T191. International Cooperation

 

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: WRS6
Panelists: Mike Simpson
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired:  22 February 2021
Date Transcribed and Verified:  16 April 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: David Millar

 

Metta Spencer  

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer, have you been cooperating internationally? Well, maybe we should all improve our international cooperation a bit. So today we’ve come to an expert, we’re going to talk with Michael Simpson was the executive director of the British Columbia Council for international cooperation. And the main thing they are doing these days, as I understand it, bless their hearts, is working on the Sustainable Development Goals. And you can’t beat that. One of the things that Michael and I want to talk about is the way a number of our potential disasters are interlinked. And so that we have to deal with any one of them, you have to deal with all of the others or some of the others, and how that makes it possible for us to arrive at fixes that we might not be able to have otherwise, because we can solve a whole bunch of problems at once I get take such comfort from that. And I also take a little pleasure in talking about the Sustainable Development Goals. Because I, as a project, save the world has six global threats that we try to address. And sometimes people say, well, you’re really overdoing it, aren’t you? You can’t do that many things. And I say, Yeah, well look at the Sustainable Development Goals. They’ve got 17. Right. So, we’re going to solve all 17 global threats today. Right? Good. Hi, Michael. How are you, Michael?

Mike Simpson  

How are you? Metta? Good, we should be able to get it all solved in about an hour if we’re if we’re, if we’re good.

Metta Spencer  

Well, it shouldn’t take any time for 17 global threats, right? No problem at all. And you started for a number of years as a filmmaker.

Mike Simpson  

Yeah, many years ago, when I in my 20s and 30s, I made films only on environment, human rights and development. And then eventually, I started to work, because I used what was called a participatory filmmaking process… got kind of involved in the actual films.

Metta Spencer  

…you jump in front of your own camera?

Mike Simpson  

No, I never did that. But I did jump into lots of situations. And a lot of those situations that I was working on had to do with…, wars in Central America, or… the conditions and issues… in different parts of the world around conflict, and, and peace… — that was a major part of what I did — and environmental sustainability. And eventually, because of that, I started to get more and more involved with nongovernmental organizations, and sat on boards and so on. And eventually, I just decided, you know, one day after being in in West Africa, during the war in Sierra Leone… I decided that I wanted to work with NGOs. So, I started an NGO… worked with… for a long time, called One Sky. And then eventually, when I moved to Vancouver, I started working with the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation, which is a network of non-governmental organizations. There’s about eight — because I think there are a number of them in Canada, are there. Are they all Canadian? And they’re all somehow tied together? Yes, basically, there… are… eight provincial and regional councils. So, there’s one in Ontario and Quebec, and so on… eight of them… they’re bound together in what we call the inter-council network, which is a council of councils, if you can think of it that way. And there’s also actually a national council, used to be called the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, it’s now actually just simply called Cooperation Canada. And I sit on the board… kind of related in some ways to sustainability… the Canadian Environmental Network. So, I’m kind of a network guy. Think of me as a network guy…  because networks actually tackle that very thing you talked about,

Metta Spencer  

now, these local, provincial networks, do you have autonomy? Or do you coordinate exactly what you’re going to be working on? So, you’re all working on the same issues?

Mike Simpson  

No, we all have autonomy, because I think in each region, you see these regional ways of doing things. And people kind of specialize or focus in each of the regions on the things that are of interest to their members. —  They exactly what are some of the local BC issues? I can I can gather that probably forestry and fishing. Right?  Yeah. But I will say the one thing that does bind us that makes all the councils come together is that we are actually all focused on international cooperation. So many of the groups are working overseas. So, they’re not just local and, in fact, you don’t do local. Well, this is where it gets complicated, because, in actual fact, international cooperation had a long history that comes out of the 60-70s and 80s and 90s. But if you look at what happened with the Sustainable Development Goals, It’s the first time that people have said on our planet, that some of the issues that we face have… a universal character, meaning they’re showing up everywhere. So, if you think of poverty, for example — for many, many people, we think of poverty is something that takes place in Sub Saharan Africa or in a refugee camp in a fragile state. But if you actually look at Canada, you can find some statistics… disaggregate the data, and you look into certain places and certain situations… where poverty is absolutely present in Canada, and in some very… dire situations. So, when… the Sustainable Development Goals came along, in 2015, people did a reset internationally. And they realized that many of the problems that we face, the roots of them are actually universal. So, Canada is one of the highest consumers of energy on the planet… where’s the problem? If you’re in Africa, and you’re trying to get access to energy, and you have no access to energy? Is it possible that maybe rich countries and rich people have… exorbitant access to energy, you’re actually using up the planet’s supply? So that’s where we get into these issues of climate justice and all these things, it’s a new way of thinking as of 2015, the world has fundamentally changed in terms of how we feel we are we are as a community, because it’s becoming much more global.

Metta Spencer  

Why 2015,

Mike Simpson  

if you go before 2015, you have the period where we were trying to do the Millennium Development Goals, the MDGs. If you look at the focus of the MDGs, there was eight of them… or if you wanted to go even earlier to Agenda 21, to the 1990s, when we all met in Brazil, and we set up the agenda for the 21st century… there was… a certain number of things we wanted to solve to make the world a better place. Most of those things were aimed at what we call the developing world back then… And this is the idea that there has been a disparity since World War Two between countries that had… quite a bit of access to modernity, and countries that were challenged in that respect. But what we’ve discovered… now about the world is… that just because you’re ahead economically, does not mean that you’re ahead morally, or that you’re ahead in so many other ways. And so, what happened in 2015, was, it was the first time that the agenda that the United Nations would set for the world was actually distributed. Everybody said, “Let’s do this”. The MDGs were written by 10 men in a room, the SDGs were actually written by 1000s and 1000s of people who brought forward what they felt were the most important issues. And ironically, that’s… why you have such a long list. Because if you do go out and ask everybody, what are the problems that you’re facing, you get a very long list. And so, 17 was the minimum list. There are actually 169 sub targets of all the things that — if you ask people in every part of the world that they care about. So, it’s… what your focus is, and what Save the World is really interested in. And it is interesting to look back at the history of where did some of the issues, the pressing issues of the 1980s (nuclear war, for example), where did it go in terms of the trajectory? … it actually goes off the map in around 1992… but it’s coming back… it’s come back to haunt us because… in the 1990s… people wanted to move into the environmental-sustainability issue. And so, Rio was… all about that. And agenda 21 was all about that — — people felt that the Cold War was over — that that was you know, we’d handle that looks like Gorbachev and Reagan had had, you know, taken care of it and many people still think so, you know, well, there’s people today that don’t remember that year, there was 35,000 nuclear warheads… pointed at each other on the planet, and there was

Metta Spencer  

— 60,000… It’s the day that I got alarmed. It was after the Three Mile Island thing. And I have I’m going to be on the lookout for the cause of my life because I need to, and then somebody said, you know that I would have guessed at that point that there might be 10 or 20 [thousand] on the planet. Yeah. Somebody told me there were 60,000

Mike Simpson  

Yeah, what’s sad is that we still have we still have the capacity.

Metta Spencer  

And we have generated, you know, like 510 less than 10,000 I

Mike Simpson  

I think now… but you don’t need that many. That’s the interesting thing is today’s weaponry is,

Metta Spencer  

yeah,

Mike Simpson  

we don’t need 35 or 60,000. You can blow up the world many times over and cause a nuclear winter very, very quickly.

Metta Spencer  

But what was one of the important things is not just the fact that they’re so damn dangerous. But that we’re diverting resources, away from the things that we do need to deal with in order to pay for these wretched things. It’s less safe rather than safer. So, from my point of view, you know, I’m very enthusiastic or when no, and then I get enthusiastic about the Green New Deal, it covers a lot. They don’t cover militarism, to notice that they don’t talk about reducing military expenditures, or even cutting down the risks caused by these miserable weapons, all kinds of miserable weapons. So, I think that you we could take the Green New Deal and, and inject a few more little points. And it would become really important because I think that the problem of weapons is, here, I’m giving a talk,

Mike Simpson  

you know, I…  totally hear you. I totally agree too by the way.

Metta Spencer  

And I think it’s really central to the whole package, that everything goes through nuclear and other warfare kinds of situations. So, if we don’t handle how, we solve our international conflicts, yeah, short of killing each other, or trying to maim each other, then we can’t do you know, we can’t really accomplish the other things might be able to make some progress. So yeah,

Mike Simpson  

well, ironically, you’re actually going right to the roots of the international cooperation sector, the entire sector that I work in — its roots came out of that, out of the Second World War, we had just killed, I think, what is it between 54 and 18 million people on the planet — which puts the virus in perspective, some days, right, just how many people were killed. And what people decided at that point was that the roots of conflict, were actually, you know, in these disparities, and in these differences that we had, and if we could work on those, it’s cheaper than war. It’s just literally cheaper than war, to put money into all the things we need to do to save the planet. And ultimately, that’s true today, too, because people will say… the Sustainable Development Goals. Oh, they’re very, very expensive. We’ll never get them done. And the bottom line is, is that you just have to look at the overall budget. I mean… let me give you an example. In Canada, I mean, we very quickly in Canada, say we cannot afford to be able to spend money on Overseas Development Assistance, or working with other countries to make some of the issues that we’re facing — like refugee camps or humanitarian assistance –that we say, we can’t afford that. First of all, Canadians are very, very, very, very ignorant about the actual amount. If you ask the average Canadian in a poll, how much money do we spend on that? They’ll say that a quarter of the Federal dollar, so 25 cents on the dollar goes to ODA. Now, that’s just fundamentally not true. Believe it or not… less than a quarter of a penny goes into actually the problems that we’re trying to tackle. Now take the same argument, say, Okay, well, where’s the money going, then? And you realize… we can quickly increase the military budget in Canada by $70 billion, you know, and the equipment and things that we’re buying, like when you look at the actual military apparatus, and you go… where’s the money come from? For that, you realize that there’s actually lots of money on our planet — it’s where do we focus it? And that’s one of our biggest challenges is that people just fundamentally don’t understand the expense of war. And the I mean, how expensive is it to get into a nuclear winter? It’s very expensive if we just wanted to look at it economically, and forget the moral side of it. You know, just from an economic perspective, you basically bankrupted the planet instantly for centuries, by doing that. And so, the things that you’ve been working on the six global threats that I see you working on are absolutely linked to the Sustainable Development Goals. There’s no question that there it’s the same Good, good fight that you’ve taken on, I’d be curious about

Metta Spencer  

these additional sub categories that you say are so numerous.

Mike Simpson  

Yeah, well, they’re just targets, think of it as like, each one of the goals will have a sub- target that is important. So… health and wellbeing is goal 3. And under goal 3, I think it’s 3.2, or 3.4… forget which number it is, but there will be the desire for the world to protect itself against infectious diseases. And you can see that if you don’t do that… that was decided in 2015, we had to tackle the key global infectious diseases like malaria, or tuberculosis, or whatever they happen to be. Well, you can see from the COVID pandemic, how important it is to have a global perspective on that issue. Because if you don’t tackle it together as a world community, then you cannot tackle it as an individual country or even a local community. And this is one of the underlying principles that you’re talking about, about the interlinkages. The idea that if you didn’t tackle climate change, then you cannot tackle gender equality, or if you don’t, or vice versa — or if you don’t tackle gender equality, [you] fundamentally cannot address… freshwater. Particularly… if you travel or you look around the world, and you realize that people will be tackling one subject, and not realizing that the… root structure of why they can’t find the solution is because it’s actually lying embedded in another subject… Like — climate change is a classic, we’re all very worried about climate change. But we do have to look at the relationship between climate change and clean energy, for example, goal 7… 13 is climate change. Goal 7 is clean energy. Well, if we don’t link those two, we fundamentally can’t solve one or the other. And if you don’t look at clean energy, then… you can’t tackle climate justice, which is the idea that some countries have had more access to carbon for a lot longer period of time, and others need it in order to be able to get the things done that they need to get done.

Metta Spencer  

Yet, we don’t have 17 different goals. But we do have a platform for survival. Yeah, we had people propose planks, as if we were a political party. And we were preparing a list of our specific projects that we would try to accomplish. And within, let’s say, climate change, there would be several different ways to do it, including changing the way to sustainable sources of energy, etc. and other things like managing carbon sinks so that our forests and our oceans are handled. So, all of those are, in a way, part of this list of 25. planks that take care of six, all six of the global threats. And of course, they’re really interdependent. It costly to you know, for example, we have one of our goals is to prevent famine, another one, prevent pandemics, and, of course, another one to prevent war. Well, these are so related, because, you know, no, in a war, famine nowadays is not, has not been caused by shortage of rainfall, by and large, not at all. It’s caused intentionally as an act of war, where one country lay siege to whatever is in Yemen, they try to starve them to death. So, famine is really a weapon of war. And, and then you say, well, pandemics. In fact, when people are in a famine, they don’t usually die of starvation, they’re weakened to the point that they’ve been susceptible to disease. So, they actually die of some infectious disease that becomes an epidemic in the areas. So, all three of these are completely interrelated. Yeah. And then, of course, we’ll talk about global warming, as sure enough, when we have global warming, really drying up the planet, and so and causing floods, and so on, that’s going to cause food shortages. So, we’ll have famines, again, caused by, you know, climate and so on. So, I think these are so connected, you say that your group has been working on looking at the whole package is a system, what you got to document or somebody tell me about that document? —

Mike Simpson  

I wanted to ask you a question that gets asked of me a lot when it comes to the interlinkages. And it’s just… which one of these do we work on? Because you have only so much energy in a day. And if you know that they’re all linked, then should you work on issues of famine? Or should you work on nuclear proliferation? Should you work on nuclear bombs or nuclear energy? Or should you work on clean energy because you could go out all day and work on promoting solar power, for example, and you don’t have enough time at the end of the day to also work on gender equality? So, one of the questions I get asked a lot is, which one of these do you do you work on? Given that they are all interlinked? I’m kind of curious in your case, because you might.

Metta Spencer  

Everybody is already working on all of you to some degree. The problem is that we work on them in silos. And people working on famine, don’t know that they’re on the same team as people working on pandemics, or people working on war, etc. We… don’t think that we’re all in a common project. But we think… that we’re competing with each other for resources. Yeah, that’s, that’s stupid, because we’re really everybody’s on the same team. If we just get acquainted, you know, that’s what we need to do is recognize that we’re that all of these are teams that are maybe specialists but, but also there’s a general overview that needs to be emphasized that all of these are we’re in the Business of saving the world? Yeah.

Mike Simpson  

Well, here’s some good news for you that you’ll like this, because what we did is we wanted to find out who’s on that team that you’re talking about. And so, we went around to… 32 communities in British Columbia, we drove around and visited every single one. And we sat down with all of the leaders in each of those communities, in roundtables, to understand who in their community is working on which of these problems, and that might have the 17 goals. And then we started to realize, wow, there’s actually like, every single community, if you sat down and did this exercise of community mapping on the wall, every single one of them would stand back at the end of the evening and go, “Wow, we’re covering every single one of these because there’s somebody in our community working on every single one of these things”… almost every time and sometimes many different groups and each one of those goals. So, you know, we did we actually created a digital map, it’s called the movement map, you can find it on our website, or just google movement map. And you’re going to find a picture there of the Team Canada that you’re talking about, guess how many groups are working on the SDGs? You’re not going to believe this? We didn’t, we had no idea. But it’s hard to guess I’m just going to tell you; I think there’s 12,800 groups. Does that cheer up your day or what like that? You see… we tend to think that we’re just a small group working in a church basement or something. But if you take all those church basements, and all those groups together, and you put them all on a map, and you realize, wow, there’s a group in Cornell, there’s a group in Smithers, there’s a group in Guelph… tons of groups in Toronto. And so, you can find out where they all are, and you can find out what they’re working on. And you realize we’re covering every single part of the plan.

Metta Spencer  

But how do you? How do you find Oh, it was hard to get… need one mailing list, you know, that has Yeah, contact for all of these people? And we’ve got —

Mike Simpson  

No, it’s already there. It’s already on the map. You can go there right now and get it is quite amazing. Like you can go in and just click and I want to look up who’s working on goal 16: peace, bang, you’ll find every single community listed, every single group, you’ll find their webpage, their organizations, their phone numbers. Well, it was a lot of work, we sat down with a bunch of mappers, young volunteers at first, eventually got a little bit of money to pay them. But basically, they have a bunch… very clever people sat down and they went through all of the databases of the nonprofits, checked their websites, and then went through them. to figure out which SDG they’re working on, and which of the sub-targets they’re working on, and which of the indicators they’re working on. And it’s all been mapped. So, we have for the first time ever in Canada, and we’re the only country in the world that’s done it. Now Germany is trying to follow what we’re doing. There’s a bunch of people in Latin America and Africa –we’ve just mapped in Minnesota 800 groups just in the state of Minnesota. So, the maps going kind of international, because the idea is if we could figure out, see up until now, Metta. We’ve known what we need to do, and we have 1000 theories on how to do it. But the one question nobody ever asked was, well, who’s doing it already? Because there’s an impression that we have to start this from scratch, but you know, that you’ve been working? How long have you been working on peace issues? Let me ask you that, how long have you?

Metta Spencer  

Well, let’s see in the 40s. I was…  interested in in the 40s. Up here, you know, there have been times when I, I did more navel-gazing than I did activism. So, I can’t really tell you a good straight answer. But I suppose,

Mike Simpson  

but it’s been a while you’ve been working on. It’s not like you just started

Metta Spencer  

during the Vietnam War. I remember marching in San Francisco carrying my son piggyback in demonstrations. Okay,

Mike Simpson  

… Metta, you’re reminding me of a film I shot years ago for the Voice of Women. And I interviewed a woman and she was in her 90s. And she had been a peace activist. And she started listing the wars. And she went through every war as to how she had been a peace activist. And then there was this kind of silent moment where she kind of just lost herself in one of those wars, in a moment of memory, it was very emotional stage in the film, because one realizes this is something I say to young activists all the time, I say, I’m not really so concerned that you stay in our movement in our organization or in our network. What the dream is, is that when you’re when you’re 90… that you’re still going, that’s the dream, because one has to realize that we don’t even — with the SDGs, the idea is we’re going to get to 2030 — But I promise you when we get to 2030, we will not be living in a utopian perfect planet, it’s not going to happen. So, the question is, how do we stay active? How do we stay engaged with the world caring about it enough that we’re going to be able to see that this isn’t a fight that stops tomorrow? This is one that will continue forever?

Metta Spencer  

I think in any lifecycle there are periods when people become less active because… you’re on the ladder, they’ve got to, you know, get their credentials… their CV looking good and, yeah, and then the best time — I think young people, you know that they they’re changing all the time, so you can’t really expect them to stay on track. But the beauty is when they get to be 65. That’s the time to recruit them. Because right, yes, retiring, they have a lot of free time. And they’re still smart, they know a lot of stuff, and they’re ready to go is a great time to become an activist again, and a lot of people do. You know,

Mike Simpson  

here’s a thought, too, because you see, I work with a lot of young people, we send a lot of young people to the climate change meetings, I think British Columbia Council has, like the largest youth delegations to go to the high-level political forums of the UN, and the climate change, we’re the only group that sends massive numbers of youth. Now, here’s the thing… I’m a youth advocate. But… what… the youth are telling us these days, when we do these roundtables, they’re saying… what they want is not to be isolated as youth but to be working intergenerationally. And therein lies a whole new way of seeing the world …

Metta Spencer  

find it. I think that if you’re hearing that I think that’s a change, it is a variance. When I’m thinking for example of the Iraq War, when I was still teaching, all of a sudden, I was at the Mississauga campus at U of T. And all of a sudden, my little, I had a little workshop room where we did peace studies, Resource Center with a lot of documents and things like that had two rooms, and it was be filled up at noon, with the students coming in wanting. And the lovely thing was, it was their project, it wasn’t mine, they were excited about it and engaged with it. So I have the feeling, or always have the feeling that when young people do something, it’s at a time when they’re trying to become independent more, and they want to do it on their own. And it’s not easy to recruit young people into old people’s organizations. You’re saying now they want to do more energy or right generationally, then I think that may be a new, a new phenomenon.

Mike Simpson  

Because you know, I think it’s new. Yeah, it is a new phenomenon. I think there’s a reason why, why it’s new. Because if we look at how the movements in the 60s, they were, there was a lot of antiestablishment anti system was a fight against the system. Right. And it was a fight against how things had been. And if we also look at the demographic wave at that point, there was a strong baby boom generation that really led that that alternative way of thinking, but what we have now is, is sort of different in the sense that we’re very globally interconnected. And we’re also facing challenges that everybody knows, every single generation knows that nobody represents the problem there. We’re collectively the problem, climate change, every single one of us is involved in driving cars, and cars and the modern economy. And we can see that actually, collectively, we’re sitting in a problem that nobody knows the answer to, therefore, we were going to have to think together is there’s a lot of talk around the so-called wicked problem-solving idea that the problem is so so wicked, that no one perspective is going to be able to solve this one. So, you can’t stand up as a youth and go well, I know how to do it. Because you actually don’t. And nobody in an older generation can say this is how we’ve always done it. This is how it should be. That was the 1950s, their 60s fight. Today, we’re sitting in the year 2021. We have all these different perspectives, global perspectives, multiple generation perspectives. And we’re for the first time ever realizing, wow, if we don’t put all these together, and be inclusive of who is at the table, then we fundamentally aren’t going to solve this one. And so, you’re seeing kind of a little bit more humility in terms of people realizing No, we’re going to have to actually, we’re going to need, for example, your experience. You know, you say you’re turning 90, we need the intergenerational experience, because there’s young folks that come along, they never went through a war. They don’t understand what was Vietnam, actually, what was the felt sense of Vietnam all about. And so that’s something my age that I’m kind of between you and the young folks, I’m 56.

