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?