COAT's "Vigil for Nonviolence," Ottawa, October 6
By Richard Sanders, Coordinator, Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade.
For several months this summer, the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT) was busy planning to counter the NATO Parliamentary Assembly meetings that were held in Ottawa, October 5 and 9. Our plan was to hold a "No to NATO: Festival of Creative Nonviolence" in Majors Hill Park, across from the U.S. embassy.
Following the terrorist attack on the U.S., we held an emergency meeting and decided to change the tone and location of our event. We felt it would be insensitive to hold a festive, celebratory event, especially at a location so close the U.S. embassy, which had quickly become a shrine to those killed on September 11.
So, we transformed our peace festival into a "Vigil for Nonviolence." Our event retained virtually the same program of speakers, musicians and workshops that had been planned for our festival. Our themes of promoting nonviolence and opposing NATO warmongering were even more important than they were before September 11. We kept the same date and time for our event but changed the gathering point to Parliament Hill.
It was inspiring and empowering to be part of that diverse crowd of six hundred people! Dozens of colourful banners and signs helped us to reflect the rich diversity of the peace movement. From Parliament Hill, we walked in a "Silent Procession" down Bank St. (one of Ottawa's main business streets) to First United church. Along the way, we handed out bilingual fliers explaining the reason for our silent. (See "SILENCE... No more Violence," at the end of this article.)
With the church packed to the rafters, we started our program of music, speakers and workshops. Two prominent COAT mentors did a superb job a co-chairs for the event: Jean-Claude Parrot, the Executive Vice President of the Canadian Labour Congress, and Marion Dewar, the former Mayor of Ottawa and chair of Oxfam Canada.
Eight speeches from our event appear in this issue of Press for Conversion! Other speakers, whose talks are not in this publication, were: David Morgan, the National President of Veterans Against Nuclear Arms addressed the crowd on the importance of the UN and NATO's criminal actions. He then lead us in a minute of silence.
University of Ottawa economics professor, and well-known author of books such as The Globalization of Poverty, Michel Chossudovsky, raised many of the issues that appear in his article, "Who is Osama bin Laden" (page 18).
Abdourahman Kahin, a member of Ottawa's Moslem community, spoke eloquently and passionately about Islam's devotion to peace and justice.
We also heard from Arun Gandhi, co-founder and director of M.K.Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, in Tennessee. He shared two parables that he had learned as a child in India from his grandfather, Mohandas Gandhi.
Anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott, spoke to us from Australia about the health effects of terrorist attacks against nuclear power plants. She is still as eloquent as when she took part in the National Film Board documentary, "If You Love this Planet," that was banned in the U.S. as foreign propaganda.
To hear Arun and Helen, we hooked up a cell phone to our sound system. As far as we know, this is the first time that such a system was used to allow far-away speakers to address a large crowd by telephone.
We were also very fortunate to have live music from some of Canada's best folk musicians: Kathryn Briggs, Terry Tufts and Ian Tamblyn. They treated us to an assortment of their moving and original songs.
Following the program, participants were invited to take part in six simultaneous workshops/discussion groups.
The event was successful in raising public awareness, expressing opposition to NATO militarism and the war against Afghanistan, making new contacts, new volunteers and generally building the activist community.
SILENCE... No more Violence
We walk in silence, to express our respect and solidarity for all those whose lives have been silenced by terrorism, war, repression and poverty.
We remember that millions of innocents have died in war, during the past fifty years alone. Millions more have died for lack of food, water, health care and housing.
Our message of peace and justice is also silenced by cries for revenge and the propaganda of war in the daily news.
After the silence of this walk, we shall work together to strengthen our collective voice for peace.
We shall be heard.
Source: COAT flier for Silent Procession, October 6, 2001.