to accept my package and listened to me explain my opposition to the Premier’s support of the warships and my concern about lobbying and the violations of the Lobbyist Registration Act. She politely explained that the Premier was not in his office but that she would give him my package. After she left, the security guard asked if he could have a copy of my letter to the Premier and I gave one to him. I also encouraged him to check out my web site and he said he would.

Outside the legislature, I placed a few of my signs near the steps and then started walking around the building holding up my new sign “Health care, education & environment: No warships”. Colleen joined me. I was happy to see many women from the Nova Scotia Child Care Association having their own protest with their signs “Invest in Early Learning & Child Care”. I knew a few of the women and expressed my solidarity. In fact, I read to them a passage from my letter to Dexter where I wrote “Little progress has been made toward poverty reduction, affordable housing, and early learning & childcare, yet you are further subsidizing Irving Shipbuilding after it has won a $25 billion contract from the federal government.” I reminded the child care workers that the NDP knows better – it had a choice: to give a handout to Irving or to invest in a quality, universal early learning & child care program in the province, such a program would have had a much greater impact on our society and the economy than the giveaway to Irving.

As the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) walked by, I tried to tell each one that I was opposed to the (war)shipbuilding contract and the loan to Irving. I noticed a few of the NDP MLAs stopping to talk to the representatives of the Nova Scotia Child Care Association but I felt that the MLAs feigned concern. If the NDP MLAs really cared about early learning & child care they would have done something when they formed the government four years ago. Just before 11:00 a.m., Premier Dexter walked across the street to the legislature. I was waiting there with some of the other protesters. Dexter walked right by my signs “No warships: Green jobs” and as he walked into the building through the back door, I shouted at him “a militarized economy is a failed economy.”

Signs on steps of legislature

Finally, as I watched all the women NDP MLAs enter Province House like Marilyn More, Becky Kent, Lenore Zann, Vicky Conrad, Denise Peterson-Rafuse, and Michele Raymond, I especially felt disappointed. I really feel like they have let down the women, children, and natural environment in this province. Not one of these women MLAs stood up to say why are we supporting warships and not greening the economy, why are we giving a handout to Irving and not investing early learning & child care? The NS NDP has been a huge disappointment, because they have utterly abandoned their social democratic principles.

The NS Liberal Party and the NS Progressive Conservatives Party are absolutely no better and even worse. These parties also supported the (war)ship contract. On April 8, 2011 in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, there was unanimous support by every MLA for the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy. In the past, when the NS Liberals and the NS Progressive Conservatives were in government they never adequately invested in early learning & child care, education or the environment. It is a sad commentary on the state of our democracy that not one politician at the provincial or federal level has expressed any opposition to the warships, the largest procurement in our country’s history, not one.