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Working to reinvigorate Canada's peace movement

Working to reinvigorate Canada's peace movement

Dave Gehl and Ed Lehman are members of the Regina Peace Council. Over their decades of involvement in issues of war and peace, they have seen the peace movement grow and shrink multiple times. They believe that the world needs a large and vigorous peace movement now more than ever, and they are doing what they can in Saskatchewan to try and revive it. Scott Neigh interviews them about the Regina Peace Council and about its ongoing work for peace.

The Regina Peace Council has been around since 1949. It was founded in the wake of the Second World War, in the shadow of the use of nuclear weapons against the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States, and just as the Cold War and the nuclear arms race between the US and the Soviet Union was picking up steam. Peace councils sprang up in many communities in that era, and joined together to form the Canadian Peace Congress, as part of the World Peace Council. Given the circumstances of their formation, a key focus of the peace councils in Regina and elsewhere has always been nuclear disarmament, and over the years they have also often stressed solidarity with people struggling against oppression and imperialism.

Dave Gehl is a retired civil servant who lives in a small town outside of Regina. He grew up in a left-wing political family. His mother was the secretary of the Regina Peace Council when he was young and he attended his first peace movement action when he was five years old. Like the movement itself, his own involvement has ebbed and flowed over the years, but today he is still active, and is the vice-president of the Regina Peace Council.

Ed Lehman is a retired educator who lives in a different little town outside of Regina (where he is also a member of the town council). He initially became involved in the Regina Peace Council as a teenager through his friendship with Gehl, and both were very involved in that era in opposing the Vietnam War. Lehman is currently the president of the Regina Peace Council.

Over the years, the peace movement as a whole has varied significantly in size, visibility, and power at different moments, as global circumstances have changed. Peace councils in particular are much less numerous than they once were, though of course the one in Regina and others remain active, and various other sorts of peace groups with a range of orientations and approaches exist across the country.

Even so, large-scale movement activity against war and for peace is at something of a low point in Canada today. This is not, of course, because of a lack of need for such a thing – the world has been in a state of near constant regional war in the years since the 9/11 attacks, under the banner of the "war on terror." And over that time Western governments, including Canada, have made regular use of various forms of military intervention, up to and including invasion, regime change, and occupation. So the world was already in a very unjust and un-peaceful state when Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, and his particular brand of pugnacious incoherent bluster has only introduced greater instability. Though the issue of nuclear weapons does not receive the same attention today that it did in the 1950s or the 1980s, the current precarious state of the world has caused the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to move their famous doomsday clock, which they use to indicate our risk of nuclear annihilation, to two minutes to midnight, the greatest risk the world has faced since the worst moments of the Cold War.

Lehman, Gehl, and the rest of the Regina Peace Council want to do what they can to get peace back onto the public agenda. They continue their work for nuclear disarmament, their solidarity with oppressed peoples, and their general opposition to war and militarism. Increasingly, they are also coming to see a tight connection between war and environmental destruction, and the need to develop closer links between the peace movement and the environmental movement. Their ongoing actions include bringing speakers to Regina to talk about the issues and to spark public conversation, publishing their regular newsletter, engaging in demonstrations at critical moments, and participating in other kinds of public events.

Their analysis of why there is so little mass peace movement activity in Canada despite the prevalence of war and instability on a global level points at least in part to the media: They say that pro-peace perspectives are largely excluded from the mainstream media in this country, so despite many Canadians having impulses that are largely in favour of peace, many of us don't have the information and resources to build those impulses into well-informed anti-war and pro-peace perspectives that might then lead us to turn towards grassroots political work for peace.

Recently, as one small way to circumvent this lack of media access, the group took the novel step of renting a billboard on the Trans Canada Highway just outside of Regina (pictured above). Its central message is "Canada – Act for Peace Not War" and it lists several specific actions such a commitment would require. It also features the image of a dove created for the peace movement in the late 1940s by Pablo Picasso.

Image: Used with permission of the Regina Peace Council.

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Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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