Our Little Victory

Roy Johnstone

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 greater.

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 militarism elsewhere.

Reprinted from New Maritimes.

Published in the Connexions Digest, Volume 11, Number, 1, Spring (April) 1987



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