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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 4, January/February 2006

Peaceful (and just) resolutions for teachers in the new year

by Derrick O’Keefe

As an education student at UBC, this fall’s strike was a tremendous learning opportunity. Dozens of incipient teachers felt very strongly about joining our already-employed brothers and sisters on the picket lines and at the rallies against Bill 12.

A number of us student teachers even made the trip over to Victoria for the mass rally at the legislature on October 17. Without question, among the highlights of the rally were the greetings of international solidarity. It was exhilarating to hear speakers inform us that there was a support action being held at the Canadian Embassy in Mexico; it was electrifying to hear another speaker read the words of South African Education International President Thulas Nxesi, who compared Bill 12 to the sort of retrograde legislation that had been imposed under the notorious Apartheid regime.

The world-wide support that the teachers of BC received during their strike should not have come as too much of a surprise, because for decades the BCTF has taken leadership in terms of the labour movement’s efforts at international solidarity. In addition to being a moral imperative in such an unequal world, solidarity across borders is essential to building a movement that can compete with the global reach of neo-liberalism and corporate power.

In some of my precious spare time away from completing assignments and lesson plans for my student teaching, I am a volunteer co-chair for the StopWar.ca coalition in Vancouver. That’s one reason why I’m so excited to be joining a union with a proud history of putting a global perspective on the old slogan, "an injury to one is an injury to all."

The past several years have seen the emergence of an increasingly explicit and brutal policy of war and empire building. The United States government has led this process, driven by its lust for oil and the need to project military power in an effort to hold off current and future rivals, such as Europe and China. The consequences have been made clear in Iraq: tens of thousands of civilians dead, 2,000 American troops dead and thousands more maimed and wounded, zero weapons of mass destruction, zero stability, and thousands of potential recruits for the most brutal variety of political Islamists inspired by El-Qaeda’s reactionary agenda.

It is wrong, however, to complacently believe that the Canadian government stands aloof, independent of these policies of Empire. As educators, in particular, it is incumbent on us to think critically about our own country’s complicity in war. Let us take just three concrete examples of war-making from north of the 49th parallel.

War resisters
Already a number of members of the United States’ armed forces have fled to Canada, and are seeking permanent residency and citizenship as refugees from an illegal and immoral war in Iraq. As yet, the Liberal government has failed to follow the precedent of the Vietnam Era, when upwards of 50,000 Americans were allowed to come north to avoid participating in the slaughter of Vietnam.

Afghanistan
Extending far beyond the parameters of the original stated mission, 2,000 additional Canadian troops are being deployed to Afghanistan, where this country’s Special Forces are already involved in combat operations. Top Canadian military officials like General Rick Hillier have made bellicose comments to prepare the public for increased Canadian casualties in occupied Afghanistan.

Haiti
In a brazenly imperial action, Canada, along with France and the United States, supported the February 29, 2004, coup d’etat that ousted the democratically elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The subsequent occupation and regime change has claimed thousands of victims; summary execution or incarceration are the order of the day in Haiti for supporters of the ousted president. The Canadian government has thus far gotten away with its overthrow of democracy in the western hemisphere’s poorest country.

In 2006, those of us in Vancouver and British Columbia have a unique opportunity to contribute to the global anti-war movement, as hosts of the World Peace Forum, June 23–28. The BCTF will hold a concurrent Peace Education Conference, and obviously I’d encourage all teachers to take part. I would also urge teachers to join in ongoing efforts against war and Empire. Expert guest speakers are available to address teachers and students alike about important issues such as Haiti, justice in the Middle East, and the case of the war resisters.

On Saturday, March 18, StopWar.ca will organize the Vancouver leg of an international weekend of protest on the third anniversary of the war on Iraq, culminating in a 1:00 p.m. rally at the Art Gallery. Speaking for the many anti-war activists who were proud to join the teachers’ rallies and picket lines in October, we’d like nothing better than to march side-by-side with you again, this time together with millions around the world for peace and justice.

For more information on ongoing anti-war activities, email contact@stopwar.ca or check out StopWar.ca.

Derrick O’Keefe is a student teacher at the University of British Columbia.



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