Metta Spencer  

Wait, I really want to work more closely with you guys. Because I didn’t realize that you had done this spectacular. I can hardly imagine collecting 12,000 names of organizations, do you have like a file for every one of them? or How did you

Mike Simpson  

Know what?… to be honest, it was it was hard to collect them. But it’s even harder to maintain those numbers. So, what we’ve done is, we’ve encouraged people. So, for example, if an if a person is watching this program, and they’re not on the map, forgive us, it’s because of the way that we did the searches using known databases from… each provincial government… And then in the end, they all shared so it was really good. We got all the databases, and then for the first time ever, went through them and categorized them, and figured out which groups are actually working on the SDGs. Once you’ve done that, I mean groups change… addresses change… the challenge is to keep the database… up to date. So, we’re still kind of working on…  In the meantime, … it’s a very inspirational place to find out who is doing what. So, if you want to know, let’s say… there’s a tidal wave in Indonesia… and you really feel concerned and you want to find a group that’s working in that area, and has been working on the ground. Because this is the key thing about the map, you see is that what it’s stating… there’s 12,600 groups, and they’ve all been working on this. And some people been working on this for 30-40 years. You realize we’re not starting from scratch with the SDGs. We really aren’t. And you know, this will give you a kudos… when I look back at the 80s, and I look back to my own involvement in the anti-nuclear movement back when I was a young student… I actually credit your generation for keeping this planet alive. Honestly, I do. Because I believe that if… the few, the Helen Caldicotts and the people who stood up during those years, and brought our attention to the idea that we could annihilate ourselves on this planet, you know, those are the same giants upon whose shoulders we’re standing today, same in the environmental movement, you go back and you look at the people that drew our attention to the idea that… we’re polluting the very place that we live, all of those people that kept that story alive, that narrative alive, they can all be seen. Now, on this map, there’s 12,500, there’s hundreds, thousands of people involved now — behind the map. And you realize that it’s actually a living story, that in the fact that we’re still alive, the fact you and I are having this conversation, we haven’t been blown up, the fact that we’re still somehow limping through COVID on the planet. Yes, there’s a lot of wars, there’s a lot of things going on. But somehow through this week, we’re still going. And that to me is, is that’s not a coincidence … there’s a reason, if there were nuclear buttons that people could have pushed, they would have pushed them, but somehow, we stopped it. And that’s where I just want to… say to you and your generation, because… you’re a different generation than mine… you served to keep my generation alive. And I hope in my work, to serve, to keep the next generation alive so that my eight-year-old daughter… makes it through this… what I’m loving, is that all these generations now are coming together. And we’re seeing the global discourse, the common global discourse now is the SDGs, it is peace, it is a way to move forward. And I see a lot of hoping that like, there’s a lot of reasons not to be hopeful when you do what we do. But there’s a lot of reasons also to realize we’re still going. I mean, it’s kind of amazing.

Metta Spencer  

It’s, you know, the best of times, and the worst of times, in some ways the risk is greater than ever. I mean, I talked to people about things like methane leaks in the Arctic. And, you know, nobody knows anything about that. But you know, that may be the most dangerous thing facing humankind right now. It could be an extinction event. And you know, and people are just not quite sure how serious it is, you have to work it out. Yeah. But, you know, clearly,

Mike Simpson  

I was just gonna say, you know, you know, people don’t realize that methane is at currently, I think it’s 83 times a more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. So, when you release a little bit of methane, it has the impact of eighty times as much carbon. And then what you’re talking about, which is the releasing of [methane]… in the Arctic, a nightmare amongst climate change scientists for some time, because it points to what they call a tipping point in climate change, where if it was released quickly and fast, it can fundamentally go from being like a slow exponential curve to a sudden dramatic rise. It’s what they call the toilet bowl scenario. And that toilet bowl scenario… it’s the same one that worries scientists about the oceans. And the acidification of the oceans is that we may hit a point of acidification where it just toilet-bowls on us… all those things are sitting there actually, you know, I’m curious, you’re you’ve seen a lot, right. I mean, you. You mentioned the number of wars and crises, and you said, we’re at a particular point. I’m curious how you view with your experience, how do you view… the year 2021? Like, do you think we’re just still climbing like that? Or do you see tipping points happen? Now?

Metta Spencer  

Look, I mean, different people? It depends on who you talk to. Later this week, I will talk to a guy who’s very optimistic. One guy is very optimistic that yes, we’re going to make, we’re going to stay within two degrees. And that’s the crucial thing from his point of view, because… he thinks that all we need to do is reduce carbon emissions. And I think that’s so true. I think we actually suck it out of the existing atmosphere and put it away… I’m not going to challenge him particularly because that’s one point of view. Then there are others who… are really alarmed about the possibility that at any moment, there could be an explosion of methane from under the sea. And one that he figured he said… if 8% of what we think is there should come out at once, it would raise the atmospheric temperature by 1.4 degrees centigrade, which then would warm it enough so that the rest of the 92% would, and it would be game over for all kinds of life, not just people. Okay, so there’s the global warming threat. just terrible. And the nuclear threat is sustaining itself. You know, they keep modernizing nuclear weapons, and people have no idea how risky it is, that could be accidentally in use. So, the people like Bill Perry, who was probably the most knowledgeable person about nuclear weapons on the planet, because he was Secretary of Defense… he says that we’re in much worse shape now, at much greater risk than we were during the Cold War, of nuclear war. I know, it’s crazy. So here you have these two catastrophes. And yet, you can see all of these opportunities, and all of the ways in which we’re really on the verge of really, really making some progress. So, you know, I view it —

Mike Simpson  

Yeah, I view this very existentially, because I think that… if you can see a technological threat… like nuclear power, like nuclear weapons, and you can see how technology itself can be so pathologically dangerous. But then, look, we’re in a zoom conversation right now where we can converse about these subjects. And people are doing it all over the place right now, to change minds and attitudes. And it’s happening at lightning speed. Why? Because technology has allowed us at the same… there’s a balance going on here… not just technologically but also sort of ethically, in the conversations that we’re having. Because 50 to 100 years ago, we would have talked about conquering nation states and the Westphalian system. And we would nobody would have even hesitated to talk like that. Now, you couldn’t get away with talking like that. You just fundamentally can’t. Right. So, there’s — 

Metta Spencer  

no there are people who do… I guess I would in in a way disagree with you to the extent of saying that, yes, this technology is wonderful at, but it’s also being used by crazies.

Mike Simpson  

It’s being used by crazies, but it’s being used by saints at the same time. And this is the part that’s interesting to look at is to go well, I don’t have as much historical perspective as you do, which is why I think it’s interesting to ask you, do you think, because that balance has always been there, otherwise, we’d be dead? Right? I mean, this is the bottom line… are we unbalanced right now? Or do you see tipping points in one direction or the other? And this is something that I think is an interesting thing to is particularly talking to young people because I you know, the amount of dejection and sort of hopelessness about climate change is overwhelming. It’s the same feeling that people had in the 80s, when they thought they’re gonna get blown up… with the two-minute atomic clock, you remember that the feeling that maybe you’re gonna die at any minute?

Metta Spencer  

Well, look, you made a video… where you talked about celebrating hopelessness. I never feel hopeless. Because… my energy doesn’t come from hope, sense of duty, that if I… know that I’m doing, what I’m supposed to be doing…  of course, I’m never really sure. But I’m pretty sure sometimes that this is something I should be doing. And, and if I think I’m supposed to be doing this, and I know it’s not going to work, but I still think I should do it, I’ll keep doing it…  it never, never throws me in that sense. But I think you’re also pointing at the worst threat of all, which is the tendency that people have to deny the catastrophes or potential for catastrophes. And one of the things that disaster researchers in sociology find is that it’s very universal, that if you warn people that there’s a disaster coming. Let’s say you go around the street with a bullhorn in your car saying, “Run for your lives because there’s a high dam that’s about to break.” People will just forget it… they won’t do it. You can’t get people to respond to the warnings about disasters. Yeah, well, this thing about denying scary things is a very widespread phenomenon. And that is what is, is the energy behind people who on the right… the Trump people… the people who simply are more concerned about going backward in time going making America great again, or Russia great again, or Brazil great again — all you have to do is go back to the way it used to be. And you’d be great. Well, that’s because they are denying the threat that we actually are facing. And how do you overcome that? That I think is the worst problem of all. Do you have a theory…? I’m going to be talking to a guy later this week on that very topic, denial of a blow-up trying to convince people that there’s a real threat, when they don’t want to believe there is. What do you do? Yeah.

Mike Simpson  

Well, you might…  Can I can I just ask you one question first, because you… said …that you get your energy… your underlying source of energy is around duty, a sense of duty. And I’m curious, it’s duty. So, when you think of yourself, and you’re in duty to what, what is that? And where does the energy come from? Because sourcing these energies to the social activists over time, like if I said to somebody, look, I want you to be able to get to the age of 90 and still be doing social activism like this friend… Metta. And they’ll say, Well, how am I going to do that? Well, I’d say source the energy of duty. But what would it mean? Like how would you explain that to somebody,

Metta Spencer  

The source that most touched me, at a certain moment of my life was reading a book by Viktor Frankl, “From Death-Camp to Existentialism”, I think they retitled it something like “Man’s Search for Meaning”. And he describes being in a death camp, a Nazi concentration camp where… most of the people were going to die. And… he talks about giving meaning, trying to help the other people around him find the meaning in their lives… he doesn’t talk about God gives you assignments, he doesn’t use that language. He just says life, like, gives you assignments to do, and you have to be on your toes to look at what your current assignment is, that you’re being told… This is what you’re supposed to be doing. And of course, there’s a danger… that crazy people believe that… God’s telling them things to do. And you know, that’s just part of being psychotic… mentally ill. But… if I feel I have a duty to be doing something, which I do right now, this is my duty to be doing this show with you… there’s a possibility that I could be kidding myself, you know, that I could be deluding myself and, and so on. And so, I have to be a little humble about talking about… told me to do this, or… don’t need to do this. But I think it’s it whether you say it’s God telling you to do it or, or life is presenting you with certain challenges, that it’s that it’s quite possible to deny them … and ignore them? You … have to actually intend to be looking, to find them.

Mike Simpson  

Yeah, you do have to be searching your question. I’m not sure I’ve answered… bring up Viktor Frankl’s searching because actually, he… was a trained psychoanalyst. And… what’s interesting about his work… because he… was working with people in the middle of a — over our entire planet, in our entire history, there is nothing more horrifying than the Holocaust — what he tuned into in that context was that people… were essentially oriented towards meaning. And what you are describing right now is that essential core, and it shows up in so many perennial philosophies, I mean, it shows up in so many different religions and so many different spiritual paths, that ultimately, when we sense into who we are, and what are we trying to do, how are we trying to show up in this brief life that we have on our planet? In this context, there is an enormous amount of orientation towards meaning, and not necessarily money and happiness and a new RV and a new car. Ultimately, we all know that if we go through that, there’s something else going on. Now, here’s what I think is interesting… actually expressed in the development of an adult human being. Kids go through a stage where they’re pretty centered towards themselves, they’re egocentric… they just want their food and their cookies and so on. But eventually, they’ll reach out and they’ll realize, okay, I got this sort of other boundary around me, my group, my family, and so on, right. But if you look at the later stages of this, you’ll see that people grow and see that… they start to embrace wider and wider senses of care… who they care about. So, they go beyond even their family or even beyond the… ultimately… they start caring about the earth and the planet and the trees. Now what’s going on in that… development of the care structure goes right back to what you’re talking about, which is a sense of self, towards others and duty towards others. But ultimately, if we examine that, we would see that we actually start to identify as other — this is the critical leap, is that you start to realize I am an expression of the interconnected web of life. Therefore, I do care about that jungle, not because it’s a jungle faraway in another country, because that jungle is me. This is how we manifest it together, right?… and this, interestingly shows up in every mystical tradition, going right back to Meister Eckhart, or any of the ones you want to name… And they all start to clue into the same sense of a duty or a calling, because they identify with, not as or against, but with. And this is something I find intriguing, because that sense, is more and more being articulated in the global discourse. And I said, you wouldn’t get away with it today to talk about the nation-state. I mean, if you went to the United Nations right now, and you tried to talk as a nation-state, and you tried to ignore the global discourse of the SDGs, you will ultimately fail. 193 nations signed that thing five years ago, and it fundamentally… talks about all of us on a planet with no planet B. And ultimately, from I mean, I’m ranting, but here, but ultimately, this is at the core of the human experience, is to show up like you’re doing. I mean, good on you for doing that. You do this every day. You talk to people, and you show up and you stay active. And when I see your life and what you do, and I just can’t I mean, there’s no question that there’s hope. There’s absolutely no question.

Metta Spencer  

Well, I take the same type of encouragement from what you’re doing, too. Because you know, I didn’t know you. You got good, energetic sister. Boy, she’s dynamite.

Mike Simpson  

Yeah, she’s a lot of fun.

Metta Spencer  

Yeah, she she’s like my brother. Yeah,

Mike Simpson  

Well, I’m glad that we made this connection. today. And after say, good, good on y’all trying to promote your channel, so that people can see the grassroots. By the way, what you’re doing is really intriguing, because… what you’ve done here is, is kind of a new form of democracy, which I find very exciting, too, is that people are able to get on a YouTube channel, have these kinds of conversations? No, that’s not broadcast to the entire world. We’re not on CNN, but we can have the conversations that need to happen, because they wouldn’t happen on CNN. Do you see what I’m getting at? Like, there’s no room for these kinds of conversations. But these are the critical conversations that people that community at the community, grassroots level wants to have. And what I get excited about is that, you know, when I talked about the map, 12,500… if there’s 12,500 conversations like this going on, it’s an unstoppable force. So, the technology is there, the people are there. And I would encourage anybody who’s watching you to get inspired.

Metta Spencer  

And when you’re thinking, it’s a matter of sharing, of getting aware of each other as partners. Yeah, it’s just, you know, just love you already know.

Mike Simpson  

Where you go, yeah.

Metta Spencer  

We just have to get aware of each other. Because there are a lot of folks like you out there.  Yeah.

Mike Simpson  

Yeah, that’s the good thing is, there’s no shortage of people connecting them. I think that’s why I got into networking, because you can connect them, if you can connect a shortage.

Metta Spencer  

I am very enthusiastic about networks, as opposed to another organization. I don’t want to form another organization, there are 12,000 of them it looks like, but what we needed, I thought was a web page where people could come and share ideas and be aware of what all of these other people are thinking about and doing. So, we have this web… page, called tosavetheworld.ca. And people can go there and post their ideas and share you know, like listserv or something like that.

Mike Simpson  

Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s awesome.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, how can I work better with you? Because if you’re if you’re doing this, if you’re in BC, but you know, this is your this is exactly this SDG thing is really what we need to all be focusing on, right? Yeah.

Mike Simpson  

Well, you know, what I say when people say, “How can I get involved?” I usually say, Well, how are you already involved? And can you build on your current environment? Because everybody comes to these subjects with an expertise, they might have been a teacher, they might you know, who knows what they’ve done? Maybe they’ve been an engineer or something, right? But your life has led up to this point. And you have created yourself as the extraordinary person that you are. And then the question is, how can you launch from that into just simply connecting… that’s the trick is to no longer be in isolation, but to connect, and if you can connect with another person… that’s where networks are great. You can go to an organization… If that doesn’t work for you, you want to have a broader view, connect with a network. There are networks… anybody can become an individual member of our network. But there’s other networks… peace networks, there’s your network, tosavetheworld.ca. The key thing here is to make the leap. The key thing here is to say, Okay… I’m no longer to show up alone, I’m going to show up… with other people. So, my special sort of nature is going to leap in. And I’m going to work with others in a… unified way. And there’s a lot of conflict in that, there’s a lot of trouble in that, but… it’s also the answer. It’s the answer to how we’re going to solve some of the problems. And… we don’t just go in with the group that you’ve always gone in with, or the people you’ve always gone in with, if there’s a way you can make the leap. And being with other groups and other ways of thinking. That’s the big message we’re getting today about inclusivity. And about, about having a lot of different people at table from a lot of different backgrounds. And particularly what we talk about in the in the SDGs… very deep in the principles of the SDGs is the concept of leave no one behind. And … there’s a lot of problems with that how it’s phrased, but the idea is that there are people that never get to the table, that never get to be involved in conversations, and can we reach them, get involved… where your passion shows up, and then just take that passion and connect it to this idea that you’ve come up with, which is that if you’re working on climate change, and that’s your passion, just be able to see the link to peace. Instead of seeing it as… your silo and they’re doing their silo, … just make that leap, which is wow, if I’m working on climate change, and I tackle the… justice nature of climate change, if I can see the link between climate change and war, which is so obvious in places like Syria, and so on, if I can make those links, then I’m now thinking with this global mindset that you’re talking about interlinkages. It’s the fun, it’s the big leap, in… 2015 to 2020, we’ll go down in history as the period of time where we started to make the leap.

Metta Spencer  

And then we will how people are monitoring progress. And what are the next stages? I mean, I heard about the launch of the SDGs. But I am not sure how it is there. Is there a process of evaluating how we’re doing? And what it’s going to be like when we finish it, etc.? What’s going on organizationally? Yeah,

Mike Simpson  

That’s a really good question. Because you know, it lay at the heart of the SDGs as well, which was that we people were getting pretty tired of people going to the United Nations making fantastic statements about what they’re going to do, and then not being held accountable. And so, the accountability side of it was that if you’re going to say, we’re going to eradicate poverty, what are the numbers? And this is where we realized, so there’s 169 sub-targets, 17 goals, but there’s actually I think it’s 241 indicators of success. And —

Metta Spencer  

they took off measurements of  —

Mike Simpson  

Let me give you an example… on poverty, we know an indicator for… a country… to help on the whole issue of international development would be that you spend 0.7% of your gross national income GNI on ODA. So that’s an indicator, very specific… you can measure it, every country… report. Same thing with… the national indicators for contributions on climate change. We know what… everybody agreed in Paris… the national indicators, and every country puts forward their commitments — like Canada, now we can measure ourselves against progress on goal 13. Now, as these — 

Metta Spencer  

How often do they submit reports?

Mike Simpson  

Every country has to submit at least two reports. Canada has submitted one report, many countries are on their third report already. And this is all done. Every summer, the countries come together at a meeting called the High-Level Political Forum [HLPF] and people compare notes as to how are we doing on the planet? How are we doing on these SDGs? How far do we have to go? How far have we come? That’s the big question. And we can see on progress on the SDGs that we have fallen behind…. COVID has made us fall even further behind on… poverty needs… we needed to get 800 million people out of extreme poverty in 800 weeks when we started the SDGs. Imagine that’s a huge number of people, almost a billion. By the way, it’s… not even close to what we faced in the 1990s… we had multiple… numbers, more people that were living in extreme poverty. So, we’ve really brought poverty… down in an extraordinary way since the 1990s. And now we have about 800 million left. Well, we were doing pretty good. We were tackling it through 2015 but then along came COVID and… the World Bank just released a report saying we’re back to 100 million. So, we’ve gone backwards because … COVID smashed economies around the world. So… we can see the progress and the … numbers, and we can see the indicators. And this is another thing that your viewers fundamentally need to understand is that we are not actually falling behind… we’re actually gaining ground. Like we really, we’ve gained huge ground on, for example, literacy for the girl child — access to education is a fundamentally different picture on the planet than it was in 1992.

Metta Spencer  

And that’s so crucial for global warming. You know, that is one of the big factors making, reducing overtime. Yeah. Okay. So

Mike Simpson  

You brought up this idea of like, how do we measure it, and this is where I just put some, some we can measure it, there’s a lot of the indicators that we… still don’t have the ability to measure. So, it creates a big problem, right. But I will say that if you do look at some of the measurements, you can see that we’re gaining, and we’re losing. And we have to look at why are we gaining? Why are we losing? And… how do we fight this good fight that we’re in, on the planet, right? Anybody could get involved and look at the indicators. And we ourselves put out what’s called a “shadow report” — the government puts out a report, and then along comes civil society… and we actually look at all the statistics and we go, “Well, actually, wait a second. Here’s another story.” — And so, then we put out what’s called a “shadow report” … and we talk to the government about it, and I think we’ve produced about five of those right now. Or —

Metta Spencer  

Your organization BCCIC…

Mike Simpson  

B C’s, the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation and the webpage is bccic.ca. And on there, if you look, you’ll find the SDGs. And you’ll find all the reports. And we you know, we put out a report… on Canada… called “Keeping score,” which is all about the indicator frameworks… to understand how’s Canada doing… measuring our progress, are we doing a good job or not? A… There’s another interview you could think of in the next few week… the Canadian Auditor General will put out a spring report through the environmental commissioner’s office on Canada’s progress on the SDGs. And I look forward to understanding whether we did very well or not because when they first came along, they put out a report, the auditor put out a report… the Canadian government made all these promises at the UN, are we doing anything? And they found that on seven points of preparedness Canada had fallen far, far behind other countries. And actually, this is the sad story of being Canadian, to be honest, is that other countries have taken SDGs very, very seriously. They’re not taking it very seriously in Canada.

Metta Spencer  

Canada has less so. Oh,

Mike Simpson  

The Canadian story unfortunately is a bit sad. It’s a good story about civil society. Like I said, lots of groups involved, lots of groups doing the work. Unfortunately, the Canadian government has actually fallen behind on this one quite dramatically, actually.

Metta Spencer  

Well, we got to pull up our socks

Mike Simpson  

So, pull up our socks, exactly — 

Metta Spencer  

being hopeless. And

Mike Simpson  

I never to sad be hopeless. This is very interesting. I did talk about that. But I always said to see both sides. Because if you can hold hope… hopelessness tells us a lot. Like if you look at climate change, it looks pretty hopeless. But that can be motivating. Right? So you have to be hopeful whenever… Always be hopeful. As hopeful as you are, as hopeful as I am right now. Honestly, got to hold hope. It’s —

Metta Spencer  

been exactly the most energizing conversation in a long time. Ready to go. How about All right,

Mike Simpson  

well, let’s get on with you. Have a good day, Metta. It’s such a pleasure to talk

Metta Spencer  

Wonderful. Sometime, thanks.

Mike Simpson  

All right. Bye bye.

T173. How do People Become Torturers

 

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: WRS6
Panelists: Bill Skidmore
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired:   28 January 2021
Date Transcribed and Verified:  15 April 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: David Millar

 

Metta Spencer  

Okay, Hi, I’m Metta Spencer. And today we’re going to have I don’t think we can call this fun. I don’t know what to call it. It will be interesting though; I promise you that we’ve got to talk about torture. I’ve got a friend here, a new friend, who’s a professor just recently retired from Carleton University, who specializes in human rights studies, was in a program that quite often runs on human rights, and one of the human rights is (I suppose) not to be tortured. But he has… some expertise in that topic. The thing that immediately I wanted to know about was, how can you get people to do such a thing? So that’s one of the things I want to explore with him. This is William Skidmore. Hello, Professor Skidmore

Bill Skidmore  

Metta, you can call me Bill.

