By Peter Danenhower, Peter Stoett, Jack Mills, Len Desroches | 1988-06-01 12:00:00

Against Centralization

I want to respond to Bob Penner's essay ,which appeared in Oct-Nov PEACE (I have freely incorporated statements on the same topic, made by him during his West Coast tour).

He suggests the gains of the grass-roots work need to be channeled into the national arena. Why so? The essence of the peace movement is the struggle to change to a nonviolent way of living. There is no reason why this cannot be done at the local level: M.P.s are elected locally, we spend most of our money locally, our interactions are mostly local; almost all of our power is exercised or given away locally.

Penner further suggests that decentralization and centralization need not be contradictory. He overlooks a crucial aspect of centralization: representation. The whole point of centralization is to have a national organization with authority to lobby on behalf of the Canadian peace movement. For this to be effective, local groups that disagree with the national organization must keep their differences internal (or risk undercutting the national organization in the eyes of politicians). If dissenters' concerns are not incorporated, they will be left with no outlet, thus disempowered.

True, a decentralized structure may have some loosely defined core that makes most of the decisions. However, in the group I work with, such decisions are not taken to represent anybody except that core. Our supporters are perfectly free to say whatever they wish to anyone. We do not expect public solidarity from our supporters (though of course, public support is welcome!).

If everything is perfect, there is no inherent reason why a centralized structure needs to become undemocratic. However, things aren't perfect, communication cannot be perfect over large distances. If decisions need to be made by the national body, they must go to local reps who call meetings, etc. This takes time. There is also a problem of reps resolving differences at the national level, only to discover that the resolution is unacceptable to their local group.

This is not to say that these problems cannot be overcome, but they require vigilance beyond usual grassroots organizing. For me there is too much to do locally to have time for new tasks. Penner's comments about the peace

movement needing to be more focused and to offer alternatives to militarism, etc, are completely correct. But they apply just as well at the local level. If different peace groups come up with different visions for their communities, that's wonderful! Instead of using the media and advertising, a campaign at the local level can organize activities in which we relate in a nonviolent manner -- i.e., avoid the coercion and manipulation so common in the media and in advertising. Political and social movements too often overlook the fact that few North Americans are very political. We need to think of imaginative, humane, but not necessarily political ways of building bridges between ourselves and others in the community. It's a huge task but, I believe, as realistic as, say, a national media ad blitz.

Peter Danenhower Vancouver Island

The Proliferation Problem

India, Brazil, Pakistan, South Africa, and other "non-nuclear" states ambiguously wield the nuclear threat. The Non-Proliferation Treaty has not had influence on nations, such as those who have refused to sign it: it has curtailed nuclear proliferation among its signatories. The NPT expires in 1995. It must be replaced by a more universal treaty with wider appeal which does not exclude the superpowers from commitments not to proliferate. Canadians can encourage the government to put forth such proposals and play a constructive role in the negotiations in 1995. Local Third World conflicts are dangerous, but they often have superpower shadows looming over them. As well, superpower commitments to nonproliferation are often overridden by power politics, such as happened in the recent continuation of aid to nuclear Pakistan.

Peter Stoett Guelph

Some Grip!

Your arresting cover illustration for April was also puzzling. What was being pinched, a cruise missile, a leaky nuclear sub? Only the third time I picked up the magazine did I suddenly flash on the intended gestalt, a crushed gun muzzle. Some powerful grip that peace hand has! I am glad to see creative artists' work being featured in contrast to the usual portraits or photos. And the magazine is a must for us all!

Jack Mills Parkdale for Peace

King Stayed Nonviolent

Thanks for printing the dialogue on nonviolence. (April/May) Two corrections: First, the name of the too-little-known network of nonviolent resistance in Central and Latin America is not "Servicio Pacifico" but "Servicio Paz y Justicia." Second, you ended with Nomi Wall's statement that Martin Luther King didn't know what to tell those involved in riots, and that in the end he supported revolution in Vietnam. In his last book he wrote, "The Negro cannot achieve emancipation through violent rebellion... (nor) by passively waiting for the white race voluntarily to grant it." And, yes, King did call for revolution: unarmed revolution. In an April 1967 address to Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam, King said, "We must continue to raise our voices if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match action with words... our lives must be placed on the line... .What of the National Liberation Front - that strangely anonymous group we call V.C. or Communists? . . How can they trust us when we charge them with violence after the murderous reign of Diem, and . . while we pour every new weapon of death into their land?... Surely we must understand their feelings even if we do not condone their tactics."

Though his tactics were brilliant, for Martin Luther King nonviolence wasn't just a tactic but way of living and dying.

Len Desroches, Toronto

Dismantle the Bombs Too!

Jeremy Stone of the Federation of American Scientists notes that the nuclear warheads of the intermediate range missiles are not being destroyed or dismantled, only the rockets that would have carried them. Presumably the warheads are seen to have some value by the two sides, e.g. to be launched at each other by some other mechanism.

As far as I know, there is no technical difficulty in dismantling the system that detonates a hydrogen bomb. Plutonium is extremely difficult to dispose of safely. The dangers are:

(1) risk of theft and manufacture into atomic (fission) bombs, which a terrorist organization or a government could do, and

(2) its radiation is carcinogenic, even in trace amounts. The eventual disposal of the plutonium now in hydrogen bombs will be a major problem in the future world we hope for. Meantime, there is no good reason not to dismantle the bombs whose rockets are to be destroyed. They are even more dangerous as bombs than as their content, plutonium.

Alan Phillips, M.D. Hamilton

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1988

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1988, page 5. Some rights reserved.

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