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“… my personal philosophy… is anchored in optimism. It must be, for optimism brings with it hope, a future with a purpose, and therefore, a will to fight for a better world.”
Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals
“I see a better society as a kind of pot luck supper. Everyone brings to the table something that they are good at. And then we all share it around. Equally.”
Dr. Ursula Franklin, Canadian scientist and ardent nuclear disarmament activist?
When a few people, some with deep roots in the peace movement and some with none, organized a Kingston pot luck supper in 2013, the food was great, the conversation lively. We were upset by the federal government’s strenuous campaign to glorify the War of 1812 in a concerted campaign that included short television ads. We had noticed that the narrative about the country’s participation in the counter-insurgency war in Afghanistan was portraying the ill-conceived and futile military efforts as a similarly patriotic cause.
We started PeaceQuest, a group that included an effort to change the ways Canada’s wars are remembered, adding new stories of peace work while complementing other forms of peace activism. We hoped that an emphasis on culture could engage Canadians who seldom hear important peace movement messages.
We worried about Canada’s emerging role as a warrior nation and wondered how the upcoming anniversaries of World War I battles would be presented to Canadians.
We decided that we needed to provoke conversations about war and the value of peace, agreeing on these operating principles:
- Engage conversations through culture and education.
- Nurture imaginations and ways of remembering.
- Organize activities that are broad-based and inclusive.
- Use an operating model that is collaborative, volunteer-driven and virtual.
- Commit to a four-year timeframe.
Sparking conversations about peace
With a volunteer steering committee and many others interested in helping, we created and/or supported a wide range of program initiatives designed to engage ordinary citizens of different age groups and backgrounds – both locally and nationally.
We agreed on the following description of peace:
Peace is not just the absence of war. PeaceQuest supporters believe that “peace is an active way of living, resolving conflicts cooperatively, respecting the well-being of the earth and all peoples.”
We received financial assistance from the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul and other religious orders across Canada, engaging a part-time administrative coordinator. The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Community Foundation for Kingston and Area also lent support. We managed these small grants prudently, making it possible for dozens of volunteers to contribute their efforts, giving life to a variety of meaningful projects.
We believe there are three key elements to our success:
- Partnering with existing organizations to integrate peace education and peace building activities into their programs, engaging their networks
- Encouraging people to contribute to a project as their skills, interests, and time permitted – to bring what they wanted to share to the table. Everyone was keen to do something to speak up for peace.
- Committing to a specific beginning and end date for our work and tying those dates to key events in Canadian history including the beginning and end of WWI and the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
We organized our work around four streams: culture, education, faith, and music. The next four pages provide highlights of what we did. Please visit PeaceQuest.ca for a more thorough inventory of activities and resources produced.
- Discussions after plays and film screenings
- An anniversary celebration of the 1914 Christmas Truce
- A Remembrance Day discussion: A Soldier and A Nun
- Kingston World War I Walking Tour to Remember
- An Evening for Peace, sold out 500-seat concert hall, Remembrance Day, 2016 and 2017
- Peace Song, a weekly gathering to sing together
- War and Children, a virtual museum and curriculum-based resource
- What is Peace? Illustrated book by Wallace Edwards, published by Scholastic
- PeaceQuest Schools: a K to 12 program and collection of resources
- Profiles of 150+ Canadians who contributed to peace
- The World Remembers in Kingston
- Hands United for Peace, a joint community, church, and elementary school project and resource
- Kingston Meditates for Peace, a weekly gathering
- Interfaith Peace Pilgrimages on Hiroshima Day 2014, 2015 and 2016
- Canada 150+ Interfaith Celebration and Potluck
- Partnership with Queen’s University Muslim Student’s Association to promote events which raise awareness of peace teachings in Islam
- Partnership with KAIROS to host a Mass Blanket Exercise raise awareness of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action
- Petition E-1402 Regarding Nuclear Weapons
- White Square campaign for spur reflection and conversations about peace
- Resource support, including design & promotion for policy campaigns spearheaded by PeaceQuest Regina
- 2016 Submission by Leading Civil Society Organizations to the Defence Policy Review “A Shift to Sustainable Peace and Common Security”
- 2017 street level support for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)
November 2018 event – The Gathering
PeaceQuest will complete its four-year program in 2018 with a national gathering in Kingston in November 2018. It will feature a day-long session at Kingston City Hall’s Memorial Room, a space whose elaborate stained-glass windows feature stark images of World War I. We’ve invited peace scholar Paul Rogers as key note speakers and plan for a “kitchen table” discussion throughout the day.
Where does peace-making fit into our national identity and Canada’s values?
Participants will include PeaceQuest activists from across Canada, representatives of our donors, and representatives from peace and justice groups from across Canada and concerned Kingston citizens.
PeaceQuest’s goal is to inspire conversations to change the way Canada’s wars are remembered and to add new stories of peace at work.
We’ve joined with many partners along the way. There are related PeaceQuest groups in Kitchener-Waterloo, Regina, Saskatoon, Sydney/Cape Breton and Victoria. We’ve made common cause with other peace organizations including the World Federalist Movement, the Group of 78, the Rideau Institute, Project Ploughshares, Ceasefire.ca, The World Remembers, the International Peace Bureau, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace and Children/Youth as Peacebuilders.
The founders of PeaceQuest agreed at the start that our project had an end date in December 2018. We intend to keep that commitment. At the same time, we want to have a practical plan so that our approach to peace work, the activities we generated and the resources we produced can continue to be used and to inspire new ideas, projects, and partnerships.
We want to talk with you. What do our partners and sisters in the peace and justice movement advise? Here are some questions we would like to explore with you:
- How can we share our experience and resources most effectively?
- Who might accept to be the steward of our resources and make best use of them?
- What can we do to ensure a smooth transfer of our resources?
- What other advice do you have for the PeaceQuest Steering Committee?
We invite you to sit down with us and consider these questions.