Metta Spencer  

All right. We’ll do that. So, hello. And let’s get right down to work. I asked you to to come and talk to us about torture, because this is not a topic that I have ever covered before. And yet, you know, everybody has to worry about the social psychology of… how do people become tortures

Bill Skidmore  

Become torturers… well, there’s not a single answer. It varies depending on the person, the circumstances or whatever. I think one can go back and say, Okay, what is torture, and there’s a torture… convention: severe pain or suffering of a physical or psychological nature. But part of what the torture convention also speaks about —

Metta Spencer  

excuse me, when we use the word Convention in this sense it means a treaty

Bill Skidmore  

… the International Convention on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment… a UN treaty ratified by most states, many states, — 

Metta Spencer  

 when did that come into existence? By the way,

Bill Skidmore  

… I think the official ratification I think, was 1984. But there’s reference to torture in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and their International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and others. But it’s been long understood, since at least the Second World War, if not before, that torture is both immoral and illegal failing, and to engage in that… if I go back to this notion of the involvement of the state, and one can question if that definition is correct, but that’s the one that’s there — torture, in a sense, is a crime of obedience. Often people think that the people who torture… the soldiers, the police officers, are driven by a particular sadism, a personality that wants to cause suffering for other human beings. But in fact, that’s usually not the case. Or if it is, they need to constrain it, because they are the upfront perpetrators of harm, but they’re doing it on behalf of other authorities. So, they have to be constrained, prepared to act in the interest of the state, for instance, don’t kill the subject if the state doesn’t want them killed… You don’t want to just give vent to sadistic impulses. And so often it’s said — torturers are like us, ordinary people who… become that. Now, after being a torturer, especially for any length of time. I think one loses the moral sensibility that one normally has, which is not to inflict pain on other people. You know, most of us don’t, in our day, begin thinking, “Oh, how can I go and really hurt somebody in the deepest way.” And torture is perhaps the most profound way of causing suffering because — it’s a little more complex than this, but — unlike killing, you prolong the suffering. You maintain it, you gradually destroy the person’s sense of self. You make them into such a desperate person who will do anything to get out of the pain, who’s… normally a proud, self-confident person… perhaps begging, crying, you know, deprecating urinating on themselves, begging… feeling totally unable to control their circumstances? That is the pain that has caused so… I’m not really answering your question in this moment. Oh,

Metta Spencer  

You… really are and because that, you know, you’re giving a very full explanation of what that kind of experience is like. You —

Bill Skidmore  

… partly what draws me to teaching about political repression — and torture is part of that, it’s not the whole… — is the suffering, it causes unbelievable suffering… that doesn’t stop when the torture stops. It… remains with the person throughout their life, whether … physical consequences, muscular skeletal problems, headaches, insomnia, I have a friend… who was tortured — an engineer, can’t do math anymore… so cognitive harms, and then psychological harms of anxiety, of depression, of losing faith and trust. I mean, this is one of the greatest shames — in the same person, but I’ve heard others speak of this as well — in his case, he was blindfolded right into a certain office, he thought he’d be able to just explain things, he wasn’t that worried. And out of the blue… a horrible slap on his face. So, he lost. He said, my understanding of life changed at that moment and other torture survivors say that as well…  the first instance of the humiliation, of the pain, of the total control exercised over them — to imagine that another human being could be treating them like this. So, it has long-term effects like destroying trust, the inability to be close to others, even the inability to be close to one spouse or one’s children or… friends. So, it’s horrific what it does. But again, my interest in it wasn’t simply, this was part… Because I’ve met people through my work before academia, who had been tortured, and talked to them to some degree. And of course, I’ve read about it. But this incredible damage that is done and lasts the lifetime. But it’s done for a reason for a state reason, usually, a very… simplistic notion would be that it targets those who dare to challenge the power of the state, to stop political activity, to stop those who would challenge the state’s activities. And it’s not just in dictatorships, it’s in democracies as well. It’s as even the now-deceased Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galliano once said, I don’t remember the exact quote… the torture chambers: these are the consequences of inequalities of wealth of the powerful wanting to maintain their wealth, their status, their power, and this is what it comes down to. So much. How did you get into this? It probably started in my early 20s. When I moved to Ottawa, I’m from Saskatoon, and I had worked there in a crisis center. So, I was familiar with individual, personal life traumas, from people who would I meet through my work, suicidal-depressives, victims of spousal abuse, whatever, really horrific stuff, but then I got more involved around the political side. And part of that when I came to Ottawa, I did my Master’s in social work. And I met people who were from different countries, Central America, Chile… this was in the early late 70s, early 1980s. So, we have different waves of refugees coming to Canada, depending on the circumstances of that time. And some of them would talk about it. It’s rare and you don’t go and ask somebody, “Hey, were you tortured?” … in my own [life] I guess I was 30-31, I moved to Zambia in southern Africa, to work with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. I’m not a legal person, so I wasn’t doing the protection elements of according refugee status, finding third countries such as Canada to immigrate to — I was on more the social service, small-business creation side of it, for people who would be remaining there. But through that work, of course, either people would tell me, or I would become familiar with certain cases of people who had come to the UN, who would describe their treatment, some of it quite horrific.

Metta Spencer  

They always bring it up, or do they avoid it? Mostly?

Bill Skidmore  

I don’t know… the lawyers if they ask right out, I have a feeling often they need to build the case. They probably do that. I wouldn’t…. People would confide in me. Tell me You know, it’s like, I guess comparison when you don’t ask somebody sexually-assaulted… you allow somebody [to talk] if they wish, and then you have to decide how … to deal with it. And… 1985 to 88. I was there. And it was also the time of the apartheid struggle in South Africa, in Namibia. And it impacted the what they call the frontline states, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, Botswana. And so, I would meet members of the African National Congress. And sometimes they would tell me something about this, or at meetings, people would talk. So, it was just gradually I became more aware of the depth of, of the violence used to suppress people, and the long-term impacts. And even at the time, I wouldn’t necessarily understand it… well, it’s over time… I often think of this one guy who used to irritate me and ANC members. And the reason he irritated me, it was only this one thing, every hour on the hour, he stopped all conversation, if you’re at a party or with a group talking, and put the news on. He was obsessed at knowing… what was happening at home… any news. And so, there was such an attentive… I don’t know if he was ever tortured. But he was in exile. He obviously had had to flee his country. He had been subjected all sorts of harms… At that time, I didn’t realize that that was one of his coping techniques. I learned that more later, the more I studied the research on torture. So that’s the long answer to how I why I came to do what I do. As a teacher I wanted to… talk about human rights violations, let’s say even economic and social and cultural rights violations. Okay, what role has force, intimidation, coercion, and the infliction of deep pain [play]? …in maintaining social and political and BDS — don’t challenge the system…

Metta Spencer  

I’ve heard people say that it is counterproductive. That, you know, they were talking a few years ago about waterboarding the in the US, which is torture of, I guess, absolutely.

Bill Skidmore  

torture. Absolutely.

Metta Spencer  

And, and there was a debate, I guess as to whether or not you were actually going to get the truth out of people with that. Now, how often is torture used as a means of extracting information from people who might be otherwise, you know, in on a secret that they don’t want to share, political… conspiracy or something?

Bill Skidmore  

Well, they commonly seek information. The question becomes how, how genuine that information is, if people tell you, it under extreme duress… we will say whatever, to save ourselves from the pain. Sometimes people try to commit suicide while they’re in prison and being tortured, because it’s so, so horrific — so to gather information, to punish. It’s a way of saying, if you dare speak out, you will suffer the most incredible pains. It’s to create collaborators, those who will, in order to end the pain — and then you create a large society of collaborators. Its… primary role is to deter challenging authority, it’s to deter political activity.

Metta Spencer  

But that’s a big category… These are two different things. Getting collaborators is one thing, punishing people and making an example of them… a warning. And then getting extracting information from those would seem to be all three. And maybe there are other types of or motivations for it. But they’re… all a matter of trying to get conformity with the government.

Bill Skidmore  

So that’s the overarching… to change how a person thinks politically… get them to betray their cause, and actually identify not just doing it so the pain stops, but that they then fully identify with the cause of their own [repressors].

Metta Spencer  

That happens much?

Bill Skidmore  

I don’t know how much that happens. I can’t give you stats and even if you look at different research… and going back to your first question, how do you get other people to do this. There’s a lot of difference of understanding based on research of what are the factors that lead people to actually —

Metta Spencer  

remember during the Patty Hearst case, there was a story about the Stockholm Syndrome, that she… moved over to becoming one of the kidnapper group. She joined the group, the Symbionese Liberation Army. And but I don’t think she was ever tortured. I think that she, this was a case in which she, her psychological strength was just not strong enough as she joined the cause. That, you know, but it the idea that you would torture somebody and actually get them to, to want to be part of your outfit. Oh, that’s hard. But,

Bill Skidmore  

but if you look at, again, the causes are bringing people to torture, there’s many different [ones], this is what I would start with. But I think response to your question that one way of making people torture, is in a systematic way for a state government. After you’ve selected those who will do it, they become part of a professional… unit that’s set to do it — usually, to varying degrees, they themselves are degraded or humiliated, even tortured. And so, the notion is, you would think they would then never want to do that to anybody, but often they, they actually identify so much, ultimately with those who are abusing them. Because they’re so dependent on them, amongst other reasons. So… learned helplessness. They, they become extremely loyal to them. They… have been brutalized, themselves, initially hating… the treatment of themselves, but then the identify with those who did it to them and then become part of the group who does it to others and… I don’t want to compare the two exactly, but even initiation rituals for fraternities —

Metta Spencer  

You know, yeah, I mean, I’ve never understood that. But yes, they certainly do go along with it, don’t they? That’s part hazing. Yeah,

Bill Skidmore  

… You degrade the person, you make them feel lesser, you destroy their own identity, their selves, their sense of self confidence of their own beliefs, you break them down, and you build them up again. I mean, military training does that to some degree, and it can be done more severely. But this is what you’re doing. You’re destroying that person’s capacity for agency, to act on their own moral beliefs, and brutalizing them, and then they join, and are so connected to the authority that did it. And that’s the most important thing because you want torturers who will obey orders. You don’t want freelancers; you don’t want those who will do something that will harm what you’re trying to do. They have to be completely obedient to those who control them without question.

Metta Spencer  

I was waiting to bring that up. Because even before we met today, I was thinking about Dave Grossman’s work, you know, Dave Grossman, is a lieutenant colonel or something retired from the US Army, where he was, I don’t know what his own role is, but he certainly was a military instructor. And what he argues, and he’s got really good evidence that people inherently will avoid killing, and that in previous wars, most of the people who were supposed to be shooting to each at each other, would often deliberately miss even though it would expose them to harm because the other… could shoot them back. But… they didn’t want to kill so they would shoot over their head or in the ground or someplace. And, you know, they’ve done things like collect spent bullets after a battle and compared to how many people actually got hit. And, of course, it’s a fraction of the number of people who could have been hit if they were trying to shoot straight. So, he says that people inherently will avoid… inflicting pain or killing another person, but the army then has to overcome that. So, they’ve done some very creative things they’ve developed, you know, like video game trainings, and they’ve done various things to make people shoot at targets that look human first, and they work their way up to overcome this resistance. And recent wars, he says have shown… that they’re much more successful nowadays, in getting recruiting any ordinary young man, I guess a woman to… do this, and, and overcoming their reluctance might even start with having them kill a chicken, you know, I’ve never killed a chicken, although I’ve watched my mother do it. And, you know, you start with doing something that you would sort of be repelled by doing, and then work your way up to horrible thing. So, I suppose that becoming a torture would be like the last stage in this learning process, educational process, or…redefining of the personality?

Bill Skidmore  

Well, you do, of course… basic thesis was, the further away you are from your victim, the easier it is to inflict harm on them. So, if you’re launching a missile or your bomber, at 40,000 feet, it’s easier to press the button than if you have to do it up close. And then torture, of course, is even a step closer, because you’re not killing. Normally, that can be at the end. But you’re actually as I said earlier, keeping them alive, in such a degraded state. And in, essentially what you said about the chicken… when I got in my early 20s, I lived in India, and I worked with a guy who had been in, in the Indian military, and he told me that they would practice bayoneting on dogs… as an example of how to do it. And then there’s various rituals that people are put through…  like even being given the blood of animals to drink as a ritual, because who would be inclined. So, these are unifying rituals as well… these are your comrades, you’ve done this. So, but there are these antecedent conditions, besides the training in all the notion of — you create the sense, often of certain persons in a society — being either inferior or a danger, and often both. So… the famous example of what the Nazis did to Jews and Roma and others. Before the Nazis came along, these groups of people were already devalued, already seen as a threat, already seen as harming the society. So, it could be you look down on people because of their ethnicity, their religion, but it could also be their political views. So, they pose a threat. And so, you develop this in-group/out-group, they are the threat, we are saving the country from them. You… become part of a… professional network within the military, of one’s country who does this, and you see what you’re doing as an important job for the state. And you view your comrades… as doing an important job doing it capably, and you look down upon those who you torture. And the more you torture them, the more you look down upon them, because of course, they’re looking, you know, horrible state, it’s like… we often will pass poor people or people begging for money and look down on them even without wanting to… or they’re ragged and dirty. And, and we… have this just-world thinking that, well, I’m fine. Why are they — you know, it’s their fault. So, we even look at the tortured person, it’s their fault. They’re in this predicament because it’s a just world. One wants to believe that. That’s how we, if we are doing well, we’d like to say… because the world will reward people who work hard and have whatever characteristics we think matter. So, we see people being tortured or otherwise they, they deserve that they’ve done something wrong, they’re a threat and look at them… what a pathetic piece of garbage sitting in front of me. Even the one who has done the degrading of them themselves. They still look down on — So interesting. Now, you’ve we’ve got to the point of talking about the after-effects, you’ve begun by saying that they’re broken permanently. Is everybody broken permanently? Or do you know of cases of people who somehow have overcome the trauma in a way that they do not have nightmares or whatever other horrible, lasting effects? Well, yes, I mean, I’ve known people who have impressed me so much by what they’ve had to deal with, let’s say it’s a permanent state, you’ll always remember, it will always affect you in some way. People grapple with a greater degree — depending on their circumstances, the support they get, just their basic life circumstances. Some people think — some therapists think… you have to work through — others would say no… imagine somebody who’s been tortured, arrives in Canada as a refugee, they have a family, you have to learn English or French, they have to find housing, they have to try and find a job. They have to recreate a whole life. So often, the traumas they experienced, whether through torture or other traumas of fear of being persecuted, or just the traumas of going in [unclear audio], often those have to be pushed aside, in order to just deal with the practicalities of daily life and also find meaning in them, especially if one of them… has others who depend on him. Now, some people might think, well, but maybe 20 years down the road, when life is… more stable, maybe it will come back to affect them. So, there’s… varying theories of whether you actually indeed have to work through. There are different understandings, depending where people come from of what causes this thing. How do you… go to a therapist? That’s not a common notion in many cultures? Do you even talk about it to anybody, especially imagining certain tortures, like sexual torture — which is we even know here with rape survivors? … many feel so ashamed, and torture survivors feel the same. They didn’t do any wrong, but they are made to feel something is deficient in them. And then you add in on top of other non- sexual tortures, the sexual tortures? It can complicate that. I think that so I’m not sure what the answer is, you know, because I’ve known people who have so impressed me… how they’ve, I can describe it as — a generous spirit of caring for others, of maintaining their political goals and organizing. On the other hand, I want to be careful about turning them into heroes, because that can put some pressure on them that they don’t always feel they can live up to.

Metta Spencer  

You find anybody who can actually make of empathizing with and understanding or feeling? Well, I don’t like the word forgiveness in this context, but trying to understand the mentality of the torturer? I’ve heard of people who 20 years later they run into their torturer in a social situation, you know, and their stories about what happens in their encounter. I guess it varies a lot. But are there people who can feel any common humanity between themselves either from the from the park, part of the torture toward the victim or vice versa?

Bill Skidmore  

Well, some torturers… somehow acknowledge what they’ve done and confess to it. Recognize just how much they dehumanized, are examples of, maybe the torture actually knew the person they were a family friend or something. So, there they can. It’s harder to dehumanize the victim when you also know them in another way. I wrote up cases of people who were in a good point… I have known people here, for instance, on a busy downtown Ottawa Street, they didn’t tell me directly, a third person who’s from the same country, because they’ve never talked to me about their torture. But I’ve heard about it, it was horrific, from this third person, and they said they run into their torturer on a busy downtown street in Ottawa, has somehow gotten to become a Canadian citizen — and it’s shocking, and it’s frightening. And it’s terrifying. And it reminds you of the degradation. I have read of people who have tried to forgive, who would have said if there’s different attitudes, some religious attitudes, I once had a student in class and he said in his faith, we do forgive and I said, “Well, is that just, you know, a rationalization like a psychological way of dealing with the pain?” He said, No, “We actually truly believe that.” He was a very authentic guy so I can see it. I’ve seen people try to do that. I’ve seen others who for instance say, my… treating them well, was my best revenge.

Metta Spencer  

Well, revenge yes, but I have a dear friend with whom I have an ongoing debate, let’s call it that. But she is a spiritual person, Christian who believes that the most important thing in life is to be able to forgive everybody all the time, unconditionally, no matter what they’ve done. And I think, no, at some level, you do that if you think the other person was not, was in a position where they either didn’t know… better. Like she talks about Christ on the cross talking to the about, you know, forgive them because they know not what they do. Well, I think the reason, he says, because they know not what they do is that the only circumstance under which you could forgive somebody, either there, they really didn’t know better, or you know, they’re too young or too mentally incompetent or something like that. So, you can forgive them for being unable to understand. Or in a situation of duress, you might say, you can forgive them, because the circumstances were such that they, they had no effective choice. So, there are conditions under which you can forgive. But I think if you for the most part, the real responsibility we have is to, to require that others apologize and feel remorse before forgiving them. I mean, it’s a duty not to forgive, until we’ve seen in the other person, a real repentance and remorse.

Bill Skidmore  

No, I don’t think there can be genuine reconciliation without acknowledgement of responsibility, and awareness of the harm that was done. And then if one determines it’s a genuine remorse, because sometimes people express remorse to get out of hot water. It’s not necessarily if —

Metta Spencer  

it’s fake, but you I would think one would need to really sense of the other person really was hurting. For about having done it.

Bill Skidmore  

Yeah. And maybe even over a period of time to see how genuine it is. It’s not just plays ==

Metta Spencer  

I am, by the way early, I was reading, watching a video of a woman who was a specialist in early Christianity, and it’s called Patristics… this is a branch of theology, I guess, where they look at the early church. And apparently, the early church fathers also required repentance before forgiveness. They did not go around telling you forgive everybody, no matter what. That to me. That’s, that’s kind of an important point. to note.

Bill Skidmore  

Maybe there’s a continuum in some ways, like there’s people who are psychotic and do horrible things. I’m willing, obviously, to say that they didn’t know what they were doing. But that’s not the norm. And… there are different levels, even the, for instance, the frontline torturer, who maybe says, if I don’t torture, I will be tortured, I will be killed. You know, they’re in tough circumstances. And yet, one would say, well, you shouldn’t do it anyway. You’re doing to somebody that they would do to you. But then they can say, Well, yeah, well, if you don’t torture, we won’t torture you, we will torture your children. You know, there’s so many ways to coerce people and put them in these most horrific dilemmas, who I often feel rage or anger… the officials, or those who give the orders of those on whose behalf they’re actually giving an example. I remember George W Bush … the second. And there was something came up about, maybe it was the Iraq war. I know it was Iraq, war, Guantanamo, or whatever. I don’t remember the context. But he said, I sleep fine at night. And I thought, Oh, yeah, I guess you do. What about the people, the soldiers that either are living in fear of their own lives, or after they’ve done horrible things, to other human beings, they have to live with that reality for their entire life where you don’t have to, because you just gave the orders and your hands are clean. They’re… the folks that I just have the greatest derision for, because they may let others do it on their behalf and carry that burden.

Metta Spencer  

Well, you could say that for every war maker, you know, everybody, every General, … everybody who even pays taxes that they know is going to… support military… complicity with warfare is so much a part of everyday life, that it’s a gradient scale, I’m sorry to say, you know, it’s real. I mean, it’s not many people devote their entire existence to opposing being involved with a system that does harm to other people.

Bill Skidmore  

Well, we often expect that that should be what the citizens of an enemy state do. For instance, we talk about the “good German”, referring to the Germans during the Nazi era who pretended not to know, or if they did know they didn’t do anything and I think well, they lived under a totalitarian state where for them to resist carried… severe consequences. I’m not justifying what they did. But even those in some resistant, there was a German resistance. It was huge, I think like the French or Polish resistance other countries, but the… at least there’s an element of fear. It’s fascinating to me when persons who really don’t have a whole lot of fear, still remain bystanders. They still accept the state, doing horrible wrongs or whatever they are. Even in now, we live in a time where the information is so accessible to us, we can find good studies on different issues, academic journalistic, whatever, there’s still some people prefer to remain just uninvolved.

Metta Spencer  

Yeah, but I mean, look, this is a, you know, we’re really talking about more than just torture. Now. We’re talking about all kinds of political decision-making about…  what’s right and what’s wrong. I mean, the Republicans in the US right today are not going to vote for the conviction of, of Trump, for the impeachment, because there’s political gain to be had from a being. Okay, you know, that, and then they try to find an argument. I mean, now, we’re into the quicksand, you know, are we talking about more morality more, much more generally, then, then the question of torture, I want to go back to an earlier assumption that, or assertion you made that, that it’s always about trying to get the state to get people to conform to and obey the state. Because, you know, there’s other kinds of authority. And if you think about the Milgram experiment, where it wasn’t the state, but it was, it was a guy with a lab coat, who looks authoritative. So, you say This is Professor so… of the Psych department, and he’s a leading authority on this or that, and if he tells you to do something, of course, you will do it, because you want to be a cooperative, good citizen. So, this isn’t political, but it is certainly obedience. On the other hand, there’s even more than that there’s not authority, but wanting to be approved of by one’s peers. So become being party… to a particular group, can lead a person to, to make judgment errors, or to hide the truth about their even their perception. I mean, think of the Solomon Asch studies back, you know, 50-60 years ago, when Solomon Asch would get six or eight people in a row, and they were all stooges, and then the sixth, the seventh person, or so would be the real subject. So, he would draw two lines, and he’d say, which is longer this one or this one? And all six of them would give the wrong answer. And then when you get to the final one, the final person who’s the real person will also give the wrong answer. Because they, they, anybody could see how long this line is. But in order to not be considered deviant, they go along with this ridiculous thing. Well, so much of human interaction is a reflection of that kind of conformity was desired to be approved off. And it’s not political. It’s, it’s more like, I just want to be regarded as a good person. Right? Normally,

Bill Skidmore  

I remember those. I was in one of those experiments, where you, yes, in when I was doing my undergraduate degree, and I actually said what I thought not, I didn’t go along with the others. But I know I’ve seen it in other cases, too, for instance, working in organizations, and you’re in a meeting and somebody is going on and on about something you don’t understand that is confusing, but you don’t say anything because you think you’re the only one. And then after the meeting has started talking to people, you realize nobody understood it either. But we don’t want to appear, we don’t want to appear foolish. There is an interesting thing. I mean, with Milgram, and in some dispute, whether his thesis and it’s been tested in various with various variables, but basically obeying an authority and as you said, the lab coat. You know, Milgram himself was at Yale, so that carries prestige, etc. But it was been replicated all over. You’re obeying an authority to a point that you would do great harm. That’s the other thing. It wasn’t just a minor thing.

