The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: peace

50 Years Ago, Martin Luther King Jr. Said We Had the Resources to End Poverty. What Happened?


ALL THIS WEEK WE’LL BE LOOKING at the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and if it still has a prevailing effect on the modern era. He had certain core principles he stuck to, elaborated upon, and ultimately died for. We respect him. We quote him. Some even venerate him. But in so many ways we have refused to walk the path he led.

The day following his receiving of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, King delivered his famous Nobel Lecture titled, “The Quest for Peace.” His reasonings didn’t go in the direction people anticipated. He wondered how we can really have peace, or even maintain it, if we continue to leave large swaths of our populations in poverty. Then he delivered a stark admission:

“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.”

He was greeted with a huge round of applause on that occasion over 50 years ago, but we must ask ourselves: what happened? How, after the explosion of the global economy, the movement of so many nations towards democracy, and an era of relative peace among nations, can it be that the needle has moved so little on the poverty file? Recent estimates claim that 30% of the world continues to live in poverty and that, in the affluent nations, people suffering in low-income situations are actually on the increase.

The biggest problems faced by the world’s poor are actually lack of the most basic things required for survival – clean water, food, health, shelter, safety, social inclusion, and the opportunity to participate in their own solutions. And yet, for all the wealth presently generated in this world, we can’t deliver on these most fundamental of resources.

If King was right and we had the resources a half-century ago, what do we say now that the world is flushed with cash that accrues increasingly to a small minority? It’s truer now than in his time that the resources are there, and yet we haven’t progressed as a civilization to the point where we can solve the most basic and durable of human problems.

A month prior to his tragic end, King busied himself with planning the “Poor People’s Campaign” – an effort that was predicated upon the belief that civil rights can never be achieved and guaranteed as long as people, especially the vulnerable, don’t have the means to live peacefully and productively. King seemed especially concerned about those living in hunger. Since then we have had the proliferation of food banks, monumental starvation in developing nations, billions of dollars of good food thrown into garbage dumps, and child poverty at stubbornly high levels. What are we thinking? How do we justify it? If King couldn’t do so in his generation, surely we can’t in our own.

Franklin Roosevelt noted during the Great Depression that, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” In all honesty, we have failed that test – which then puts the lie to our belief in inevitable progress.

Martin Luther King Jr. would surely have agreed with Roosevelt’s observation, as he would with that of author John Green: “There is no Them. There are only facets of Us.”

It’s time to stop quoting King and start moving forward on the ethical foundations of what he fought for. Our greatest regret as a generation might be the understanding that in failing to take the road not taken that King offered us, we will never discover the fullness of life that might have been ours if we had learned to share the wealth. Fifty years on and little has changed. Time for a civilization reset.

Lead by Example or Force: Which is It?


IN 2003, THE U.S. ARMY SPONSORED a conference in Washington to consider the possibilities of soft power, among other things. When asked by the media what he thought of the insights into soft power that had just been presented, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appeared a bit miffed and answered, “I don’t know what it means.” That lack of understanding and appreciation of power in its other low-key forms would ultimately contribute to the chaotic nature of the Iraq war.

But, in truth, the lack of knowledge of soft power is part of our problem as well, especially as Canada continues to mull over its role as part of the 65-member coalition fighting ISIS. And when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he wanted to help lead and not just merely support efforts to combat terrorism, he raised the bar to a level not many are sure we can reach. Canada has accomplished much in this field before, however, and can do so again.

Rumsfeld equated “soft” power with “weak” power, contributing to the perception that he could only envision the greatest form of power itself as something equated with planes, cruise missiles, bombs, and ground forces on the attack. In retrospect, numerous observers now believe that it was the very absence of soft power that made its harder cousin unworkable and unsustainable.

