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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.
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
Reprinted from New Maritimes.
Published in the Connexions Digest, Volume 11, Number, 1, Spring