Metta Spencer  

Yeah. They thought the other person had been, they could hear them screaming in the other room, and they thought they maybe even killed the person

Bill Skidmore  

Yeah, because it would show on the meter, they’ve read the, you know, danger all that. Some, no, who walk out. Again, these antecedent conditions, you know, indoctrination in a society, of belief of in groups or groups, the threats, they also look at those who perhaps, have either been had more of an authoritarian upbringing or for whatever reason, tend to have a greater belief in authority or willingness to obey, rather than to challenge authority. And I know I used to have a button, a friend gave me and I think I wrote on it, he said, challenge authority, at least question. But there’s, whether it’s here, whether it’s a belief in authority, because authority will make the world work, right. For instance, one of the strongest reasons, job, people justify either what they do, or accepting like in the case of William Calley… in Vietnam with the My Lai Massacre, I think the strongest reason given for those who thought he shouldn’t have been punished is he was obeying orders. He was — and that loyalty to your superior in the military, or whatever authority was a higher value than not harming others. So, a lot of people carry that as a belief. And I even recall a case year ago, not that many years ago with some people who left the US military after the Iraq invasion and sought refuge in Canada, exile in Canada, and a lawyer for the federal government, when they these folks were claiming… we’re being forced to commit war crimes. And a lawyer for the Canadian government who was denying them their claim of refugee status here, said, you’re a low-level soldier, you don’t have to make those decisions. Therefore, there’s no reason to give you status where this was a moral [issue]. These were moral beings still, who did not want to create harm, honestly, I joined the military thinking I was going to be defending my country, saving us. And here I am now killing Iraqi civilians.

Metta Spencer  

I’m not surprised that the person in authority would go along with that argument. I mean, wouldn’t it historically have been considered a reasonable defense of that? You could, you could say I… was ordered to do it. And… that would be good enough, I think, and maybe until maybe the war crimes tribunals after World War Two, this really was discussed, and it was established that it’s not a defense. But you know, it’s sure is a pervasive assumption. And even today, I think there are all kinds of people would assume that it is not only true, but it’s a good, good argument. That’s all you have to say is, I was ordered.

Bill Skidmore  

Yeah, I think since the Second World War with the Geneva conventions of 1949. And, … there are additional protocols and …  quite universal, you are not to obey an illegal order. Before that… even different armies have their own codes of conduct. So, someone sometimes says No, you shouldn’t obey an illegal order. An unlawful order, rather, is probably the terminology. And others would say you have to do it. But again, then there’s the reality when you’re in the heat of battle, and you’re ordered to do it. And if you don’t do it, it could be done to you, or you will be abandoned by your comrades. You’re left with a sudden, difficult circumstance plus, you’ve also in the heat of battle, developed hatred for the enemy. You’ve seen what they’ve… killed your colleagues, your friends in uniform, and it gets very jumbled up… psychologically at the moment… there again… the soldiers were trained to degrade the enemy, it made it easier for them to say I have to be these orders because look at who we’re dealing with here is beasts. Hmm. 

Metta Spencer  

Well, I think your course is something — sounds like everybody in the world should be exposed to a lecture… covering the things that we’ve been discussing.

Bill Skidmore  

I created courses that I thought were important and most of mine focused on political violence within human rights, that was my own strongest interest. I think it matters for many reasons that we understand. Even that societies ultimately operate through coercion… some coercion is legitimate… in order to force the person to attend their trial in court, or who’s accused of a crime, whatever…  I do think we need to understand the violence that underlies a lot of what we just see as economic issues. Some students have had that own experience in their own lives, or family members tortured, perhaps even them. I did have a student who also was a guest speaker, he had been tortured badly and severely, but he wanted to talk about it, you don’t ever I’ve never just asked somebody to do it, it was more it came to my attention that they would speak or they came to speak about a more general situation, and then talked about their torture as well. But I, of course, like I said, at the outset, very careful about their own state of mind. And yes, I tell the students, this is very hard stuff, you are going to be upset. And I will have, you know, I talked about that, how to deal with what you what you encounter some of it, you may not be able to sit through — I had a student once, and I won’t give any details about them. But they come from an area we call a war zone, an area of conflict, intense conflict. They couldn’t bear the sight of blood… but they could bear the sight of skulls… I once showed a video on Rwanda. And there’s a famous scene from a church where all these skulls were piled up and the students that — I can handle that, but what I can’t, in their own personal lives, not in a political context, but in personal… abuse, sexual assault, whatever, they would be sensitive to that. So, I try to work around it. But I think, mostly, I think what I heard from people was they were glad to be informed. They obviously I had no idea about this kind of stuff… And they also — …in the student evaluations, the number one best thing I got it every year, because I’d have a lot of guest speakers, and they really appreciated hearing their story. And I asked my guest speaker said, don’t try and be academic, I do the, you know, the academic side, tell the stories. And in the stories are profound. I feel emotional. And I can remember, students feeling very emotional, but they didn’t want to not know they did. And there are victims, and they are also survivors. They are people, the people you see here have been acting and still speaking out about what was done to them and others were evil, but I was also trying to be understanding if you can’t listen to this, leave, or I would warn in the film, if something coming up, I’ll tell you close your eyes, you know, you want to be sensitive and know they all have their own different backgrounds to

Metta Spencer  

thank you so much for this. This is really very, very meaningful. We get a lot of people watching it because I think everybody needs to go through a little of this. It just as you said it, we all need to know.

Bill Skidmore  

Thank you for inviting me. I enjoy talking to you.

Metta Spencer  

I’ll probably get back to you and talk about other aspects of human rights, because you’re always there. Thank you. Glad to do that. a terrific.

Bill Skidmore  

Bye.

WRS6. Ann Swidler on Africa NGOs

 

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: WRS6
Panelists: Ann Swidler
Host: Metta Spencer

Date aired: 9 December 2020
Date Transcribed: 13 March 2021 
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: David Millar 

 

Metta Spencer  

No, it shouldn’t be unlisted. Well, doesn’t matter now, because I don’t have any audience. But maybe I shouldn’t be that public. Anyway, it’ll be public in the long run when I edit it, which is probably what I need to do anyway. go now let me mute that. Now. Okay, so now we can start. Hi, Ann. How are you? Ann Swidler, you’re in Berkeley, California. 

Ann Swidler  

Yeah. 

Metta Spencer  

Yes, indeed, in Berkeley, my own stomping grounds. Wonderful. Now, I, somebody may join us in a minute from Burundi. But in the meantime, you can tell me about what you’ve been doing in Africa? Because I know you still keep going there  —

Ann Swidler  

I didn’t go there this past summer. I haven’t been there in over a year because of the Coronavirus. I’ve been touring to different projects; I was doing a project on religious congregations and chiefs. And that’s sort of the core of my interest. Because I had studied AIDS NGOs for a long time. And I had concluded that AIDS NGOs kept trying to sort of transform lives.

Metta Spencer  

What’s GO?

Ann Swidler  

I said NGOs, nongovernmental organizations, I had been studying those. And I had concluded that they kept coming in trying to transform the lives of local people, without any lasting result. And so, you know, they would come in, they would do their projects, they would try to create a democratically elected committee to govern a village or to decide on women’s rights or something. And then the minute their money went away, everything they had been trying to accomplish, also went away. And what I noticed is that the institutions that sustain themselves, in lives of regular people were religious congregations. And their people gave their own money in order to keep their religious congregations going, and were hugely affected by the authority of their pastors or sheikhs, leaders of those congregations, and by chiefs, who also have very few legal powers, but have decisive social powers in their own villages. So I started trying to understand their authority and how that works, and how those why those institutions sustain themselves. And the kinds of institutions that we right-hearted liberals try to… import don’t sustain themselves. So … given that institutional crises seem so important in the politics of the rest of the world. It seems like a good moment to be trying to figure out how you get robust, effective institutions… 

Metta Spencer  

So, it’s really a pity that this pastor isn’t with us now, because he is… apparently a Protestant minister in Burundi, and he goes to Finland for something. And… he has a number of… NGOs that do development work. And that’s what he wants to talk about, his development work. So it’s really a very interesting that, that you’re saying that this is exactly the thing that works. Now, are you saying that these are people who support their own activities? It’s… not foreign aid… they support, they pay for their own activities? And I don’t —

Ann Swidler  

That’s my point. It’s the NGOs that don’t sustain themselves, that can’t support their activities that rely on foreign aid, and if they don’t get it, they collapse. And it’s the churches and mosques and chieftaincies that do sustain themselves. That’s what I meant. Yeah, that’s the ones that work are the ones that do that are locally supported. Yeah, the people themselves. Right. 

Metta Spencer  

Wow, that’s a pretty serious indictment of foreign aid, isn’t it? Well, critique, if you’re saying that that’s generally something you have to count on. 

Ann Swidler  

Yeah, I mean, I think, again, my focus is not really on what makes good foreign aid. So I want to back off and say, wait a minute, wait a minute. For example, Western-funded aid organizations (including Canadian organizations) support… They did boreholes, for example — Canadians really care about clean water, which is a very high priority. And they do a lot of development work — the global community, the wealthy nations, pay for basically almost 100% of the HIV drugs given in Africa, which are keeping millions of people alive. So, the idea that foreign aid is no good is — I would object completely to that… you know, increases in longevity, that they’re just the infrastructure, the healthcare is all dependent on foreign aid… I don’t think I would critique foreign aid. But I do think that the kind of fantasy that Western ordinary people like you and me might have, which is what African countries really need is someone to come in and teach gender equality in the villages, teach men to cook with their wives, come in and tell local… villagers form an NGO, do HIV prevention work… come in and… teach villagers how to have a democratic form of governance. I think almost every study (it’s not just my research, it’s every study of such interventions) shows they do not work, they do not take hold locally. And they do not become important local sources of political and social effective capacity that just don’t increase the capacity of people to get things they need or want. So they appreciate the money, that’s for sure. If… you do a training on preventing intimate partner violence, that’s the typical kind of thing they do. Everyone wants to come and do the training, because they get a little per diem as part of the training, and they might get lunch, which there is no small matter… to get chicken, for people who can’t afford to eat meat in any form, basically, ever. These are huge benefits, and they love them. But does it actually change ways of life, beliefs? The way people operate on the ground? And I would say, the answer is no. 

Metta Spencer  

Well, okay… what’s your next move? You want to shut these things down? I’m not mad, I think here, I would say, you’re concerned with us like, what, what’s the next move? What should we do? What should we do? What should we do? 

Ann Swidler  

I’m actually interested in saying, before we think about what we do, we should really understand how they operate. What is going on? How do local institutions actually function? What is it that pastors, sheikhs are doing? What is it the chiefs are doing? What are they act[ually] — not my stereotype “Oh, the chiefs are all men? So that’s bad” —  But how… Why are they such central figures? … if you want to intervene, it’s… like if you want to cure disease in a body, but you don’t know anything about physiology. You’ve never studied the circulatory system, you don’t know what the lungs are, you don’t know what the heart does, then you say, “Oh, my God, this person is ill, we should take out the heart, that will be good, that must improve things, you know, the person’s blood is too hot, that’s what’s wrong… let’s just take out the heart. Well, I think our approach to foreign aid is a little bit like that, which is, we don’t see that it’s incumbent on us to actually understand the systems we’re so confident we have a right to change.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, I’m willing to understand — now the problem is, what is it that I if I understood I would want to do I mean, I am so much a policy-oriented person, I have to decide for myself how I’m going to fix the world. And that’s all I do day and night, is trying to fix the world. And I certainly want to know how to do it right. But… don’t tell me “Don’t do anything? Well, because I might say to that —

Ann Swidler  

Well, then… that’s your problem. I would say… you can’t do that… before you start trying to fix parts of the world that are very, very different from your world — 

Metta Spencer  

Okay. I’m willing to listen. I definitely want to understand and let’s say — 

Ann Swidler  

For instance, there is this sort of growing school in development studies, that — it’s got different names, but “developmental patrimonialism” or something that says something like, it’s better to work with the kinds of institutions that already exist on the ground and work sort of within their structures, encouraging them to evolve in fruitful directions, rather than trying to displace them. Right. Okay. So that’s, that’s the kind of advice I could —

Metta Spencer  

I could absorb. I don’t, I’m not in a position to do much with it. But I can listen to that. And now, if I, okay, now, with that maxim, how would that? Could you advise any, anybody in particular about how they should change some practice, they’re actually doing?

Ann Swidler  

Well, again, since I’m an academic, and I study things… I’m not an activist… an academic. So, I don’t spend my time trying to change the things I’m studying, I try to understand them. But I would say that you could ask a question like, are chiefs, for example, more effective in what they’re trying to do, which is get clean water for their communities, repair the local roads, so that their villagers can get to and from the market… enforce what we would call property rights, which are critical to the daily lives. I mean, if somebody steals someone’s gold… in the chief’s court I went to last time I was in Malawi, in 2019. An old woman’s dog had eaten a man’s goat. And he only had two goats. So, you know, this was a pretty serious threat to his livelihood. And it’s the chief’s authority. The chief hears this in the court, adjudicates and gets the woman to explain why she can’t keep her dog under control, and so forth. But if you wanted to transform people’s lives, you would… want to preserve their access to legal, effective legal protections. And you would want to be very careful, for example. So right now, there are attempts to privatize landholding, because you have these communal lands and people farm them, but the chief gets to decide who farms which piece of land. And so, no wonder the Chiefs have a lot of power… it means that, well, the theory behind it, which is a good one, I think, is that if one family has very few children, fewer offspring, they don’t need as much land and another family has more offspring and needs more land… so he can kind of reallocate within certain traditionally understood limits. If you come in, you have a landlord that privatizes all the land… there are almost certainly huge abuses. But the second thing is, wait a minute, if you undermine all the powers of the chief, where would people get their basic access to some kind of judicial system? Where would they get somebody to prevent the locals taking sweet potatoes out of their garden, which is what they eat? I mean, a garden isn’t a decorative thing. It’s your farm, basically. So, I think in all these ways, you want to think — when you’re making changes, we don’t have modern institutions to replace, effective modern institutions, to replace these existing local institutions. So, I think you want to tread carefully, before you go, altering ways of life. And then I think you do want to think about how some kinds of interventions work with local patterns. I’ll give you a positive example — when I got to know one chief very well, I met him originally, I guess in 2018, and he’s great. I was —

Metta Spencer  

Are these hereditary, or how does a person — 

Ann Swidler  

There is a lot of negotiation within the ruling lineage about which particular individual will actually become the chief. And sometimes it’s a woman. It’s less common, but it can happen. And they often are kin. So, there’s a whole hierarchy of chiefs, and the local headman, the one who actually runs the village, is often part of the larger kin group of the higher-order group, a village headman who might be part of the kin group of the highest level, they’re called traditional authorities. But… I want to give you a positive example. I was talking with him. And I think he’s a very good chief, if you met him… he’s a tremendously sympathetic figure, I’ll just say, badly, physically disabled from childhood, chosen, I think, for his kind of wisdom. And, you know, if you asked — Why did this person who can barely drag himself from one place to another on a single crutch, and has to be lifted… to use the toilet, his wife has to put him on the bed, they don’t have toilets, but you know, they have pit latrines — Anyway, how did he become a chief, I think it’s, he really is very public-spirited. And I was asking him about his village. And he explained that the best thing that had happened were these village savings and loans. And these were originally sponsored by NGOs. They are local, sort of mutual savings associations, and they don’t require outside funding. Now, once they were promoted, and became common, people use them for everything. And it’s basically enforced saving. So, you come in, the local pressure that all these people are your relatives, and enforces rules… if you put in… the equivalent of 20 cents every week, and then in six months, you get to take out the equivalent of $20 and start a small business, that can really transform your life. So that’s the kind of intervention that can work. And it’s because it works with what are already local patterns, which is… people are highly mutually dependent. They do a lot of petty trading. So, there are opportunities for somebody, once they have a little bit of capital, they can buy a bushel of tomatoes, and then sell it as little groups of four tomatoes. On their front — they make a little thing out of sticks or kind of a platform, and then… as people walk by in the village path, they sell these little groups of tomatoes, and that can generate income that can stimulate growth in the whole village. So, if you understand local patterns, you’re more likely to be able to develop things that now — let me just, I know I’ve talked the whole time. And I haven’t said one thing that really is useful to you. But I’ll say one other thing, which is I’m puzzled by something, which is Malawi is totally deforested. There’s a huge shortage of firewood. And people do make charcoal from — they go into even protected National Forests, or wherever trees have grown a little bit. And they cut them down and they roast them to make charcoal, then they sell charcoal in little bags this big in the market. So, people can cook one meal. And yeah. And so why isn’t there — so I’ll just say that I won’t say the whole background, but I was there’s a nice restaurant in one town about two hours from where I stayed at that summer in a little rural area. And the guy who owns that restaurant showed me — he has an amazing stove, that is some kind of iron contraption, and you put one log in the bottom and it can boil gallons of water for hours on end to make the staple goop they need, a kind of porridge called “sima”… and it’s so much more efficient. So why isn’t there an NGO… using carbon credits to provide those very efficient cooking-stoves to lower, these cooking stoves or — one I saw it just uses a log, you just put a stick into it basically, on one end and it… however it’s designed, that thing burns incredibly slowly and efficiently. And it cooks a vast amount of stuff for almost no input. Since gathering wood is one of the major burdens women face, it’s the you know, it’s a really huge part of people’s… burdens and of course it’s ecologically horrible. So anyway, yeah. Okay, well, I don’t have a very good answer, that I’m not well enough informed, but I would say this.

Metta Spencer  

I’ve heard that that deforestation is really largely attributed to the desire for, to making charcoal. And yet, it’s possible to create charcoal cooking stoves that are biochar, they call it, and you can gather things like leaves and twigs and stuff and use it and to make the charcoal and at the time… I understand that… if you look at the island of Haiti, and is it what the Dominican Republic that’s on the other side, you can see the line, if you fly over, you can see one side is green, the other side’s brown, it’s just that simple. And that Haiti is just ruined because of cutting trees for charcoal. But when there was this… catastrophe there several years ago, my contribution was to pay it, to give money to a fund that was making charcoal stoves that were supposed to be extremely efficient. There’s also such a thing as solar cookers… I don’t know how good they are. I do know that that supposedly using, and also there’s another reason for not wanting charcoal… fires indoors… there’s a huge problem with lung disease and illnesses caused by cooking inside. So, these biochar stoves are supposed to be partly anyway, a good solution. I don’t know whether it’s — 

Ann Swidler  

I just said what puzzles me is — I’ve seen absolutely no — I’ve never seen such a stove, except in this restaurant run by an Italian actually… And… on the ground. in Malawi, at least, there’s no evidence of such things. So, if NGOs wanted to do something really useful, providing things that fit into the ways of life people already have… you know —

Metta Spencer  

That’s very useful information. In fact, what it will do is I will now start looking for somebody who knows more about charcoal, you know, by choice, but also try to figure out what these iron stoves they use almost no wood, because that just seemed like a miracle to me. 

Ann Swidler  

I saw this thing. 

Metta Spencer  

Well, what about the fumes? 

Ann Swidler  

So was this guy actually keeps it in it in a shed — people often cook outdoors. So, people, I mean, their houses are…. in Malawi, at least they’re these tiny mud brick huts, and they don’t cook in their houses. They cook outside their houses. There’s still a huge mess of smoke. I have to go it’s 10 o’clock. Yeah. Okay. It was very nice, great plan. 

Metta Spencer  

And I’m glad whatever accident happened… wonderful to see you and we’re going to get back to you.

Ann Swidler  

Take care, dear.

Metta Spencer  

Give me give my good wishes, everybody that I should distribute among.

Ann Swidler  

Okay.

Metta Spencer  

Thank you. Okay, bye.

WRS4. Steven Staples on Peace Quest

 

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: WRS4
Panelists: Steven Staples
Host: Metta Spencer

Date aired: 7 December 2020
Date Transcribed: 20 March 2021 / 16 April 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: David Millar and Adam Wynne

Metta Spencer  

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer. And today I get to talk with my old friend Steven Staples.

Steven Staples  

Hi Metta.

Metta Spencer  

Hi, Steve, how are you?

Steven Staples  

I’m terrific.

Metta Spencer  

That’s great. Wonderful. Yeah. Okay, Steve, I should say who you are. First time I ever heard of you had just founded something called the Rideau Institute. So, you ran that for what about 10 years? Steve, was that about right?

Steven Staples  

Well, the Rideau Institute was founded in 2006. And I was Founding President, a position I held for eight years.

Metta Spencer  

Okay. I, it seemed very impressive. I remember you did wonderful things. I remember a story where there was a press conference at Parliament and some Minister or somebody came out in this hall and gave this big briefing and they left the mic on. So as soon as he left, you ran over and commandeered the microphone and gave your own little speech to the world, which I thought was terrific.

Steven Staples  

Yeah, chutzpah goes a long way in Ottawa.

Metta Spencer  

I remember thinking that, you know, you actually became kind of the spokesman for the whole peace movement in Ottawa, because you had an office and you looked real, and you can look convincing.

Steven Staples  

It was never my intention, and I would never, I would never pretend to speak for anybody other than, you know, myself or my own organization. But during that time period, that was a hot time. You remember, 2006 was an important year, we found, at the Rideau Institute then — but also it was Stephen Harper’s first government. It was a minority government in 2006. And in Afghanistan, where Canadian troops were stationed, we moved from a largely peacekeeping role in Kabul to a warfighting standing with Operation Enduring Freedom. And we moved to Kandahar. So, it was a really important time for the peace movement effort in Canada. 

Metta Spencer  

Yeah. Actually, I don’t associate with you with Stephen Harper at all. Isn’t that funny? These are two different compartments in my mind. Anyway, it’s good to have you back here in Toronto, where you have changed hats or something. Because you no longer run the Rideau Institute. I guess you still have some affiliation with it. But the important thing that you’re doing now is something called Peace Quest, right? 

Steven Staples  

That’s right.