Soft power is the ability to achieve your goals through providing resources and understanding through the local culture as opposed to just winning a war. It isn’t the opposite of military might but a vital complement to it. It isn’t about attracting others to our values, but the recognition that the enduring values of humanitarianism are found in every culture and must be built upon. Yes, it could well involve building democracy in troubled regions, but it could just as easily entail the understanding that the Muslim faith carries deep and abiding values of human respect that go as far back as our own.

Power is about resources just as much as might. Insightful NGOs (non-governmental organizations), often working with military personnel, have used water as a means of conflict management. Often accomplished by the provision of secure corridors for travel or through equipment providing clean water itself, access to this natural resource often alleviates the tensions that trouble regions, clans, and tribes who normally fight over it.

Fourteen years ago, the NGO my wife and I direct in South Sudan was approached to build a secondary school in the region that would be the only one for 600 kilometres. We agreed to try, but only if a 50/50 student ratio would be honoured between boys and girls (girls were often kept from educational opportunities during that time of war). Negotiations ensued for a lengthy time until at last agreement was reached. In five weeks time we travel to South Sudan to officially open the school and hand it over to the Ministry of Education. They have honoured their commitment, and already the possibility of education for girls is transforming the landscape – something seemingly impossible through the medium of bombs, planes, or tanks.

Canadian troops – women and men – have performed remarkable acts of valour in a troubled world for over a century. But we can never overlook all the Canadian humanitarian efforts, sometimes employing military “soft” resources like the DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team). It is these activities, as much as our combat efforts, that have earned Canada’s hard-won reputation as a nation that comprehends the value of soft power.

So will it be hard or soft power for Canada? Some will say that it should be both. Perhaps. But our current prime minister is correct in maintaining that it’s difficult to create peace on the ground if you are a nation that is also pummeling the earth and people with bombs. Gandhi was right, too, when he maintained that, “an eye for an eye only makes the world blind.” A military action might promote even more terrorism if we aren’t careful. Canada’s role can be as equally daring, brave, and innovative as any bombing sortie, merely by helping remove the dire conditions on the ground that create the context for terror itself. We are a brave people, and if we must battle we will. But we prefer to fight with our minds and our collective conditioning for peace – a reality as powerful as any military force on earth.

Election 2015: Fear and Elections


AUTHOR JEREMY ALDANA NOTES, “Insecurities have the ability to shape and mold our minds to live with things we otherwise wouldn’t accept, thus creating pain.” With the rise of rogue terrorist groups carrying out their actions around the world, we can easily get the sense that we are vulnerable, that all isn’t well with the world, and that, if we’re not careful, we could be placed in danger.

Modern elections are all about this propensity for fear and insecurity, and, to be sure, such threats carry weight in any campaign. Trouble emerges, however, when political parties, especially those with an authoritarian bent, opt to use election seasons to rouse up fears in the voters instead of hope and creativity. In such a state of perpetual insecurity, citizens lose perspective on other things they would normally worry about. With global insecurity once again an active element in political life, our own worries can easily eclipse other problems we can overcome.

What of our fear for our children’s future in areas of education and employment? Surely those count for something. How will we overcome our insecurity regarding climate change and the coming desolation? With poverty becoming more deeply entrenched every year, how will we deal with our collective worries about our declining social expectations?

In each of these areas politics has failed to come up with appropriate and timely responses, and so it does what it always does to distract us: scare us into overlooking such things in our distress over terrorism. Surely a capable government would assuage the fears of its people in all these areas.

It remains a foolish thing to believe that military action alone, or exclusive concentration on international trade, will be sufficient to keep us safe in all these dimensions. The number of Canadians involved in international peacekeeping presently numbers less than twenty. How can we fight war when we have undermined the resources for peace? The Harper government’s penchant to shut down embassies, abolish the Canadian International Development Agency (it is now part of the trade file), pull out of global institutions in which it was once an active member, the cutting back of diplomats, and black and white policies that only foster more conflict, means we have become victims of fear as opposed to proponents of peace.  They are signs that we have been in the process of gutting the very international diplomatic, development, gender, even military infrastructure, that were developed to deal with problems where they occurred and not wait for them to visit our shores. It is for these very reasons that Canada couldn’t win the slam dunk opportunity to be voted into the United Nations Security Council.

