On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Jamie Swift and Judi Wyatt. They are members of the Kingston, Ontario, group PeaceQuest, which first came together in 2012 to work against militarism and for a more peaceful and just society.
One of the core political proirities for the recently-departed Conservative government of Stephen Harper was a persistent multi-faceted push to militarize the culture and Canadian national identity. From rewritten citizenship guides, to ludicrous monuments, to PR efforts both directly state run and also outsourced to allied public figures and institutions, the push was relentless. It is certainly debateable how successful these efforts were, particularly after the first few years, and some of what they did was downright laughable. Nonetheless, the very act of getting away politically with forthrightly championing such blatant celebration of war and such crude international belligerence, both historical and contemporary, itself marked a shift in the dominant political culture in Canada. At the same time, though, it is also important to be clear-eyed about the continuities – for all the change in tone and in certain kinds of details, a somewhat differently shaped Canadian state complicity in militarism, war, and empire has a long, long history under governments of all parties, and all through the long decades when the official government line was filled with highfalutin phrases of harmony and peace.
PeaceQuest was founded in response to these militarist excesses by the Harper government, but the people who founded it are no strangers to the longer trajectory, either, as many of them have been involved in related struggles in the Canadian context for decades. In the aftermath of the lavish state spending on militarist propaganda during the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, a group of long-time peace and justice activists in Kingston, Ontario – including Jamie Swift and Judi Wyatt – recognized that the approaching series of centenary dates of events that happened during the First World War would be a prime opportunity to engage in commemorations, and in other sorts of public interventions, in ways that promoted not war and militarism and empire, but peace. They have engaged in an impressive range of activities, including streams of work related to faith, culture, policy, and education, as well as catalyzing the formation of affiliated groups in a number of other Canadian cities.
Though the Harper government lost in October and took its warmongering tone and style with it, there are plenty of indications that the new government’s “sunny ways” are a reversion to the practices of late 20th century Canadian liberalism’s complicity in war under the cover of pro-peace messaging. Despite, for instance, a campaign promise to immediately end Canadian bombing in Syria, it continued (with multiple credible reports of resulting civilian casualities) until well into 2016, and even then the end was announced as part of a larger package of changes that actually deepened Canadian involvement in the conflict. And the new government has curtly refused to prevent the largest arms sale in Canadian history, of armoured vehicles to the despotic regime running Saudi Arabia. Needless to say, the folks involved in PeaceQuest have no plans to scale back their activities.
Swift and Wyatt talk with me about Canadian militarism and about PeaceQuest’s efforts to promote peace and justice.
To learn more about PeaceQuest, click here.
Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give 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 in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.
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.