Metta Spencer  

And that’s what we’ll talk to you about today. Because I think of all the people, all the guys organizing things in Canada, you have the biggest flair for being able to make something interesting and splashy and colorful and something people want to participate in. So I hope to learn a little bit from you’re really a master with this.

Steven Staples  

I don’t know if that’s true. Maybe second only to this podcast, Metta.

Metta Spencer  

Well, we’ll see that there’s a future for this, maybe. And you’re gonna make it make it into a big event because we need to know more about Peace Quest. And this is the time to talk about it. Peace Quest was at Kingston, Ontario. Give us a history of who started it. And how come you inherited a thing of that kind, which I don’t think you were even connected with at first, were you?

Steven Staples  

Well, I’ve been friends with the Peace Quest folks for many years. So, you’re quite right. Peace Quest was launched by an amazing group of people as a community initiative in Kingston. And really, it was, the idea came in about 2012, around the centenary of the War of 1812. And you remember that we still had the Harper government at the time, and people were concerned that they were going to use the centenary as a way of kind of rewriting history and glorifying war. And they knew that two years later, in 2014, would be the centenary of World War One, which would be even bigger than the War of 1812. So, the bicentennial of those 200 years for the War of 1812 and 100-year anniversary of World War One. Anyway, the point being is that people want to say we want to take a role in this — and we want to say no, we don’t want this just to be a glorification of war, particularly the First World War, which was a terrible waste of life, you know very… no gain at from all. Warring families in Europe. All the wrong reasons. Terrible, terrible experience for millions of people who, who were affected and were killed. So, Peace Quest came about as a way to kind of counter that narrative. And it was based in Kingston. As I mentioned, there was other entities set up in: Peace Quest Cape Breton; there’s Peace Quest in Saskatchewan in Saskatoon; and there were a few others. And it had four themes. One was interfaith work, policy, the arts, and peace education. So those were the four main themes. And it ran its course. It did amazing work: it published books, it had concerts, sponsored youth work, just an amazing amount of work between the period of 2014 and 2018, which was the centenary of World War One. At the end, they said, well, you know, we’re kind of done. That was that was a great campaign. But you know, we built this wonderful thing, and maybe we could have somebody who would want to take it to the next stage. Now, I had been involved in, participated in their events, and I’d been collaborating with them. And so, through a very good community-based protest, I was asked to become the chairperson of a new version of Peace Quest. Slightly different, but built on the foundations, playing tribute to history with a little bit of difference now. And it’s called Peace Quest Leadership and Education Initiative. And it still has strong roots in Kingston, strong roots in the peace-education world, but it’s a different configuration, and we’re taking the work a little more broadly and exploring new areas. So. I’m really excited about it.

Metta Spencer  

Well, yes, because I always thought of Peace Quest as kind of a local initiative. In other words, everything it did was in Kingston. It didn’t aspire to be an international movement or anything of that kind. Or even a Canada-wide one. As far as I know. It was a group of people in a local community who did amazing work. And I actually didn’t know very many of them. I think I know Jamie Swift a little bit. How many other people should I’ve known from that group? Are there other people that —

Steven Staples  

There was an amazing group: [Sister of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul] Sister Pauline Lally was a co-founder with Jamie Swift. Michael Cooke was also involved. He was actually one of the original founders of Project Ploughshares. There was a lot of people from the education community: Judy Wyatt and Ann Boniferro, Bronek Korczynski, and many other people who were involved in the arts community, in the peace community, and in education. So Peace Quest has a very strong education role in it, which Metta, as you know, I did 20 years of hard labor in Ottawa, doing big policy battles. And then before that, I was an organizer for 10 years on the West Coast in Vancouver, where, you know, we would face off against nuclear submarines in Washington State.

Metta Spencer  

It was your organization out there, because that was before we were acquainted. I knew your name, But, I don’t even remember what group you were running in Vancouver.

Steven Staples  

Back in the 90s, it was a peace group based in Vancouver called End the Arms Race.

Metta Spencer  

Oh, so that was, okay. Well, that was the main outfit in Vancouver, right? I didn’t realize. 

Steven Staples  

It was. It was a coalition of labor organizations and community organizations. And I had some wonderful, wonderful mentors and I was being trained. I was a much younger guy. And I had, it was a great experience. And then and then toward the end of the 90s, I was an organizer for Maude Barlow and the Council of Canadians. And I opened up the Council of Canadians’ first office outside of Ottawa, and it was based in Vancouver, where I was an organizer for the Council and set up chapters around the province and was part of the Canadian contingent that went to the big “Battle of Seattle” and the World Trade Organization in 1999. 

Metta Spencer  

Does End the Arms Race still exist as such?

Steven Staples  

No.

Metta Spencer  

Okay. But Peace Quest does. So, let’s go back to Peace Quest.

Steven Staples  

Well, I think it’s an exciting time, actually Metta, because some groups in End the Arms Race…. I think it kind of dissolved in the early 2000s. I think it was probably about time. But as you see, organizations have lifespans, and they have life cycles. Movements have life cycles too. I mean, they may not disappear, but they wax and wane as conditions change. I’ve certainly I’m old enough now, to have seen the movement go… as you know, we all are aware that we could probably say we can see different times through the emotion of it. And actually, that’s one of the things that I’m very interested in now that I’m in my 50s. I’m a little bit of an older guy. How movements transcend from one generation to the next. It’s very important and the peace movement right now is going through a real moment, in terms of older leadership being transferred to the younger people and new peace groups are being set up now, which is really exciting, and I’m interested in education and working with young people to get their organization started, just like people helped me back in the 1990s and in the 2000s.

Metta Spencer  

Wonderful. Well, okay, so how are you gonna go about that? I understand you have a regular job at York University. 

Steven Staples  

I’m actually a graduate student at York. And I do research there as well. And so yeah, so I do a little bit of work. I also work with other organizations in terms of fundraising and things like that. And do Peace Quest, so I’m a pretty busy guy. Yeah.

Metta Spencer  

Yeah, yeah, sure. Well, tell me what your degree is and what you’re working toward as a graduate student.

Steven Staples  

I’m doing a Master’s of Leadership and Community Engagement at the Faculty of Graduate Studies, but it’s kind of rooted in —

Metta Spencer  

You could be teaching that course, man. And you’re taking that course?

Steven Staples  

It’s, it’s awesome. It’s awesome that I am not the oldest person in the class. I’m second oldest at 54.

Metta Spencer  

No, that’s not my point of view, it’s your experience. Because I bet you whoever’s teaching that course. You have, you could run circles around that person. I don’t know who that is. I apologize if I’ve offended. But your own background is quite stellar. 

Steven Staples  

Well, I’ve had a great opportunity to do a lot of things. But, it’s important, though, to have the theory, as you know, being an academic yourself, that’s the theory is important. And people like activists, folks like me, and many others. You know, there’s not many opportunities to do the book learning side of things. It’s really a question of trial and error.

Metta Spencer  

 Oh, come on. I’m not sure that I can remember anything from my academic career, that is particularly helpful for me now doing the work that I do. So if you can say that you’re really learning something that’s useful, please put me back in touch with my roots. (Steven chuckles) I don’t remember it with any great sense that, you know, I can refer to that as a source of, of guidance. Do you think you’re learning something that’s useful?

Steven Staples  

Oh, absolutely. Yes, thanks. Sometimes I’ve been sitting there thinking, you know, as we as we’re going through the lectures, or I’m doing some of the readings around policy development, things like that, or different campaigns that I go, “Oh, that’s why when I tried doing that thing, that time, and it didn’t work.” And it’s like, had I read this, maybe I would have done things a little bit differently. So, there’s a great, great benefit to it. But also, there’s other benefits too, Metta. I’m learning with a wonderful cohort of 30 other millennials, early career professionals, many of whom are involved in other social movements, or in education, and the insight and things that I’m learning from the next generation of activists coming up, is… that’s just as useful to me as anything I’m reading in those textbooks.

Metta Spencer  

 Oh, well that’s really good to know. That’s very encouraging. Yeah, they’re playing to me. Maybe I can sneak in and sit in the back row someday? No, I bet you don’t even hold the classes, are you? You’re probably doing it all by Zoom.

Steven Staples  

It’s all on Zoom, yes. So, which is quite interesting, because also learning the pedagogy of doing digital education is fascinating as well.  

Metta Spencer  

You were actually, a few months ago, I know you offered free lessons on how to Zoom. And you had quite a following. I attended one of them.  I still have things I need to learn about Zoom, but at any rate you gave a great course for anyone that wanted to learn how to use it.

Steven Staples  

Well, I did. In part, I was lying in bed one morning, with the silence of COVID all around us. It must have been late March. And I was thinking, what are we going to… what does all this mean for our work? You know, how are things changing? And what contribution can I possibly do in this situation when we’re all in lockdown? And so, I came to realize, as activists as a community of activists, we’re going to need to figure out a whole new way of engaging with our supporters, of talking amongst ourselves. Our essential work in peace is going to have to continue no matter what. So, I knew that we were going to have to learn a new language of digital communication in order to keep the movement going. Because movements must adapt to different circumstances. And I thought, this is just another moment of adaptation. And I think that I can probably teach people how to do this in order to keep the movement going. And I taught over 700 people through 25 workshops.

Metta Spencer  

Oh, that was a lot more than I knew of, good. Well, you know what I think in some ways, it’s really a blessing. It is not just a useful way to make up for the fact that we don’t get to do the things that we’re used to. It’s not always better. The thing is, I have a much more transnational orientation, I think Canadian activism, by and large is rather parochial. Canadians only can think of, as far as the boundaries of Canada go, and don’t really think very much in terms of being a world leader, and taking on a movement or challenge that has to be global in scope. So, but I don’t think very Canadian-ly, and I do have a lot of friends in other countries, and I want to talk to them. So, the blessing of Zoom is it doesn’t matter. I mean, you could be in South Africa, you could be in Siberia, you could be in the middle of Australia, and just participate in a conversation, as we’re doing right now. As well as you, who are right here in town as you are. So that, I think, is going to nudge us into thinking beyond borders. And I don’t see why we haven’t already, but now there’s no excuse to just be limited in our perspective to a Canadian only. In fact, we don’t even have Canadian only, as you know, I just asked you whether End the Arms Race still exists. it was a major Vancouver and West Coast movement. And I the fact that I had to ask whether it still exists, is another indication of the fact that even various parts of Canada are not in touch with each other as much as we ought to be. So, you know, I don’t know that many people in BC and I don’t know them well, of course I wouldn’t have met them mostly. But, I think, we can meet now and we should, and this does definitely mean that we can go past some of the limitations that we’ve normally had meetings in person. And some people miss that a lot. Doug Roche wrote an article for Peace Magazine lamenting Zoom. As if poor Zoom was to blame. I mean, he said, he likes to hug people, and he can’t hug people on Zoom. Well, yeah, that’s a limitation. But everything else is pretty good. I think it works reasonably well; don’t you think? 

Steven Staples  

I think for anything there’s advantages and disadvantages, and it’s still way too early to be able to say definitively, you know, in a final word of whether this is good or bad. I can certainly think of some good examples. For instance, when I’m also part of a Toronto-based group called Hiroshima-Nagasaki Day Coalition, which does an event every year down at Nathan Phillips Square on Hiroshima day on August 6, commemorating the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Well, this year, they had to move everything online, because that’s just the way it was, it was COVID. But suddenly, we realized that, wow, this audience that we used to just have a few 100 people in the square was much greater now by putting it online. So the reach of that event suddenly became part of an international discussion, which I think was really exciting. However, there is a downside too – many of those people that I trained on zoom involved, not just donors and activists, but also organizers, people in organizations. And about eight weeks ago, I did a post-survey. So, it would have been the late summer saying:  “What’s your experience been, has it been positive or negative? Do you feel that your community engagement has been impacted at all?” By and large, most individuals felt quite positive about it, they felt that things were okay. And they still felt connected. Most organizations also felt positive, but there was a definitive, greater sense of uncertainty about how effective it was. So the effectiveness of it has yet to be determined, I think. 

Metta Spencer  

Compared to what though? What would you…?  I would wonder how to judge effectiveness anyway? I mean, you know, as a former professor, I remember, you know, planting a hell of a lot of seeds in my life, many 1000s of students that was planting seeds in, and once they were out of the course, I never saw them again. So, you never have the feeling of confidence that what you were doing really had any impact, or any lasting effect. That’s true for education in general, I think. But for Peace Magazine, which I have been editing for 38 years or something like that – nobody dislikes it, nobody complains about it. How much good is it doing? I don’t know. I think you anyway have to, sort of just do it out of faith that you’re doing the best, you know what to do? You think that it ought to make a difference and you have faith that maybe somehow you are making a difference. And of course, if you get any negative feedback, you take that into account. But I don’t really have any idea how I would know, whether even this what we’re gonna do today or doing today… Is that going to do anybody any good in the world? I don’t know. But let’s do it anyway. It’s fun.

Steven Staples  

Well, I’m totally with you there, I’m not one to rule out yet. Doing a video is a tactic. You know, I’ve been involved in enough policy debates, and know that sometimes when we engage with trying to address an issue, and move it in a certain way, we have our own idea of how that’s going to unfold, how, what does, how is that story gonna play out? Right? And so many times, though, it doesn’t work that way. And you arrive at your endpoint, you achieve your win, but from a completely different direction. And you kind of go, “Oh Cool, I think we’ve won, have we won?” I mean, that’s one of the things.

Metta Spencer  

Are we there yet, Daddy? (laughs) 

Steven Staples  

Things happen all the time in unexpected ways and we can’t predict it. And so sometimes you’ve just got to start different initiatives. But asking really good questions. And this is one of the things that I’m particularly interested in. I don’t like to leave things totally… [unclear audio]… I need to know that when I have such limited resources, and when you’re in Ottawa, when I was running the Rideau Institute, I had so limited resources, I didn’t have time to do things wrong, I really felt like I didn’t have the latitude to make mistakes, I had to really get it right. So, in order to be effective. So, I need to do my best educated guess, in using data, using analysis and mixed with some intuition, as well, to get a sense of what is going to work. So now we’re talking about: how do we create the next generation of activists? Well, how does that happen? And this is what brings us full circle back to what I was mentioning earlier. How do social movements transcend from one generation to the next? All of the big social movement have had to do it, whether it’s slavery, or women’s rights, or all these things?

Metta Spencer  

I don’t believe in any of it. I have a completely different take on how, and the issue… I’ve never been in an organization that didn’t have at some point, and often every day, conversation about “how do we get young people into our movement?” As if without young people coming in is the end of the story? No. Young people if they’re going to do anything, they’ll do it on their own, they want to do their own, that’s what being young means, trying to get away from Mommy and Daddy, and do something independently. So, movements, like, you know, the climate-change movements that are youth-led, are really youth-led, and bless their hearts — go for it kids — terrific, — if we can support you, we will — but it’s yours. That’s great. Let them do it. They are not interested in joining an organization full of old people. However, that doesn’t mean that’s the end of the story. How do we get our replenishment of members? From other old people or other people, rather, who are about to become old. The best time to recruit somebody to the peace movement is when they turn 65 because then they’re about to retire, and they’re going to have lots of free time. And they have lots of smarts and lots of background and lots of information still in their heads, and some of them can still run around the block. So that’s the time you want to get somebody into your movement. And that’s where I get all of the people who work with me. Everybody on the editorial committee of Peace Magazine has gray hair. That’s because that’s when they’re ready to enter the peace movement again. Young people will join, maybe, will look around for a year or so. But they’re going to go on and do something different. And then when they get to be 65, then they’ll come back or they’ll come off to a different kind of organization. So, I think this thing about having to say we have to pass it to the next generation or it’ll die. That’s nonsense. We just get the next batch of old people. There’s always a funnel of old people coming through. So, you know, hang in there in a few years, Steve, you’re going to be ready for me to recruit you! (chuckles) 

Steven Staples  

I look forward to that day.

Metta Spencer  

Tell me, let’s go back to talking a little bit about Peace Quest before we end because I want to hear your aspirations. What are you going to do with this outfit now that you own it?

Steven Staples  

Well, I don’t own it, we have a board. One of the things we’ve done, it was really kind of a kind of campaign structure originally. I had a four-year lifespan, certain set… a very specific goal. That’s really a campaign, as opposed to an organization, I would say. And so now we’ve kind of gone back, we’ve registered it, we have a board, we’re trying to put it together in sort of more firm footing, building on the basis that was there. Going forward, it’s still very new. But I think certainly I’m interested in the education aspect. And seeing where peace education fits. I look at the peace movement right now in Canada and even internationally. One thing, I don’t want to create another organization or be part of another organization that’s just duplicating things that other people are doing, and probably doing better than me, than I would. So what are the areas? Where are the gaps right now in the peace movement? And when I talk to people, when I ask their advice, education does seem to be one of the areas where we do not have a strong presence, whether it be working with teachers, whether it be going into schools, if we talk Kindergarten to Grade 12, or even in some cases, doing mentorship and early career-coaching for young professionals. At the Rideau Institute we did have a fairly robust internship program. And that’s continued on, and we have interns all over Ottawa, in organizations all over Canada, even after just a fairly short time of less than 10 years. But I’m interested in K-12 because I actually am a teacher, and I was trained as a teacher. And so, I’m interested in looking at what we can do in terms of focusing on that peace education. There’s also going to be some policy work. I also see adult education as part of that and advocacy and organizing. So, there’ll be those elements as well. But I think those are the two areas where there will be certainly some kind of campaigning and organizing. But also, I want peace education to be an important part of it.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, good. What about post-secondary education?

Steven Staples  

Absolutely. So, that’s a bit of a different kettle of fish. But I think there’s certainly opportunities for experiential education for people involved in looking for early career work. My view, Metta, maybe is a little bit different than yours. I mean, certainly, you know, the over-65 crowd is essential and important, everybody’s important. But my view is to really bring in the next generation:  jobs are key.  We need to find people jobs in the peace movement. We need to teach them how to fish, not just give them fish. And I know that was important for me, and we all kind of draw from our own experience. But I had a job and I learned on the job. And I became, you know, it became a profession, not a volunteer, not a hobby. If you look at other movements, like the environmental movement, there are 1000s of people who go out and earn a paycheck every day trying to protect the environment. Well, we need a lot more people earning a paycheck every day trying to work for peace.

Metta Spencer  

Absolutely. My grievance is that, I mean, I ran a peace and conflict program at the University of Toronto, I founded it and ran it for 15 years before I retired. And then of course, they retired the program because there was only me, and that was okay with me, because I knew that if they kept it going, they would get somebody who really didn’t know anything about it. And it wouldn’t be a very good program. So, I’d rather have it die. But nevertheless, my point is I kept on teaching afterwards. For several years, I kept giving a free course on nuclear issues: nuclear power and mostly nuclear weapons. I felt it was very distressing that there wasn’t a single course at the University of Toronto on nuclear weapons. I’m not sure what you could take on nuclear power, but I think probably in, you know, engineering and places like that you could take courses. But as it stands now, the University doesn’t offer courses on nuclear weapons, never has, and as far as I can tell, never intends to, which is really, really sad. Because, you know, that’s something that a student should even be able to major in, much less — you know, just get one course in. So, you know, I think that may be one of the things that we could do by way of fostering real peace education is to lobby universities and even community colleges and other institutions of post-secondary education to give courses on nuclear weapons and the nuclear threat. I don’t know how to do that. But if you know of any way, let’s talk about it. What do you know about that? 

Steven Staples  

Actually, there are quite a few Peace and Conflict programs in Canada, they are not… really, I mean, working in the peace movement myself for many years, I never felt very connected to those groups. And I was kind of surprised, actually, to learn that there were so many out there. So, I think that’s certainly an area you want to look at. You mentioned post-secondary education, whether it can be linked up with social movements. I do know, there’s some work being done at the University of Cape Breton on nuclear weapons. So, you find pockets of these things. 

Metta Spencer  

That’s really quite rare

Steven Staples  

Maybe Zoom has provided us an opportunity to reach out and find these courses. And, what they say, we can amplify them, now using the technology. That’s really exciting.

Metta Spencer  

Well, it’s terrific. I’m just delighted that you’re doing this, Steve and we ought to have a conversation like this once a month to find out what you’re doing and what everybody else is doing. Because you… we both have our fingers to the pulse of various peace groups in Canada. And I wish you all good luck and good wishes for the success of Peace Quest and we’ll stay in touch. All right.

Steven Staples  

Thanks, Metta. I look forward to seeing more of your [Project] Save the World programs. You’re doing great education work, you’re a real inspiration.

Metta Spencer  

Thanks so much, Steve. Take care. Bye.

T159. A World of Migrants

 

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 159
Panelists: Subha Xavier 
Host: Metta Spencer

Date aired: 11 January 2021
Date Transcribed: 11 April 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: David Millar

Metta Spencer  

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer, today we have a conversation coming up about migration. And as you probably are aware, immigration is one of the big hot button issues of the day, not only in the US, although certainly especially in the US. And migration worldwide is seeming to be one of the issues that have provoked a lot of votes. Those folks who are, I guess we can call them, right-wing populist movements around the world. And so, we have to think, very broadly, about what the… transfer of population from one region of the world to another is going to mean to us in the future and what it already is meaning, in terms of the politics of different countries. And this today, I’m going to have a conversation with I have to say, a, a woman I’ve known since she was about eight years old? A very dear friend… Subha Xavier is in Atlanta. And hi… how are you dear?

Subha Xavier  

I am well, thank you. 

Metta Spencer  

— Excellent, because I’m so thrilled at what you have accomplished, you and your friends in Atlanta, have recently accomplished by going out and going door to door and in inducing voters to… you found people whose ballots had been invalidated, and took it to them and said, straighten this, clean this up so you can vote. So, you won. Yeah,

Subha Xavier  

We did. It was really exciting. And they call it securing ballots, which I think I love that word because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. And at some point, it said on social media that I was happy to be part of any type of cure in this current climate. Um, so yeah, we were knocking on doors and helping people correct, secure their ballots. And it made a difference. In the end —

Metta Spencer  

Did, you got…two senators, who are Democrats who are going to the new Congress, and … I went to bed at something like 12.30, or 1 o’clock, feeling fairly happy about the result of that. And then I didn’t watch the news again, for almost 24 hours, or at least a number of hours. And in the meantime, what had happened was this insurrection in the Capitol? So, it’s almost as if this extremely important piece of news about what had been accomplished in Atlanta got sidelined by the more photogenic activities that were going on at the Capitol Building. Yeah.

Subha Xavier  

It’s a good way to put it sort of photogenic. What is photogenic these days? You know, what do we like to see? And what attracts our attention and our news cycle?