If a government were serious about protecting its people against foreign evils, it would place the bulk of its efforts on prevention, since such actions as peacekeeping, international development, gender equality programs, and, yes, trade deals that benefit the average person in difficult regions, have proven track records. The more we cut them out of our actions as a nation, the more that armed conflict will become inevitable.

That will also prove true domestically. Unaffordable post-secondary education, a growing gap between the rich and poor, the refusal to take climate change or our aboriginal situation seriously – these things, along with a growing list of others, will eventually lead to internal discontent in Canada. Perhaps worst of all, our dysfunctional political system shows no propensity for coming up with solutions to such dilemmas.

The chief character in the book (and subsequent movie), Divergent, watches everyone shrink back because of collective fear. “Fear isn’t supposed to shut you down; it wakes you up.” she tells the collective gathering.

It’s time we all woke up from our fearful nightmares and got to work on our collective dreams to build opportunities domestically and grow the peace globally. Franklin Roosevelt was right; we have nothing to fear but fear itself, especially the kind that renders us inactive in an age when democratic renewal is required more than ever. The opposite of fear is not courage, but peace, and it’s time we had a government that understood that distinction.

A Virtuous Circle


IN A WORLD WHERE A KNIFE, a gun, or a raised fist rapidly become defining symbols of the modern age, an emblem as old as humanity has emerged to stand up against intolerance – the circle.

Norwegians have felt the deep sting of hatred in recent weeks and as a people they could be forgiven for secluding themselves in their homes, with curtains drawn. They chose the opposite, preferring to testify to their respect of tolerance in the light of day.

It all started on Saturday, February 21, when more than 1,000 Muslims gathered together to form a human shield around Oslo’s synagogue. It was a direct response to an earlier attack on a synagogue in neighbouring Denmark a week previous, where a Danish-born son of Palestinian immigrants killed two people in an event promoting free speech at the city’s synagogue. It was Copenhagen’s only synagogue and the effects were immediately felt.

So it was that Oslo’s Muslim community showed their solidarity with their Jewish neighbours by forming a circle, 1,000 people strong, around the synagogue as the service progressed. Norway’s Jewish community only numbers 1,000 people itself and was understandably insecure following the attack of the previous week. The demonstration sent a clear signal to not only Oslo, but all of Europe, that the time had come to stand up against hatred, prejudice, and killing.

The Jewish community and all of Oslo could have left things at that, but they had a further statement to make, again in the form of a circle. Hundreds of Norwegians from all walks of life gathered to form a “human peace ring” around a Muslim mosque as a kind of symbolic “thank you” for what the Muslim supporters had done the week previous. The call for citizens to join the rally put it simply but firmly:

“We want to stand shoulder to shoulder with our Muslim fellow citizens to show disgust towards increasing Muslim hate and xenophobia in society. In this time of fear and polarization we feel it is more important than ever to stand together and show solidarity. We believe in and will highlight the human will to live together in peace and in respect for each other regardless of religion and ethnicity.”

This is what it will take, not just in those areas where attacks occurred, but in every peace-loving community around the world, to remind us that we still have to gather if we are to prevail. Or, as Albert Schweitzer put it: “Until we extend our circle of compassion to include all living things, we will never find peace.”

Haters have to find objects against which they unleash their own inner turmoil. They lack a sense of proportion, believing that their own violent and hate-filled acts are greater than they really are. They live out their own alienation. In their actions they seek out respect as confirmation of their cause. But they can’t get it because the larger community of citizens and institutions are built on a greater understanding of tolerance. The powerlessness of those who hate to such a degree is revealed by those communities that refuse to yield. If forming a circle is the way move forward in peace, then so be it.

