Column: My talk at Peace in the Park

Column: My talk at Peace in the Park

I joined with other anti-war activists to block buses heading to the Induction Centre in Oakland

Jim Cooperman

Observer columnist

Fifty-one years ago in Oakland California, I joined with other anti-war activists to block buses full of inductees heading to the Induction Centre. With a loud speaker atop my old panel truck, I cruised the streets of Berkeley, announcing the action and driving protestors to the site. When a phalanx of police came down the street bashing heads with their batons, I escaped to avoid injury and arrest.

It was a full week of protests, and I helped organize one day of peaceful picketing after giving a speech at the famous Sproul Hall Plaza on the university campus. On the final day, there were 10,000 protesters in the streets and the buses were held back for hours until the National Guard arrived to push us out.

Two years later, with my deferment gone after graduating, I had to return to the Induction Centre for a pre-induction physical. Using a pencil that I had hid in my underwear, I wrote on my papers, “Get out of Vietnam.” Seeing my illegal scrawl, the doctor sent me to the commander’s office. I confronted the officer, asking him, “Where is your conscience. How can you send men off to kill and be killed in an illegal war?” He replied that he was helping protect our freedoms and that next time I was summoned, it would be for induction. He was never able to fulfill that threat, as two weeks later I crossed the border into Canada.

Over the succeeding years I transformed from an anti-war activist and budding sleep science researcher to a back-to-the-lander eking out a sustainable lifestyle in the Shuswap hills. But my political ideals remained and after twenty years, my focus shifted to opposing another war, the war against our planet. For the next decades, that effort would result in many confrontations with loggers, foresters, developers and fossil fuel promoters. There were also many successes, including the protection of over 25,000 hectares of new parks in the Shuswap.

When Canada elected a new government in 2015, there was an opportunity for some de-militarization so I wrote an editorial for the Ottawa Citizen entitled, “Canada deserves a peace dividend.” At that time Canada’s annual military budget was 19 billion dollars and the country was poised to spend many billions of dollars more on new warships and fighter jets. Imagine if the federal government was brave enough to withstand international pressure from its allies and rather than waste billions of dollars on war machines, it focused more on benefiting Canadians.

Today, the current federal government does not look much different than previous governments. The military budget has increased to 25-billion dollars and is projected to grow to 32-billion. Having nothing to do with protecting our freedoms, the never-ending wars continue unabated. The real victors are the war profiteers, as military actions only result in the need for more weapons, thus further enriching the already wealthy.

Our smoke filled summers are just a reminder that the war against the environment is unrelenting. Sure we can march, protest, sign petitions and vote green, but in the end it is likely that greed will prevail and all but the very rich will suffer the consequences.

So what is the best road ahead for those of us who yearn for peace and environmental sanity? Our best choice for action is to concentrate on making a difference where we live. Bioregionalism is the preferred option, as everyone’s home place is where their voices will be best heard and their actions most likely to succeed. Whether one’s focus is on tackling poverty, growing food, supporting arts and culture, improving recreational opportunities, improving the sustainable economy or helping educate young people – the ideal place to get results is where one lives.

We can have successes locally and help make our communities more resilient in the face of impending calamities. Unifying our communities and making them stronger will also help in the long run. When the crunch comes our first line of defense will be how well we can cooperate as neighbours and friends to deal with the impacts.

Above all, we need to spend more time to enjoy what we have before it is gone. Rather than despair, we need to re-connect to our roots and concentrate on making our lives as rich and meaningful as possible. As well, we need more music, more dancing, more socializing, more gardening, and more time spent doing what we love most.


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