Metta Spencer  

It’s not just today, it’s always been blood and gut… if it bleeds, it leads. But it is important, I in no way want to dismiss the extreme importance of this insurrection. But what you did is also really commendable. You folks,

Subha Xavier  

I think it’s important to make the connection between the two, I do think that many people on both sides knew Georgia was going blue, all the signs were pointing towards it. The numbers were pointing towards it, the Poles were pointing towards it, everyone on the ground knew we had enough registered Democratic voters to win this election. And this went off. And I cannot underestimate and we cannot underestimate the importance of that news. And the impact of that news on the people who decided that interaction was the way to go. Because I think what we saw was people terrified of the change that is coming and wanting to hold on to a status quo that you and I both know, cannot last, just cannot last. And so, you know, I think Georgia was a key component in the motivations of these people. I —

Metta Spencer  

— Some of the, you know, pundits that I was watching said, Well, this is a wonderful fluke, but Georgia is still a red state and hasn’t changed. Now. I don’t know what that means. Except that they obviously don’t mean don’t believe that in the future we’ll necessarily predict further moves towards it. 

Subha Xavier  

Honestly, I think they’re wrong. I think Georgia in its population and its demographics has changed drastically, drastically in the last 10 years. And I think largely, that’s because of black voters coming out to vote and feeling for the first time that they are not disenfranchised, that they can make a difference. But most importantly, I think it’s —

Metta Spencer  

Quit touching something that bangs on your mic. Oh, I don’t know what whether you’re, I don’t know what you’re doing that sound anyway.

Subha Xavier  

…But I do think… there are huge immigrant populations that have moved to the Atlanta area and the surrounding areas. And let’s face it, that the election was won because of the Atlanta counties and the counties surrounding us. It was not won in those other counties all around this, I mean, Atlanta is hugely populated, and we made the difference, and that population is not going anywhere. So, at best, I would say it’s a purple state. But I am actually confident because of the effort of people like Stacey Abrams, and Tamieka Atkins and others who’ve been… grassroots, just working nonstop for the last 10 years. I think they have actually changed the state. Wow, blue, I really do believe we’re more blue than purple. But you know, for the pundits’ sake, I will say okay, maybe we’re purple then. But we’re certainly no longer red. I think they got that wrong.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, well, okay. And another factor has to do with, you’ve already pointed to the rural/urban differential, I’ve been looking at, I was looking at exit polls and these huge gap between rural and urban, in preference for Biden or the person whose name will not be uttered. Good.

Subha Xavier  

Okay, I think that’s very true. You know, when we were securing ballots and volunteering, they were constantly asking us if we would drive out to other further away counties, to do this kind of work to try to make sure that those ballots counted. So, we think that’s really important, too, because, yes, the urban population of Georgia is perhaps more inclined to vote red and has always been inclined to vote Republican, but they’re always and continue to be Democrats in the rural populations as well. And if we were asked to be volunteers there, it’s because they’re there, and they’re feeling heavily disenfranchised. And I was, I was just over New Year’s Eve, I was actually in Hancock County, which going there, as I looked around, I was convinced it must be a very white county. And yet I found out it was most majority black. So, you have these rural counties that are also very African-American, and where people maybe just didn’t vote, or didn’t feel like their vote counted, or are intimidated when they go to the polling stations. And it was on the national news, you know, suddenly because Georgia was on CNN, we got that on the national news. And… we saw, in fact, that a place like Hancock County, completely rural, beautiful, but completely rural and very kind of disengaged, you would think, from federal and state politics is not, and that there are in fact, all these Democratic voters waiting to vote and waiting to be enabled to vote. And I think that was one of the big changes we saw.

Metta Spencer  

And I know you said I believe that the votes that had been thrown out as not eligible somehow, and I’d be interested in knowing more about what, what disqualified a particular ballot, but that they sent, they were disproportionately black votes. ballots. Okay. So, so you were pursuing black voters, mostly right. And —

Subha Xavier  

In the vast majority, yeah… the experience was very gratifying. But it was also very sad, you know, many of the voters that whose ballots we secured were elderly people who were sick, and who, perhaps whose signature, maybe because their hands were shaking their signature on the ballot… didn’t match with their original signature when they registered to vote, who knows how many years ago, decades ago, perhaps some of them the saddest ones were people who’d gone blind since they’d registered to vote. And they’d had to have somebody help them with their signature. Now, what they didn’t know is that they could have had somebody sign in their place. But these things are not necessarily very legible on a ballot. You don’t… know, you may have to do your research to know, so… you don’t do that, you are blind and… somebody tells you here’s the line, sign on this line. You don’t sign properly. You don’t sign in the exact match for the way you signed before, and the ballot was invalidated. So yeah, the vast majority were black… of ballots that I secured, were also black women. There were also a lot of young people, like 18-year-olds, of every ethnic background, who were just neglectful with the way they did their ballot, and who just kind of threw it in there. And who we had to go help, because their signature wasn’t matching, or they had not, you know… coloured in the circle properly. So it was kind of the two extremes. But yes, I think the vast majority of voters who needed their ballots secured, or at least in my experience, of course anecdotal, were black. And I will also say that when they saw me at the door, versus my husband at the door, who is white-skinned, and when they saw me, they would open the door, but whenever we would go together… they wouldn’t open the door. So, we figured out that he needed to stay in the car, and I needed to go to the door, and I would sometimes see one of my kids, and they would, you know, open the door that would vary. So again, that also shows you something about… fear and trust, in the sense that… these are voters that have been disenfranchised their entire lives, and they don’t know who to believe anymore. And the fact that we had leaders on the ground… whose goal only goal was to bring them back in was just inspiring. And …like you said … before, I think this needs to be part of that new cycle. And it’s not sufficiently in, the new cycle – that we need to be talking about this. And I do think these kinds of things scare white supremacist voters more than anything else, when we empower the very people who they believe have sort of taken away their power, their so-called power – right there. Imagined, imagined power really,

Metta Spencer  

Would you have run into hostility from say, neighbours who didn’t like what you were doing?

Subha Xavier  

Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, I’m very careful. I live kind of in suburban Georgia and in Atlanta, and I’m very careful. I mean, I didn’t I didn’t leave my house for five days after the election. Not even to walk my dog. I just I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t feel after Biden’s election… didn’t feel safe. Because of the way people look at me, you know, and the way I get kind of stared down and there’s

Metta Spencer  

Isn’t, you say brown skin? What is it that or is it that they saw you with a… Biden sign or something and they… realizes what you were doing and didn’t like it?

Subha Xavier  

Well, we have we have Biden and Warnock and all those signs in our yard… more importantly, we have Kamala Harris signs in our yard. We have. So yes. I mean, I think it’s all of that. I think, yes, we have these we had huge securing when you secure ballots, you have all this paperwork that is very clearly Democrat. So yeah, I mean, I was I was very careful. I was, I’m just aware, I do get stares, I get racist slurs, you know, at least regularly, I would say, you know, I mean, it’s, I think we live in a time and a state that is more openly racist. And when people who are racist, are kind of given permission.

Metta Spencer  

 Right. Right.

Subha Xavier  

I mean, this is why I think he whom we shall not name is profoundly responsible because he has really emboldened people to do and see things that ordinarily they never would – there’s a part of me that thinks, well, I would rather them out themselves than not. Because in some ways when they ask themselves, it’s not only I who see it, but others see it around me as well. And that’s important, right? There’s so much racism that is kind of hidden behind closed doors that we see, for example, in the academy all the time… the ways in which racism is something we… experience, and yet we don’t show it, we don’t speak it out loud. So there is to me, a part of the way in which this particular administration has emboldened people to speak their… prejudice out loud. Part of me has been relieved by that because at least it’s for all… ears to hear and all eyes to see. and not only targeted this very pointed, careful way at people like me, or who look like me… I am an optimist, you know, I really am… an optimist means that I see all this as leading to some greater good…, I sort of think that even this kind of insurrection is… I like the fact that we all got to see it. Because otherwise, it’s often people like me who see it. but here it was the whole world — We all got to — glance on it for I don’t know how long it went on, because I didn’t watch it. But the others they watched it. And I think it’s great that they watched it. You know, I think that is exactly what you need. Watch it, and realize that this is what goes on in this country every single day.

Metta Spencer  

… I don’t know whether say it’s a blessing to me, but… I never see it. You know, I would never. And when, you know, I think your mother said that. Yes, she encounters it. And I was startled. You know, that was a number of years ago. Yeah, racism here in Toronto. But what happens? You know, I don’t see it. And I’m always astonished when it occurs. Yeah. And by the way, you said you take… one of your two children to the door of a black family, and they’ll let you in.

Subha Xavier  

I take both of them. I take both of them. Yes.

Metta Spencer  

But if they were blonde, would it make any difference?

Subha Xavier  

That’s a good point. I mean, I think children are less intimidating, no matter what. So I think that there’s something you know, when you see a woman with a child, you don’t think that they’re here to somehow intimidate you, right?

Metta Spencer  

These families that you’re going to the door, you they don’t see you as black, your Sri Lankan. They must know that you’re not black, but what do they think of you? Does it but you say it helps that you?

Subha Xavier  

I think it does, because I single-handedly secured more ballots than most of the volunteers. I mean, and it just happened that way. I did. It wasn’t planned.

Metta Spencer  

You’re a forceful personality.

Subha Xavier  

Yes. But at the same time, I think I’m… a less intimidating presence at a door. And I don’t blame them for it. Because if I was alone at home, and somebody knocked on the door, you know, in suburban Georgia, I mean, I’d think twice before opening the door… So, I do think that that has something to do with it … I don’t know if necessarily, they know what my ethnic identity is, per se. But I think seeing a small brown woman at your door is just, quite frankly, less irritating. Okay. And it tells you a little more about the sort of racial climate in the state than anything else.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, let’s talk more generally about that because part of the explanation you’ve already given is that lots of migrants are coming into Georgia. And I understand that there’s a significant change… in the demographics of the whole state, to really make a difference. So, who are these migrants? Where are they coming from? And what do they have in common? Or are they similar enough to even say they have anything in common politically? What can we say about the migrants around your part of the world? Maybe not. I know, you also lived in Miami, before you moved to Atlanta, I should have introduced you properly, by saying that you teach French and Francophone studies and migrant studies at Emory University in Atlanta, which is an excellent university and populated by excellent professors such as yourself, and I’m very proud of you. Oh, so… what’s different about Miami and Atlanta as you move from one to the other?

Subha Xavier  

Yeah… what we are witnessing in this country is the growing political presence of immigrant populations. And I think that’s really important to frame that way. That immigrant population, you know, this is a country of immigrants. You hear that being said all the time, and Canada is a country of immigrants as well, you know, most countries in the West are today, more and more and increasingly countries of immigrants, so they have always been there. But now slowly, they are becoming a political presence, a presence and that by that, I mean, their vote is swaying the way large groups of people are voting. And I do think that in Atlanta, what’s really unique to the Atlanta region is that it is a majority largely black African American, Atlanta region, and then all these suburban or rural areas… other cities that are less black overall… Even though like I said, I think that that demographic too… has to be revisited. And then you have… the major urban areas… immigrants who have been pouring in for the last, you know, easily 30 years in significant numbers. So, yes, they’ve been here all along. But in significant numbers, I would say that maybe in the last 30 to 40 years, that has changed dramatically. So there, I think, from everywhere, but what we have in Atlanta, we have a significant growing Hispanic population, not at all comparable to what we had in Miami, but a growing Hispanic population from various parts of Latin America. Significantly, I would say that I have noticed in my work with migrants in the city, that we have a growing population of Puerto Ricans, that we have a growing population of Mexicans, that we have a growing population of Venezuelans, we have Salvadorans… Brazilian…  as well, Indians have often been attracted again, or something,

Metta Spencer  

something’s bumping the mic.

Subha Xavier  

Oh, the microphone. I’m sorry. It shouldn’t hurt.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, I don’t know what’s happening. So anyway, I can edit it out.

Subha Xavier  

… there’s a huge Indian population here has always been one. And then there’s a significant African population here that’s growing. That that I’ve been working with, through my work at Emory as well, from Sudan, from Rwanda, from the Congo. And then there’s the Asian population and a great big population of Vietnamese, Koreans, there’s a whole area that’s very close to where we live called Buford highway, it’s… known as the immigrant part of Atlanta. And it’s known for its incredible cuisine, you know, and you have every possible restaurant and supermarket, and you can get any Asian food possible… but they’re also very Latin, it’s also very Hispanic and Latinx. And that too, is a positive, these are populations that have been very important and growing in the Atlanta area. So, I think it’s incredible, and that you have this diversity of population, what they have in common… is that they’re relative newcomers, that they have all of the issues that immigrants face from one generation to the other, this dramatic difference in the way they are integrated into life, from one generation to the other. I’m… obviously one of those cases in point. You know, my work talks a lot about how they are caught between… resistance and exploitation, they’re both exploited for their labor, for what they can bring, their cuisine… all the wonderful ethnic things that they bring in, they enrich our lives — then they’re exploited at the same time, because they’re treated with prejudice. And so they’re always kind of resisting, and at the same time looking to integrate, and in some ways, they’re accused of selling out, because… some of them integrate so much. And they they’re accused of betrayal, because they leave behind cultural… language… cultural practices, sometimes… religion, and these things are often deemed unforgiveable. You know, this is what the literature… I’m a professor of literature, and that’s what this is, what the art — 

Metta Spencer  

introduce you that way too. I didn’t say… Your research has to do with the literary production of people into Francophone countries. Yes. from elsewhere, from non- Francophone countries. All of them are migrants, and you’re dealing with migrant literature. In fact, I think the title of your book had some refers to the word migrant,

Subha Xavier  

Migrant texts, making and marketing a global French literature. And so yeah, it’s really about how this literature this and their cultural production gives us real insight into the ways in which they inhabit the spaces and all the spaces right the political spaces, but also the cultural spaces and the economic spaces. And I think what they have in common is the way in which they’re constantly negotiating different cultures, different language. different expectations and different politics. I mean, they listened to what you had Maria Puerto Rivera, on your show, you know, and I enjoyed it, because it did that it that’s exactly what she’s talking about the kind of negotiating politics between Trump and Guido and just kind of what, where we, where they land is interesting, because she actually said, they kind of turn into pretzels of sword. And I thought, what a wonderful image because I truly think that’s what it’s like to be a migrant, you know, you’re, you’re kind of pressing your body around, to try to, you know, meet all these different expectations and all these different standards that are held up to you. And invariably, you’re going to fail to meet somebody standard and somebody’s expectation, right. That’s what they share in common.

Metta Spencer  

But what you also have taught in Paris, your university sends you as kind of a mother in long with some students to spend a year or two and in Paris, and you were there recently, and I believe that then you have a really good opportunity to compare what migration is like for the people landing in Paris, the situation of people landing in Atlanta or Miami? Is, is there a difference in the way? France treats migrants? They’ve certainly had some disturbing riots and just, you know, events, protest movements of, I guess, mostly North African immigrants to France, in in the past years. I’m not sure that I’ve heard of any in the last two or three years. But at any rate is there anything you can say about how, how different countries process immigrants? And whether there’s a whether it makes any difference in their experience?

Subha Xavier  

Yeah, I mean, I, in many ways, no two countries seem to handle immigrants like, but I do think there’s always a populist, extreme right-wing version of immigration that many of these countries share, as we know, England, the US, Canada to some extent, and certainly France and Germany. I mean, we they all have a there’s always a rightwing extremist narrative of belonging and nationhood that always needs the migrants — you know, this is something I write about — in that nationalism and migrant populations go together. Right when… migrant populations increase, nationalism increases. And I think what’s important to note is that the story that each tells goes alongside with it, so the migrants’ story, and the story of immigration goes alongside with the… national… story. And the nation story is one that has to make sense of the migrants, they have to either dissolve them into themselves, or they have to posit that as the enemy. And as you see today… that is often how it works. So… that framework… if I can call it a narrative framework, is true… across the board, in terms of that extreme… nationalist narrative, … but the migrant, the immigrant is always part of that narrative. And I think that’s telling, … because it tells you that immigrants are sort of the unresolvable problem… to the nation state as we have —

Metta Spencer  

You know… your simple equation is an obvious one, but I’ve never actually put it that – simply where you have… immigration, you have nationalism… I hadn’t thought about it. Is that always true? 

Subha Xavier  

In all the cases I’ve studied, it’s been true. I mean, it’s just… a numbers game like … nationalist rhetoric increases. Even in Quebec, it was true, because I studied Quebec as well. And even in Quebec, it was true, because the 70s was this key moment in Quebec nationalism, and the 70s is when the immigration immigrant population just went like this… they were next to nonexistent till that time, they were very small, and suddenly they became a presence. And again, when you have this presence, that you can’t quite dissolve.

Metta Spencer  

You’re making me unhappy because… if you say that generally holds up… the future is not too bright, we’ll close with global warming, we’re going to have a whole lot more migration with multiple times as much migration as we have now. I mean, the whole country of Bangladesh is going to have to evacuate… And these small… islands in the Pacific and so on are going to be inundated. And God knows where else, I think Lower Manhattan is going to have to evacuated.

Subha Xavier  

Florida is going to be non-existent.

Metta Spencer  

All of these, these populations are going to be on the move, big time. And I hadn’t thought about that. There’s sort of like an equation that you calculate — how much nationalism you’re going to have… this is very un-pleasant. I hope you’re wrong. But maybe you, maybe it holds up? I don’t know, I never thought about it quite that quite that way.

Subha Xavier  

As I do… that is my prediction. I will stand by it. I really do think and you know, whether or not we are comforted or discomforted by that reality, I think we need to be aware of that reality. I think we need to, and we need to respond to that reality. I think in places like the US what’s fascinating is to look at Georgia as a really good example of … what that means politically, because what you have is, if you have more and more migrants in a place like Georgia, well, they’re going to vote differently. And they’re going to be a different kind of political entity. And that also, to me, brings with it some hope. I’m not saying that immigrants don’t contribute to nationalist thinking, because they do. And we’ve witnessed it… we know that immigrants did vote for Trump. I think that’s an important thing to say. I think we know that immigrants do vote with the right wing. Well, there’s — 

Metta Spencer  

— Another thing though, that motion is somewhat different. Your equation has to be is sort of modified in that… I’ve talked to Doug Saunders about this, because he writes about migration. And he, if I’m not misquoting him, I think he really would say that, where the opposition to migrants is located is not where the migrants are. In other words, where they actually settle the people around them become – Okay, you know – they handle it pretty well. It’s some people some distance away… localities where there are no migrants that display the greatest amount of bigotry. So… maybe as more migrants come, They have a better chance of winning the narrative… as a better prospect is – would you want to say that or not? 

Subha Xavier  

Well, I think I unfortunately… I was trying to say, I don’t think it’s that simple. Because some of them are, if I can use the word almost co-opted into the other narrative, right. In other words, and let’s not forget that. I think that’s important, because we don’t all invest in a great majority, for example, the US immigrants tend to vote Democrat, great majority. But let’s not forget those who don’t — there’s been a lot of writing about that recently. You know, when I’m writing about that, as well, right now, it’s just I think it’s important to note that there’s some percentage of them who do not vote.

Metta Spencer  

Maria was pointing… to the Venezuelans.

Subha Xavier  

Exactly,

Metta Spencer  

Exactly those people they supported Trump 

Subha Xavier  

Absolutely 

Metta Spencer  

Doesn’t make really much sense, because they’re, they’re, you know,

Subha Xavier  

I appreciated that she problematizes that because I think we need to do more of that kind of work. We need to show how, ultimately – it’s so contradictory, and it’s really not rational. And I don’t think there’s anything about nationalism that is rational, let’s face it, it is kind of this gut reaction, in this way of voting. I think I told you earlier, that, you know, the first Trump signs that came out in my neighborhood, were from the Korean family… and that was a very disturbing thing for me and my children. I mean, my kids were just trying to understand that, they were trying to process…  “Ma… these are not the people you said vote for Trump. How can this be?” you know, and then we’ve had to process it as a family. These are our neighbors. And what does it mean to be the first to bring out the signs? That’s also really key. I think they’re saying… is where we stand. … you may see a Korean-American coming out of… my door, but this is who we are. Not — I think it’s really important and that… population is not going to go away and the… Republicans if they’re smart, will actually capitalize on those populations…. we know our Cuban… Venezuelan, there’s a certain percentage of right wing voters among all the immigrant groups. And I think they are important. And we need to understand that as long as that tendency is there among immigrant populations, the narrative will never be one narrative, right? There will be many different stories that are being told. And I’m interested in stories, as you know, because I write about stories. So I’m interested in their story as well. And this is why I’ve been doing some work on this right now. And I’m interested in the story that they tell of themselves, because they have to make it somehow make sense.

Metta Spencer  

Are you doing it systematically, you know, trying to compare migrants that tilt left to migrants right? Or are you What? Well, I,

Subha Xavier  

As you know, I’m not a sociologist, and I have sociologist friends who are doing that work. So I’m drawing on their work… they’re doing the data analysis, I’m doing the kind of literary analysis of stories and texts. And the texts to me are really very interesting, because I like to read between the lines of text and see… what is the story you’re telling? What is the story you cannot tell, or you refuse to tell? And the story you refuse to tell is just as interesting as the story you tell. So, the story you tell might be that look at me, I’m Korean American, I’ve come here, I’ve done well look at my beautiful house, look at all the houses that I rent to other people, look at my business, look at my small business, and so on so forth. But in the putting up of the sign…you also saying… I’ve gotten this certain status, and the status allows me to vote in my interests. And my interests are my taxes. And I do not want to pay these taxes. And my interest is… private schools, because that’s where my children go, they go to the best Atlanta private schools… You’re saying, I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t have to worry about other people, I get to just worry about myself. That I think is a message. That’s how I interpret the message.

Metta Spencer  

You are you actually have the makings of a very fine politician, very dynamic. I don’t know whether you have aspirations along those lines. But I kind of would like to,

Subha Xavier  

Who knows, you know, but I think one thing I’ve really thought a lot about in Georgia is that, you know, the way this administration — but even before this administration, sadly, this was going on under Obama as well — has treated immigrants and illegal immigrants has been, the most horrific and the most inhuman. possible, and the fact that immigrant populations are not up in arms… protesting what this treatment — to me is also one of the most disturbing things about migrant life that I have encountered.

Metta Spencer  

Wait a minute, now you’re saying that this was going on? And it wasn’t just under… but it was under Obama, too? Yes.

Subha Xavier  

Yes. Because, you know, Obama was known among immigrant populations as deporter-in-chief.