Run to Meet the Moon



OUR FAMILY WILL HEAD DOWNTOWN TO THE CENOTAPH this evening, as we do every year on Remembrance Day, and lay two roses on its steps – one each for Jane’s father and my own. Occasionally I leave a poem to Dad as my own way of saying thanks for struggling for what he believed in, despite the emotional and physical wounds he received during World War Two.

During that conflict, along with being a soldier, he also wrote poems from the front for the Calgary Herald. One of these is titled The Moon and Mars. I bring it out every year and have to come to terms with the reality that Lloyd Pearson was not only a brave citizen but a confounded one as well. I’m starting to understand what he was getting at.

In The Moon and Mars, he speaks about his love for his country, his family, his local community, and romantic love. All these he likens to the seasons of the moon and its ability to enchant the human race with its sense of affection and possibility. But always on the heels of those sentiments came the presence of Mars – the ancient god of war, as epitomized by the Red Planet, who saw peace as merely the trite interplay that happens between conflicts. The hue of the moon over the battlefields nevertheless calmed my father’s soul, reminding him of why he was fighting. But the redness of Mars always drove him to despair because it was about how war seemed to regularly outdo the penchant for peace.

Years later, he would tell me how he came to believe that war was what happened when people stopped listening to the better angels of their nature. Once, as we sailed in the water off Penticton, British Columbia, he said that the most important thing about why he fought was that the love he felt for those people behind and with him was stronger than any animosity he might have felt for the enemy in front of him.

In other words, my Dad, like millions of others, fought for the kind of life he believed in. He had fought for the nationalization of parks in Western Canada, endeavoured to find ways to help the poor find work, was president of his neighbourhood association, a great believer in sports, and sought to expand the vote to Alberta’s aboriginal populations. These were the things he was fighting to preserve, along with the welfare of his family.

I wonder what he would think now. How would he respond to the fact that food banks are growing? Could he tolerate a kind of politics that refused to dedicate the resources required to locate the approximately 1,000 aboriginal woman who are presumed murdered or have disappeared in Canada? What would he say about all those recent veterans who for the life of them can’t access the benefits promised them after they returned home to struggle with PTSD, family poverty, even suicide? His world had been one in which the burgeoning middle-class could find employment, build their communities through good paying jobs, and bring up their children to follow a life that was bigger than themselves.

Lloyd Pearson died almost 40 years ago, but I sometimes fret that his dream died with him. There was a very real sense that, for him, the true battle of World War Two wasn’t about ridding the world of tyranny, but about building the kind of Canada that was fair, prosperous, sustainable, and equitable. Hitler and Mussolini are gone. The fascists were defeated. But sometime along the way, we began losing the battle at home. In place of abundance we have food banks; instead of communities we struggle with homelessness; in the place of enlightened lives we have education solely for the sake of employment; and instead of citizens with purpose we have components of capitalism with little sense of honour to those communities in which it thrives. Mars seems alive and well and I think that reality alone would break Dad’s heart.

Harry Leslie Smith is 90 years old, a veteran, and living out his final years in Britain. He has said that this will be his final year for wearing a poppy because we don’t truly honour those who perished in conflict if we continue to lay aside the true purposes for which democracy stands and for which they fought. He powerfully concludes in his piece in the Guardian:

Next year, I won’t wear the poppy but I will until my last breath remember the past and the struggles my generation made to build this country into a civilized state for the working and middle classes. If we are to survive as a progressive nation we have to start tending to our living because the wounded: our poor, our underemployed youth, our hard-pressed middle class and our struggling seniors shouldn’t be left to die on the battleground of modern life.

These are sad words from someone who has earned his opinion and they make mine feeble, yet I will still don my poppy.  But they would light a fire in my Dad’s heart if he were alive today. He would say, “Take the torch, citizens; our real fight is about the fairness of home and not merely the foes overseas.” As Robert Frost would say, “Let us run to meet the moon.” Mars has had its way long enough.

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