Our Little Victory
People in general, and social activists in particular, seldom take
time to reflect on what they've accomplished. Certainly this has
been true with those of us who worked on the Litton issue with The
Island Way. Most were simply so tired by the time of the July announcement
that the company was abandoning its plans for PEI, that there just
wasn't the energy to re-evaluate what had happened, to digest, assimilate
and learn from our experiences.
It took an issue like Litton to get us working together, and in
our little victory we can take a great deal of pride. We were lied
to, threatened, denied information and harassed, all in an unsuccessful
effort to discredit us as "ignorant" and "of the
enemy." American-inspired militarism has mastered the means
by which its opposition in this way becomes popularly misinterpreted.
It is worthwhile to look at some aspects of the work of The Island
Way which enabled the groups to be a credible opposition.
First, language is very important in developing the understanding
which makes effective coalitions possible. Even the works "social
change" are threatening to many people, and the way in which
we approach them determines whether they will trust us, or even
if they will hear us at all. The Island Way held several public
meetings, for example, where tempers flared and abuse was thrown
back and forth. After one such meeting it was decided to break into
smaller groups the next time for part of the meeting. In these smaller,
more personal groups, more participation was possible, as people
freely shared their analyses of the issues.
Similarly, information is vital. The issues we focussed on in The
Island Way were militarism and development, and we tried to make
these words have some direct meaning to the people we approached.
For example, people who were unemployed often saw the prospect of
a job at Litton as their only hope, and the local media played on
this feeling by portraying the membership of The Island Way as affluent
and unconcerned. (In fact, between being unemployed, underemployed
or underpaid, the biggest part of the group's membership was pretty
well taken care of.) We were able to counter this approach with
sound research on the real relationship between military spending
and job creation, and on how very few PEI people actually stood
to get jobs at the proposed plant. In addition, we began to identify
alternative types of community development -- ones which are based
on local resources and are locally controlled. We also developed
an analysis of the Litton proposal and how it would affect various
other groups on the Island. As a result of this work, farmers, fishermen,
church people, women's groups, trade unionists, university professors,
and people from other kinds of social justice groups, began to see
connections between their concerns and those of others on the question
of militarization of the provincial economy. As well, having good
solid information and documentation on Litton's often sordid global
operations -- on an issue where local control had been established
as important -- was invaluable.
Another important aspect of the campaign was the involvement of
the artistic community. A number of artists helped translate the
content of the coalition's message into easily understandable written
and visual messages. A series of posters dealing with different
aspects of the issue was very effective, giving the campaign an
ongoing profile in the community, and keeping people thinking on
the issue. Other posters prepared for the public meetings were helpful.
Theatre artists wrote a play on the theme of militarization and
unemployment; it was performed for Island audiences. And traditional
Island culture was an important part of the opposition. Several
of the public meetings began with traditional fiddling or songs.
A sang written by Four the Moment, "Freedom Has Beckoned Me
to Come," finished up the public meeting at which armed forces
veteran Giff Gifford spoke. The lessons from Nicaragua and other
Central American countries indicate that we need to find many more
ways to affirm our values through the expression of the positive
aspects of our culture.
Most important in the work of The Island Way over the seven-month
campaign against Litton, was the dedication and commitment of so
many people. As it was, with a part-time co-ordinator and the distribution
of 40,000-plus copies of The Island Voice, the campaign cost close
to $15,000. Without the hundreds of hours of donated labour around
which the campaign was organized, it would have been tens of thousands
And finally, for all these reasons, it is important to remember
that the anti-Litton campaign really reached the public. Many people,
who were not members of The Island Way, spoke out against the proposal.
Every day for several months there were letters, most of them opposing
Litton, to the editors of the local dailies. The issue was talked
about and argued over in kitchens, bars and high school classes,
as well as in the media.
The Island Way coalition was a fairly representative collection
of members from community groups and one reason for some of its
success may be that decisions in the group were made by consensus.
'Consensus doesn't mean we all agree, but it does mean that everyone's
concerns are heard and addressed, that no member's fundamental values
are violated by group decisions, and that everyone goes along with
the group's final decision. Some differences were not resolved within
the coalition, and some members chose to work outside it. We remain
committed to the consensus approach, however, as a means of building
trust and support.
And so we celebrate our little victory, but it is a painful celebration
just the same. Litton didn't come to PEI, but it was warmly welcomed
by the government in Nova Scotia. Our celebration carries with it
the knowledge that we need to develop new ways of looking at how
we bring about a more just and peaceful world, and that a large
part of that work consists of helping support those who are opposing
Reprinted from New Maritimes.
Published in the Connexions Digest, Volume 11, Number, 1, Spring
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