Metta Spencer  

Right? Yeah,

Subha Xavier  

He was. He was deporting he was imprisoning the number of detainees, basically detained in inhuman conditions, far too many people… within a prison. You know… denied all access to their loved ones, denied access to proper meals… it’s a system that is corrupt. And we there’s not one person we can blame. But what I’m saying is that immigrants have not been treated very well, especially in Georgia, because we are actually home to some of the largest prisons of immigrant detainees. And the fact that… you have these immigrants who are doing so well and who are prospering and at the same time… are so removed… at least mentally, are able to say, “That’s not me… that’s not my problem.” …  you can say this is a human problem, and all humans should be worried about it. But the fact that you can be an immigrant and no longer feel any kind of identification with someone else, who has come under dire conditions, no matter the reason, under difficult conditions, and is now being treated, inhumanly, in inhuman ways that you can just kind of let them sit there.

Metta Spencer  

Well, that’s really disturbing. That’s doesn’t bode well for your prospects under… Biden’s administration if… Obama wasn’t all that great, then is there any reason to think Biden is going to be different? Or I don’t know whether you want to pin it on them personally Biden the man and Obama the man, or just the people around them? Is there any reason to expect that because of the big anti-immigrant action under the Trump presidency, that there will be a reaction that will be much more favorable to immigrants now, or, or?

Subha Xavier  

I like I said, I want to be the optimist. And I want to be hopeful. And I think we are so starved for hope at this point, after the last administration that I have to think it can only be better… Am I… confident that Biden and his administration will bring kind of huge systemic… change, which is the kind of change we need? I’m not so sure. At the local level, I am a big fan of Stacey Abrams. I’m really hoping she will be governor in 2022… I put more faith in her and… the American system is such that really… at the state level is where so much is done and can be done. And certainly, in terms of our prisons in Georgia, I would think that somebody like Stacey Abrams, would attend to the human- rights crisis we’re in in ways that I’m not sure Biden — I’m sensitive to Obama’s, the ways in which he was blocked, you know, right, left and center every time you try to make any kind of change. And I think I’m sure Biden will be too, even with our recent Georgia victories, I you know, everything will be a challenge for him. Any sweeping change will be I think, blocked by,

Metta Spencer  

You know? Yeah. Well, let’s hope that this scandal over the last few days will change the dynamics in a significant way, too, because I think the Republicans are fragmenting you know, we’re gonna hear all jumping ship right now. Yeah, enough to make a difference. How many of them, what fraction? I think it’ll be very interesting. I think over the next few days, we’ll have a pretty good idea of how many people are going to go down with the ship. If it goes down? Yeah, okay. Look, I this is a, I should move on, I’ve got a, we both have a full day ahead of us. We’ll see how… delightful… to talk to you,

Subha Xavier  

Thank you feel free to talk to… and I’m very grateful to… you were one of the people who welcomed my family as immigrants and as refugees. And I know, you’ve done this for lots of people, and we are just one among so many you’ve helped. But that, you know, I was thinking to myself before today, before meeting you today that I think you were my first real Canadian white adult, who I knew. And I think that’s huge. When you think about childhood and the kind of impact people make on you and you’re, how they shape who you are, and they shape your dreams, and they shape your ambitions. And, and I… think of myself like… I became an academic and really, there are no academics in my family. But Metta as an academic… I mean, maybe you were my inspiration. I never really thought about it that way. But it occurred to me today.

Metta Spencer  

Well, I really would love to take credit for you. Good. I’ll claim all the credit. That’s It’s wonderful. And I’m just really happy for you and for your family. Thanks. Okay. Bye.

T184. The Spanish Flu

 

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 184
Panelists: Patrick Boyer
Host: Metta Spencer

Date aired: 11 February 2021
Date Transcribed: 18 February 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: David Millar

Metta Spencer  

I’m Metta Spencer. Today I get to get caught up with an old friend, Patrick Boyer, who is in his home in Bracebridge, Ontario in a room that I would just love to go snooping around, and see all these good things that you have in the background. So, Patrick and I have known each other in the Pugwash movement over the years, but I haven’t been in touch with him a while he’s kind of off in cottage country, living a life of solitude. Or maybe, maybe he’s done in solitude. I don’t know what kind of life he lives up there, but maybe we’ll find out. At any rate, the other day I happened to come across I don’t know how they came to me, but he does a weekly show on cottage country, the Muskoka area, I gather it is about history of the region. So, I guess he’s become a local historian. And the talk show he did the other day was, it wasn’t a talk show, it was a presentation a formal presentation of a history of the Spanish Flu in the Muskoka region. Is that right, Patrick?

Patrick Boyer  

Yes, in Muskoka district, this program — well, the interesting thing is that in January 2020, I began this broadcast on our community radio station from Huntsville, Ontario. And talking about the Spanish flu, and how it had impacted Muskoka and Muskokans, using this district as a case study of a larger phenomenon. You know, we talk about the big picture and the general principles, but things happen on the ground, in real people’s lives. And so, it’s an easier way to impart a lot of understanding about a global phenomenon to actually look at real places, and how it played out there. Well, in the course of doing that, I also had to talk about how the Spanish Flu arose and developed and spread and what it was like and, and so on. But that program, in January 2020, was the inaugural show, for my ‘Boyer’s modern history of Muskoka’. And it was really a couple months after that, that we began to be aware of the new influenza that was spreading rapidly. And we know I thought, I thought, the interesting way to to help people because the program that you saw, just recently, was after we’d all been subjected to [in] a year of another pandemic. And all of a sudden, I realized that a great way to teach something. And, and first, let me put it this way, if I could, at first, a lot of people thought, well, that’s just an interesting period piece, something that happened in times past. And you know, it was quite gripping to see what happened in people’s lives the way that death was coming. And municipalities had to respond, because there was no federal Department of Health, no World Health Organization, it was totally different on the ground, Metta. But I thought, well, now that everybody’s lived through a year, with COVID, and not only coping with it, but understanding it pretty well, because we get these daily inundations of news reporting on it, right? Breaking news every 10 minutes. I thought this would now be a much better way to teach by comparison, what is a global phenomenon like, that we know so well today, stacked up against one that happened a century ago. And so that was the basis of that recent program or broadcast that you are —

Metta Spencer  

Well, I thought it was absolutely fascinating. And you know, to me, it’s it is it’s also interesting that we can we know so little about the Spanish Flu. Oh, I will call it the Spanish flu, even though that’s really a real misnomer, I think. But I’ll call it that because everybody else does. But, you know, I don’t know much about it. And I remember hearing my mother, very rarely, talk about it. She would be 100 over 100 by now. Well into her 80s… so she must have been a baby at the time. But I think it’s extraordinary in that we so many people were killed and so many lives ruined and yet we don’t really hear that much about it, in my opinion. Anything like, I mean, for example, I understand that more people were killed by the Spanish Flu than by World War One.

Patrick Boyer  

Well, they were on an equal scale. And it was basically 50 million people… who died. There were many, many millions more who were infected and recovered. We’re aware today of those numbers, the number of people that get COVID, and then the number who die from it.

Metta Spencer  

How many died? And how many caught it?

Patrick Boyer  

Yeah, so about 230 million people were infected by the Spanish flu, and approximately 50 million died.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, now, that’s how many people have died of COVID. so far?

Patrick Boyer  

Worldwide? It’s about 2 million… It’s over 2 million. Yeah.

Metta Spencer  

So, the scale or, you know, a different… order of magnitude in a way?

Patrick Boyer  

Yes, that’s correct. And, and also, you are hesitating about calling it the Spanish flu. And that’s a very interesting point. And certainly, you were right to, to kind of check. Because that influenza, did not originate in Spain. It came, it had been developing in China, and was by March of 19. By February of 1918, the World War was still underway, all around the globe. And in France, where everyone was in despair about how badly this war was going, and how dire the consequences and how many dead there were. There were strikes in the factories in, France, there were shortages, even on the work crews, out of the Western Front. And so, the Chinese Labor Corps came, they where there were many hundreds and hundreds of Chinese men coming in crowded ships from China, even as millions were dying in that country. Across… the oceans to France, and bringing with them the flu.

Metta Spencer  

did the French know, did the world know in general, how much trouble there was in China?

Patrick Boyer  

No, no, no, they didn’t have real-time satellite broadcasts coming from around the world. It was on top of the fact that the communication was limited to basically cables, cable grounds, and newspapers. Forget about everything else, radio, television, satellites, all that we’re worried we’re so acclimatized to today… we’re talking about a totally different world, just a century ago. So, they didn’t know that. And —

Metta Spencer  

Was the government of China trying to suppress the information?

Patrick Boyer  

Well, today they are, but I’ll tell you what, in with the Spanish flu, it was the Canadian government that was trying to suppress the information Really? Oh, yes. Why? Well, I’ll explain that. But I just want to finish about why it’s called the Spanish flu. Yeah. So, the Chinese labor corps arrived in French harbors, and were deployed into the country. And one of the attributes of that flu was that it travelled, it… infected most people in the age group 18 to 40, not older people, not children, but in that demographic, which was the perfect definition of the age of soldiers. And the soldiers were crowded into fetid, wet unhygienic trenches along the western front, all the way from the Swiss Alps, to the North Sea, a gigantic incubator, and those that weren’t in the trenches, were crowded into hospitals as wounded. They were being shifted from one zone to another, from one country to another. They were in barracks and bivouacs and on troop ships and troop trains, all of which was very crowded. So, you know, today, as everyone does about social distancing and wearing masks and washing your hands and all of these efforts to reduce the spread of a virus? Well, it was 180 degrees opposite in 1918, and 19 and 20. Because it wasn’t really understood. And this point that you also focused on there a moment ago, Metta, the governments didn’t want to publicize anything, nor did the military — relating to health, or morale in the troops, because that would convey a vulnerability to the enemy. And so, it was absolutely prohibited under the Canadian Army practices as the British and French and others. There were eight different empires fighting in that world war… millions of people in arms all around the world. They… just clamped down on any information, whether it was about flu, or mumps, which was very prevalent, or pneumonia… and venereal disease (apart from the French who were open about that, nobody else the British, the Canadians, the Americans, let’s say finally got into the war ever talked about venereal disease, but that was also a further debilitating disease condition for a lot of soldiers in that war). So, the desire on the part of the government and the army to suppress information was made a whole lot easier by wartime press censorship, and the censorship of mail between the front lines and the home front and back and forth. I mean, the Army’s censors… armed with scissors would turn some people’s letters into looking like the paper dolls under we used to, remember, cut those all up, people would open envelopes, and it’s just shredded paper because there was no ability to transmit information about what was happening. And so —

Metta Spencer  

Every soldier sending letters home in World War One would have from the front would have his letter slot —

Patrick Boyer  

open, opened by military readers centers and censored. And it didn’t black it out, they cut it out. So,  what happened is that this influenza was spreading throughout Europe, and into Spain, part of Europe. Now, one of the very few countries that was not a belligerent power in the Great War, First World War was Spain. And if you know the doctors in the Iberian Peninsula, were no better at diagnosing this than doctors anywhere else. However, the Spanish newspapers were not under wartime press censorship. As we all had the press censorship in Canada under the War Measures Act, that apart from the mail being censored, so in Spain, when they heard about all these people falling sick… some kind of influenza, they began to write stories about it. Front-page news. Well, this was the first place anybody in the world was hearing about this, this devastating influenza. And so, it became called the Spanish flu. And that’s how it has long since been referred to. It’s one of those perverse quirks of historical need to peg something on a place — like in Canada, we know about the ‘Dutch Elm disease, and we all see our beautiful elm trees dying and we were getting mad at the Dutch, right? Well, no, it didn’t start in the Netherlands. It was simply the Dutch are so good with their science and art, you know, there are biologists and arborists and so on, they were analyzing it, and they came up with the fact that what it was the kind of it was killing healthy — So it was the same thing. The Dutch Elm disease, the Spanish flu.

Metta Spencer  

Well, of course, sometimes there’s an intention for pegging it with a particular country. I mean, Trump was always referring to the… China virus or something. And of course, he was trying to create a sense of culpability that the Chinese had were evil because the virus came from China. Well Just because it came from China, does it mean anything except that, you know, it could have started anywhere? And I guess the question is more like, what can we do or what should have been done to contain it? I guess they didn’t do enough right away, but they sure bent over backwards to try to contain it. At least I’m talking about the current virus, COVID. Because they really tried to contain it very strenuously in China much more vigorously than then Canadians have tried to contain it. What was done? I my impression is and you can correct me that a lot of the infection was spread by soldiers coming home and bringing the disease with them. Is that correct? And what happened in Canada or in the rest of the world as soldiers brought this germ back with, you’re absolutely correct.

Patrick Boyer  

Metta, a troopship in… 1918, in the summer, was returning from Britain to Canada with wounded soldiers. All the soldiers who were being invalided back-to-back to Canada, they weren’t going to recover enough in British soldiers’, in British hospitals, and Canadian hospitals in Britain to be able to go back into battle, many of them were many of them did, but these were, these were soldiers who were coming home and carrying the influenza with them, crowded conditions on those ships, and, and all the rest. So, basically, every ship that was coming back from Europe into a Canadian port, from the mid 1918s, on was transporting people that who had the Spanish flu, once they reached Halifax, the port of Halifax, they boarded trains, and returned home all across Canada. And that was a — you know, about our travel advisories and interprovincial bubble barriers and all this — there was none of that back then. And so, here in Muskoka, for example, as a few soldiers were removed from their train and, and into homes or hospitals… a lot actually coming to Gravenhurst, which had the first tuberculosis sanitarium in all Canada. And so, it was treating soldiers who had mustard gas damage to their lungs. This place was a bit of a magnet for returning soldiers. And in Quebec, an outbreak of significant proportions started with these returning soldiers at St. Jean military base, you know, on in the Eastern Townships part of Quebec, along the [Richelieu] River, and that fall, it spread to an academy at Drummondville. And, and the students and the staff, the teachers were all coming down with this flu. And, and all that was happening from Ottawa and with the army was a not on… It is not a serious illness, people will recover. So, what they did, they transported off, they closed the Drummondville school, because everybody was sick, they couldn’t teach, couldn’t learn. And they all went back to their own communities across Quebec, where they come from spreading it further. Brilliant. Yeah. And it just keeps going like that — 

Metta Spencer  

Sorry, but didn’t they know better? I mean, didn’t anybody realize, of course they did. The word quarantine goes back to the Middle Ages. So people even, you know, 100 or 1000 years ago probably knew enough to keep from traveling around spreading the thing. Why? Why did Canadian officials know better?

Patrick Boyer  

Well, you’re quite right. First of all, about the quarantine being something that would have been has been applied for centuries. Like if there’s a case of cholera or diphtheria or any communicable disease… a medical officer of health would order that there be signs put up around a home or a farm or any place like that. But the reason that no warning was given no alarm or no prevention, is that the Canadian Army in Ottawa was sending out messages, press releases press statements that this, this current… ‘grippe’, they were kind of referring to it like severe colds, you know, is, is spread fast but it’s not a serious consequence and people quickly recover and, and above all, it’s… fast passing. And so, so they absolutely were downplaying it. In the when the medical officer of health in Muskoka, Dr. Peter McGibbon, wanted to close the schools in the district, which we understand in present day, this is a big issue, and the… school is going to be closed because of the transmission. And — 

Metta Spencer  

Now, excuse me, but would the young people have also been more susceptible to it? You said the youngest adults, but were school age children also affected more than they will today?

Patrick Boyer  

Dr. McGibbon thought that it was a risk that you know, and even if they didn’t come down with it, they could be transmitting it, something we know today, right? But we did have cases in Muskoka certainly, documented cases where mothers died with their children. And so it was, and these were young infants, you know, so really young ones. But the point that I that was important is that the Ontario Board of Health at that time, told McGibbon no, you cannot close the schools, it would be unnecessary, and it would be inconveniencing a lot of people. And we don’t want to upset anyone in the communities. So, you know, it was denied. And the thing is, we had no department of, well, there was no World Health Organization. There was no Department of Health in Ottawa. It actually, in the province was pretty much a hand off. In terms of… hospitals, and doctors, nurses and all legislation, it was the provinces really were running social services and health care then… as now — just that Ottawa got itself into the picture. But the province itself was also following Ottawa’s line in downplaying this… the military base hospital in Toronto had issued a statement to all the Toronto papers that… this is not anything that anybody should be worrying about. We’ve got it, we’ve got it. And… 10 days later that very base, where people were dying, and more and more succumbing to the illness… the flu, was begging other hospitals and other… for nurses, there was a huge… shortage of nurses, just as we have today. One of the reasons for that… a huge number of Canadian registered nurses had volunteered and gone overseas for the war. They were not on the scene back in Canada. You know, a quarter of our nurses were in Europe, about 20-24 from Muskoka alone, a lightly populated district. So… this was the effort of the government and the army to suppress information to downplay it, and to hold back any information about stemming the tide. So, it fell to municipalities to be the frontline authority, really taking things into under control. And so, in the towns of Huntsville and Bracebridge, in Gravenhurst, and the smaller villages following, those municipalities… closed the schools, they closed the theaters, they put in a rule that nobody can go into the post offices while the mail is being sorted and put in your box, in your mailboxes, because we don’t want people jamming up in the lobby of the… post office…. Yeah, I mean, the Huntsville Forester newspaper kept publishing right through the whole period of the Spanish Flu in this district. But it came down to the editor Harmon Rice and one typesetter… the two of them getting the paper out every week. It’s in the sheet, it became a very thin sheet, but they did they did report on what was happening. You know, the, this was a time when the celebrated Bigwin Inn was being built over on Bigwin island and Lake of Bays through, the war very hard. But the stonemasons

Metta Spencer  

What that is, by the way?

Patrick Boyer  

It became the largest and most prestigious summer resort hotel in North America. It opened in in the early 1920s… June of 1922 until… the late 1950s. And — there’s still life on that island. But at that time, this this place was being built. But they were having such a hard time getting workers… the stonemasons that they had were falling ill and dying from the Spanish flu. And the Bell telephone exchange in Bracebridge was basically shut down because all the operators had the flu. So, people were not able to make very many phone calls. Meat market was closed in this town, because, you know, everybody that worked there, died [or] was home sick. Peter McGibbon, the doctor who was our medical officer of health, he was also our MP at that time. He got the town to take over a hospital or an apartment building, sorry, a hotel, hotel in the town and turn it into an emergency hospital. What like we see, you know, they did it first in New York, and then in Britain, where — and now we’ve got one in Toronto, a hospital that’s exclusively for — now COVID cases, then Spanish flu cases. And because you want the people to be confined in an isolated, in one isolated place, right. But they what they were administering, were still sort of we’d almost say what they were home remedies. You know, they didn’t understand the neurology and the in the medical science and understood

Metta Spencer  

Well, but they didn’t have a cure anyway. Even COVID, they don’t have a cure. It’s like taking aspirin for — where the you know; they don’t have a cure. And we just hope vaccines do the job. But the cure. I mean, and one of the things I was wondering is … was it a more deadly disease than COVID? That or… because there was worse care and worse effort to contain it, than COVID? Because certainly the death rate, you know, the 50 million people is a lot worse. And I’m just wondering, how serious was it? Given, if you had to two batches of people — both one with COVID and one with Spanish flu — you didn’t treat either one of them, or you treated them the same, would a higher proportion of, of the people with the Spanish Flu have died then with COVID? Or are they equally dangerous, if uncared for properly?

Patrick Boyer  

Well, that’s an excellent question. And it’s, I would say they’re equally they, just my own view is that they’re equally dangerous. And that it is very difficult to compare them because in the case of the Spanish flu, there was a huge effort to downplay it, to prevent information about it, and therefore allowing it to be communicated rapidly and extensively around the world with also less ability to treat it. So now what we have with the COVID pandemic, is a lot of publicity about it. warnings about it, restrictions on travel and closing down businesses and workplaces… had that been done a century ago… there’s no question that the death rate would not have been 50 million people on the planet, it would have been dramatically reduced.

Metta Spencer  

Yeah, so that it was a qu- problem of containment rather than… a difference in the amount of capacity to treat it once occurred. Because I mean, I don’t think I mean, like, I’ve told my friends if I get it, don’t put me on a ventilator, just let me go, you know, because I don’t think the ventilator thing, from what I’ve seen, would be helpful enough to make to make it worthwhile given that it’s horrible experience. And so, I don’t think this, of course, they did give Trump some extra juicy kind of pills, or whatever, that seemed to have helped him and I gathered, there are some treatments now that help, you know, help people get quicker, get better quicker. But I’m not sure. I don’t think there’s any, there’s certainly no cure treatment. That’s, that’s, you know, wonderful, although the death rate I gather is going down in COVID. Now,

Patrick Boyer  

Well, well, your point about the ventilator is an interesting one Metta because there’s been some secondary findings that in certainly in some of the cases, being on a ventilator was not a plus it was a negative. But you know — 

Metta Spencer  

they didn’t have ventilators then, though, did they?

Patrick Boyer  

No, no. And, and, and in in 1918, and September of 1918, there was an 18-year-old Canadian soldier in your, in Europe, a gunner. And he had some flu, coughing a bit, kind of like cold symptoms, but he toughed it out, because that was what was being pushed, you know, stiff upper lip, now carry on, macho thing, you know, you don’t give in to anything. And so, he spent a couple more days, you know, where he was, they were outdoors or in some rain, it was cold it was getting in the fall. He was they had, they were playing some soccer, and he was playing that and kind of getting sweating and hot out in this cold and damp area. And it aggravated his condition. And he ended up in the infirmary. And in the course of the next 10-12 days, coughing gotten much worse as temperature went up to 103 degrees. He couldn’t stop coughing. He started to; he was having difficulty breathing. He started bleeding from… his nose, the tips of his fingers and his toes were turning blue because they were not getting oxygen. His breathing was very labored and strained. And then after about four or five days of that kind of suffering, clearly not able to eat or anything, getting, you know, he’s just totally incapacitated. And it was bad. He really is starting — having a hard time breathing. And he’s gasping for air. And in his medical record short, taking as many as 50 breaths a minute. That’s like almost a second between them. And if you start just gasping for air like that every second you can you can understand the panic. And that ended because his lungs were no longer able to absorb oxygen. So, all his reflex reactions in his in his body and from his brain, were telling him to, you know, breathe in that air. But all he could do with these little gasps, was not enough. And, and, you know, three doctors attending and deep… into the night he finally died. And they just watched there was nothing they could do. And that was one specific case of, you know,

Metta Spencer  

kind of sad, typical symptoms. Those other people would have had much the same experience.

Patrick Boyer  

Yes. And I think I think it’s you, another point you just mentioned there Meta was about treatment and whether the death rate was greater because of lack of treatment or whether people more people could recover if there was treatment. Well, if we go back to… the world’s greatest pandemic, which was the black plague, the bubonic plague that spread, you know, in the 14th century, for over eight years. People are wondering when or when is COVID going to be done? That bubonic plague lasted through Asia, North Africa and Europe for eight years. And with, you know, basically an estimated 70 to 200 million people dying, which was a huge slice of the world’s population then and if, if someone succumbed to it, they did not know — if they contracted the plague, without treatment, they would be dead, you know, within as short as three days. And, or they could hang on to about 10 days. But the numbers between those who are treated and not treated, the death rate was very high for those who had no treatment. And it was about 30% lower, the death rate for those who had any kind of treatment.

Metta Spencer  

Really? Yeah. So, what, what was the treatment? I mean, what would they have done? Well, a very different kind of disease from COVID, or the Spanish flu, right? I mean, they’re not, not at all the same kind of virus? 

Patrick Boyer  

That’s correct… it was not this type; it wasn’t a viral disease. But the point is that we’re talking about a pandemic. And that term used by the United Nations now really, is to define any kind of illness that spreads… in through the community… through many kinds of countries that it’s really globe-encircling. You know, if it’s just, it was just in one province, or one part of one country or something, it’s a local epidemic. But that’s the terminology. And so, what we basically are looking at here is — any era — is getting the best treatment that they’ve got available, right. So, in the 1400s, that would have been separating people and trying to reduce the contagion and spreading of it. Whatever else they they did back then, it made the simple point. And I guess this is the takeaway from all three of these pandemics, the Black Death in the 1400s, the Spanish Flu century ago, and now COVID. With treatment and precautions, you’re better off than without any of that. In other words, treatment, treatment helps —

Metta Spencer  

Even if you don’t really know how to treat people, doing something is better than doing nothing. Okay.

Yeah. And… being open and upfront about it. Because that was the other big problem with the Spanish flu. The effort to keep it because of the war in particular. This was happening at the time of war. And it was a back end of that war, when things were really getting dire. The British Empire ran into it thinking, Oh, we’ll be home by Christmas. So did the Kaiser he said they’d be home in Germany before the leaves of fall were on the ground. But after the — millions of people in that industrial slaughterhouse of the Great War there was so much despair, that this thing was going to be lost, that all of this sacrifice was for nothing. And the losses were agonizing. And so, it was a time of great despair. And those in command we’re trying to make a final big push with a lot of very reluctant people. That’s how we ended up with conscription being brought in, because of this. Despite the Prime Minister’s pledge at the start of the war that there wouldn’t be no conscription. It was that it was just such a wrenching, evil enterprise was underway, with that war. And —

Metta Spencer  

Although you’re surely right, in pointing out the importance of the fact that this pandemic took place during the war, it is also the case and as a sociologist, I’m slightly aware of the research that other sociologists of disaster do. Now very aware of it. One of the main findings they come up with, is that in general, when there’s a disaster… officials will play it down, almost invariably… in publicity. They will almost always say Don’t worry about it, we’ve got it handled or it’s not going to be too bad or etc. And their rationale for it is generally that… we don’t want to frighten people. Because if people get into a panic, it’s going to cause more trouble than the problem itself, which is not the case. The truth is that the average person is more likely to go into denial all by himself, than… if you told the truth, so for example, you can go up and down the street with a bullhorn on your car saying, “Flee for your lives, the dam is about to break”, or, you know, some other catastrophe is going to occur. And people will sit in their homes and say, “Well, I don’t believe it”. And they won’t leave. And that tends to be too much the problem, more the problem… than anything else, getting people to take seriously, the warnings, the threats, the admonitions… if you’ve got a real problem people tend to deny.

Patrick Boyer  

So Well, I think it’s, those are very valid points. And I think that when you extend that sociological analysis, to what happens over the course of the year, and say, in the province of Ontario, you look at how people responded to the first closedown, back in, you know, March, April, May… and now, when there’s more desire, and people are pent up, they’ve been closed in like, they’re getting beside themselves, and they want to get out or do things. And but most people are still serious about how they’ve got to protect themselves. But we see growing resistance, right? Because there’s that other… thing that kicks in is, how long can people live? …how many times can you hear… “wolf, wolf” … we’re still in a very dynamic situation with this. And the streets in Toronto, I remember being there. And they were like bowling alleys, you know, closed, closed on a Sunday morning, like, no cars, no people, you know, but but if you travel around the city now, … not the same? And there’s a lot of reasons for that. So, yeah, I mean, we’ve got the deniers who are always a problem. And, and I would say that, you know, if we can compare the way that China has been trying to hide information about COVID —  compare that to the way Ottawa, the Canadian Army and other countries were trying to hide information about it a century ago — Well, we could compare the deniers, you know, to the people, like former President Trump and current prime minister Boris Johnson and the initial period in, in Britain, who were downplaying, and I think — it wouldn’t really be the case in Donald Trump’s behavior, but I think with many others, it is… don’t alarm the people. Yeah. And that was certainly the case with the Canadian government going let don’t get people worked up, because then they’ll have a reaction, that’s very bad. And, and when I was teaching —

Metta Spencer  

It’s just a very wrong notion and officials should be cautioned not to make that assumption, because in general, it’s, it’s not true. You know, people do not panic, by, by and large, they, if anything, are resistant to, to doing the precautions that make obvious since…

Patrick Boyer  

It would be a great thing to live in a political society, would it not Metta where the political leaders treated the… population as being an adult?

Metta Spencer  

It would be a great thing to live in a society where the population were adults. The are voting right now… we don’t have time to go into the impeachment trial in the Senate, which is going on as we speak. But, you know, you see when the representatives of the people being absolutely oblivious to any rational considerations, because the most they’d be voted out next time. And, and that means that most people do not use good sense. I’m sorry to put it so bluntly, which has gotten to the point of making me think, well, do I really believe in democracy anymore? Can anybody really believe in democracy and more given kind of idiot behaviour that voters display. And what do we get instead? With that, I’d like to have another conversation about that. All right,

Patrick Boyer  

we’ll do it, we’ll do that because we must continue to believe in democracy. Absolutely, we must.

Metta Spencer  

It’s not, it’s not working. Because

Patrick Boyer  

Well, you’re talking about the United States, your example was about the United States, we have our own problems with democracy in Canada. And we need to stop touting that we’re one of the world’s great democracies when increasingly we diminish the ways in which we conduct ourselves as a truly democratic society. And so, this goes to electoral reform, this goes through changing the way the House of Commons operates. And many other things, the fact that we have municipal councils in Ontario, that are elected once every four years, every four years, it used to be in Ontario councils were elected every year. On January 1. And you tell me the difference between being thoughtful about your voters and your citizens, and being accountable to them on a 12-month basis, or on a 48-month basis… those are just a couple of the many examples of how we have diminished the actual living exercise of democracy and democratic accountability in our country. And it’s… spread into the culture, you know, it’s, we can’t have a democratic society, unless within our culture, we have those values, and people really are living according to them. So, and I think that does come back on to how we’re being treated and treat and we are treating this pandemic. And I the point of I think I was trying to make and I guess why you wanted me to be with you on this program, was to be able to look at our get a clear and dispassionate view of our present circumstances, by seeing where we have been before. And what’s improved and what hasn’t. And how do we account for those differences? Because we are, we’re not little islands in time, we are part of a much bigger, mainstream flowing of people and about beliefs, values, and attitudes and memories, and medical science and sociology. It all comes together here on save the world with Metta Spencer,

Metta Spencer  

Thank you. So sweet. And as somebody who had a shot at becoming Prime Minister A few years ago, I think your position is one that we should take seriously when you talk about how to democratize Canada a little bit better improves our state of the world. Everybody out to listen because you know what you’re talking about, and I appreciate that. It’s wonderful to be back in touch with you. It’s wonderful to talk to you. So, bless your heart and carry on. Take care. See ya. Bye.

T163. Russian Military in the Arctic

 

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 163
Panelists: Ernie Regehr
Host: Metta Spencer

Date aired: 18 January 2021
Date Transcribed: February 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: Diana Hdalevich

Metta Spencer 

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer. Now, have you been paying enough attention to the Arctic? Most of us haven’t. And this is time for us to pay some attention to the Arctic. So today we’re going to do that we’re going to listen to Ernie Regehr. I’m going to have a conversation with Ernie Regehr, who does know a thing or two about the Arctic. He is the former or was the founder, co-founder of Project Ploughshares, which is a very wonderful organization that studies peace research in Canada. And he’s a senior fellow at the Simons Foundation. And he knows a thing or two about the Arctic and I think we should pay some attention. So good morning, Ernie.

Ernie Regehr  

Good morning to you.

Metta Spencer 

Yeah, okay. I think you have recently published an article in a book about, is it about Russia in the Arctic? Or what’s your – I have to admit, I haven’t read it yet.

Ernie Regehr 

It’s about the Russian military presence in the Arctic. And so, it tries to be descriptive about that presence, which is a growing presence. And then also some of the strategic implications of that. Of that, that presence. So that’s where we are the – as you know, there’s, in some circles, there’s quite a lot of growing concern about American or Russian militarization of the Arctic. But it’s subject to varieties of interpretations. There is a kind of consensus about where it’s going, I can talk a bit about that.

Metta Spencer 

Everybody knows that it’s – they’re building it up, right?

Ernie Regehr 

Yeah.

Metta Spencer 

You know, I, I somehow give them more rights, than maybe other people would, since they have people there., you know? I mean, they have big cities in the Arctic, and we have just little bitty clusters of people compared to them. And somehow that, to my mind, it makes it more… I don’t know, is that reasonable or not?

Ernie Regehr 

It’s very reasonable. I mean, it’s by far the largest Arctic state, it has, by far the longest frontier in the Arctic. So, part of the – part of the point of its military buildup, which is by the way, is a string of – there are two kinds of military buildup one is the conventional and then the other is the nuclear and the nuclear has always been there through the Cold War on the Kola Peninsula, and it remains a prominent presence and it’s part of Arctic nuclear modernization similar to that, but the Americans and the Chinese are doing. So that’s one part of it. The other part of it is just that string of conventional military facilities that go all the way from the Pacific to the Kola Peninsula,

Metta Spencer 

Okay, now I knew that they have nuclear submarines up at in the Kola Peninsula that’s around Murmansk, right?

Ernie Regehr 

That’s right. Yeah, Murmansk is on the Kola Peninsula,

Metta Spencer 

And they have a fleet of nuclear submarines and things there. Now, but you’re – what you’ve alluded to it sounds like it’s more than marine facilities, but maybe nuclear weapons – are there nuclear weapons there or not?

Ernie Regehr 

Well, the North – it’s the maritime nuclear leg of the Triad that’s based there. So, there’s a nuclear base on the Kola Peninsula, a wide number of nuclear bases on the Kola Peninsula, and then also there are nuclear submarines on the Pacific in the Kamchatka Peninsula, but the Kola, the Kola one is – there’s a major base that houses all of the long range submarines with long – with intercontinental ballistic missiles, SSBNs in other words are based in – on the Kola Peninsula, there are seven, seven of those submarines there. And one is of the newest variety. And the others are an older Delta four version of SSBN but they’re on the Kola Peninsula, and they patrol in the Barents Sea area primarily, but there are also and then there are nuclear weapons storage facilities in that area, as well as attack submarines and air bases as well,

Metta Spencer 

what now? Do they ever get out and go into the Arctic Ocean? Or do they- Do they go into the Atlantic? And do they patrol the rest of the world? Do they slip around looking for things?

Ernie Regehr 

Well, I think that the – we can come back to the conventional because it’s an important thing to talk about. So, let’s not lose sight of that. But on the – on this, this nuclear issue, they primarily patrol in what they regard as an Arctic Bastion, and that’s in the barren Sea area. And they patrol on that area, but then they patrol it also into the Norwegian Sea and down into the Greenland Iceland UK gap, you know, and, so they can but that’s a – they have to go through there. And they run they run into NATO patrols there. But yeah, they have access to the Atlantic Ocean, certainly there and they have access to the Pacific Ocean through the Bering Strait. But the primary patrols as understood now are in the Barents Sea. And one of the reasons that they’re building up there, their conventional military capacity is to patrol there, their Bastion to protect their – those SSBNs that are patrolling in the Bering Sea to protect them from American and NATO, anti-submarine warfare activity.

Metta Spencer 

Do people know where they are? I mean, if they’re out, you know, probably around. I use pejorative things as if you know, everything they do is surreptitious, but actually, maybe they have every right to go hunting around. Can other countries find them easily? Or is this part of the – the whole strategy is to make them invisible,

Ernie Regehr 

it’s part of the whole strategy to make them visible and other countries, meaning the United States really can find them and is increasingly interested in developing anti-submarine warfare capacity in the Bering Sea, the US Navy just put out an Arctic strategy document just this past week in which they – it talks about additional patrols in the Bering Sea. Now that I mean, I regard that as a very destabilizing development. I mean, the whole point of having a bastion in the Bering Sea for these SSBN patrol is in support of deterrence and an assured second-strike and for the US to increasingly and aggressively patrol with anti-submarine warfare activity. That puts those submarines in peril and in worries about a first strike, preemptive strike. So, one of the arms control proposals that is out there is that both Russia in the Arctic, and the United States in its own Atlantic and Pacific areas close to its borders should have areas in which are free of anti-submarine warfare activity, in other words, bastions for the SSBN to patrol because as long as there – as long as there is a deterrent system, you want that deterrent system to have an assured second strike and not be in danger of being attacked and a preemptive strike. And so one of the proposals for the Arctic is to leave it be from the point of view of the SSBN. Don’t go looking for them, because that’s destabilizing.

Metta Spencer 

That’s, you know, kind of paradoxical, but of course, it makes sense. When you think about it, it wouldn’t occur to me that you know, we peaceful people ought to be out there defending the second strike. Yeah,

Ernie Regehr 

well, we – the – what I would say what we’re doing is not defending the right to retaliate with nuclear weapons. What we’re, what we’re doing is saying you – is preventing preemptive strikes.

Metta Spencer 

Yeah, I can understand the reasoning. It makes sense, but it wouldn’t actually – probably wouldn’t have occurred to me because that was

Ernie Regehr 

one of the most dangerous things if, if the United States and Russia, for example, we’re in a very, very major political crisis point, if you have active anti-submarine warfare, then you have both sides thinking, well, it’s my, to my advantage to use this thing before – to use these weapons before I lose them. And so, if you have, if you have active anti-submarine patrols, you’re creating incentives to go first. And then, the last.

Metta Spencer 

So, I guess the same logic would mean, you want them to be invisible if possible.

Ernie Regehr 

That’s exactly – that’s exactly right. That’s why the Russians have a bastion, which we should – which the West should honour. And then that’s a stabilizing thing. And then, you work through New START and other provisions to whittle away and, and reduce those Arsenal’s until we get to the point of elimination. In the meantime,

Metta Spencer 

I wasn’t aware that New START covered that,

Ernie Regehr 

It covers all strategic range nuclear weapons. So that includes those, those seven submarines that are in the – that Russia has in – each with 16 missiles and multiple warheads. So that’s a – there’s a big chunk of the Russian arsenal is there.

Metta Spencer 

Well, have they – has the New START? I mean, it’s been in effect since Obama, and what’s his face? That … did it? And has it actually reduced any of these maritime weapons?

Ernie Regehr 

Well, and yes, it has indeed, I mean, it as you know, reduces the total, the total deployable Arsenal to 1550 warheads, and each side can decide which vehicles that whether it wants most of them put on submarines, or most of them on land-based missiles and so forth. But it’s so – it restricts them so – So since New START, these submarines have never carried the maximum number of nuclear warheads that they could, because they’re, in order to keep them under the New START limits.

Metta Spencer 

We know which particular missiles have been removed.

Ernie Regehr 

Yeah, there are verification provisions within the New START, and the details of which I’m not an expert on. And I don’t know

Metta Spencer 

Why now, if – if the thing gets renewed as no doubt Biden will do, well, I shouldn’t say no doubt that it seems that they will. Is it – will it be further – How many more will be taken out? Is that part? I know that there’s – it’s just a matter of renewing, but does that – do they have a quota fixed number that they already plan to, to do with the next stage or what?

Ernie Regehr 

No, so that the renewal will simply keep in place, the 1550 warhead maximum, and in many ways, more importantly, the verification provisions within the – in the treaty that will keep that all in place. And then the Biden administration to be has indicated that then it is committed, then to begin negotiations towards the follow-on treaty. And whether the New START is renewed for a full five years, which it can be done by just presidential decree. That’s probably the wise move. And then – and then they have that time in order to negotiate a new one and possibly involve China in it, which is what the Trump administration was.

Metta Spencer 

You think that’s realistic? I mean, I knew that Trump was demanding that but I thought he was just playing, you know, fiddling around trying to disguise the fact that he wasn’t going to participate.

Ernie Regehr 

No, no, I mean, I – at this point, it was a way of making sure that it wouldn’t get extended If required, but in the long run, China, of course, has to be drawn in, as do all of the nuclear power. So, whether that’s in the next round, or after that, I don’t know but the – but renewing it or extending it will allow for negotiations towards a follow on trading.

Metta Spencer 

Okay, I jumped right in and started asking irrelevant questions before you had a chance to say the basic things about where things are,

Ernie Regehr 

where all of the military bases that are – that the conventional military bases that are -that run about 20 of them from the Pacific Coast, right up near Bering Strait. And to all the way to Murmansk. And those, I’ll just talk about those a little bit, if you don’t mind, those are all in the process of being refurbished. And the – I mean, the primary interest in refurbishing them is one – is new issues related to sovereignty, the Arctic for all of the, the northern state has been just becoming a much more accessible place. And so, Russia has a very, very long frontier, and so needs much more the surveillance and situational awareness activity in order to monitor that frontier. So, they have, they have those facilities. And then – and you mentioned right off the top, they have major resources. And I mean, it’s a – it’s a significant part of their GDP about 20-25%. And, the population as well. So, there are there – It has vital interest in that area that it seeks to, to defend, as, and also, it’s the, it’s the northern sea route. That is the one that is opening up that you get from China wants to wants to ship to, to Western Europe, for example, if it goes up through the Bering Sea through the northern sea route along the Russian coast, and then down to UK and Western Europe, it takes about 10-11 sailing days off the trip, rather than going around Suez Canal. So, there’s a very, very keen interest in, in opening up that, that northern sea road which Russia is doing with some Chinese investments, as well. So that’s another part of it and there – and so that they the – Russia is developing a radar coverage, and air defense coverage for that whole – that whole part of the Arctic along its coast. And then – and then the more traffic that there is, the more need there is for search and rescue and emergency response capability. So, of those – of those 20 bases that are strung along from the Pacific to Murmansk, 10 of those, or nine of those actually are designated as emergency response centers. So, they have a – there’s a – there’s a major capacity for a search and rescue that is needed and required. And that really applies to all Arctic states that, that for all of them, their coastal regions, including Canada, are becoming increasingly accessible, and there’s more traffic in them. And so that the requirements for search and rescue are greater. And, and that means there’s much more of the military activity in the north now is an aid to civil authorities, civil authorities, civilian institutions, and agencies have basic responsibility for managing waterways and search and rescue and those kinds of things. And so – but it’s the military that has the capacity to do that. And that’s, that’s a big part of their, their operation. That’s a big part of the Russian military operation is aid to civil authorities as

Metta Spencer 

well as – that’s a good reason. Yeah, the thing about it, you know, compared to Canada, and other states, the US, of course, has, has some, you know, Alaska and so on. What about other countries in ratio? I mean, what you say the Russian is building way up, are other countries building at the same rate, increasing military and, search and rescue and icebreakers and things like that. Are they getting into it?

Ernie Regehr 

Now, I would say Norway, like Norway is the most active because it’s, it’s right on the border. And, and Russia has significant artillery bases, infantry bases, rather, in -within tens of kilometers from the border with Norway and the border with Finland. So, there are concerns there and NATO has stepped up its presence in response to that and Norway has a bigger maritime presence as well, because it’s right in the zone with Russia. Canada is – has the same requirements for increased attention to search and rescue, air defense and so forth. Most of that is civilian activity. And there – and the expansion isn’t nearly anywhere close to the rate of the Russian expansion. There’s a new naval facility for basically – for refueling at Nanisivik on – in the Canadian north. Baffin Island. And in that – and the – I think I’ve got that right. And then I guess the big Canadian issue is the North warning system, you know, what we used to know as the DEW line all of the radars across the north. And there is a feeling that with increased activity in the, in the north, and particularly around the part of Russia, North America’s own air defense capability needs to be enhanced, and particularly domain awareness, they have the radar facilities to be able to detect everything that comes within range of Canadian territory. Right now, those radars are all running along the Arctic Ocean just above the Arctic Circle, but they don’t cover the northern part of the Canadian archipelago then the Arctic, our archipelago. So that’s a thing that’s in the works for Canada. It’s nothing concrete yet. But there’s a lot of discussion in military circles about what, what the way in which that North warning system is going to be.

Metta Spencer 

You know, I hadn’t even heard about the North warning system or the DEW line for 20 years. And I guess I thought I would – if you’d asked me, I would have guessed that maybe with satellites that that’s, you know, a passe thing, you know, not needed anymore. But are you saying that that is really an essential part of?

Ernie Regehr 

If you want to be able to identify and every state should be able to identify aircraft that are coming into its airspace, you need to have radar, satellites don’t help you with that, because they’re not, they’re not the same kind of continuous coverage. So, you need -you need to have radar in order to do that, and the more that you have low flying and, and hyper speed, aerial, and missiles, and then it gets much more complicated, but you need to have a coastal radar capacity, which Canada has on the east and west coast, we have coastal radars. And so that’s a big thing that NORAD does is monitor the air traffic, which is all civilian coming in into Canada, but we don’t have that capacity for all of Canadian territory in the north. So, there are renewal or modernization requirements there, which is going to be expensive, and a longer-term thing, but they’re in the exploration stage

Metta Spencer 

We have to have people actually manning these.

Ernie Regehr 

No, I don’t think so. The North warning systems no are not staffed. They’re – so the connection is the communication links to them, but not – they don’t need to have people on base constantly, and they have to visit there presumably on a regular basis. But

Metta Spencer 

well, you know, I guess the only reason for needing a lot of military presence is if you don’t trust somebody who’s your neighbor, or and – I – and so that the question, I guess is, how are folks getting along up there? I was, you know, at 20 – 10, 15 years ago, all the peace workers I knew who knew anything about the Arctic, were reassuring us that it’s one of those places on the planet where people seem to be friendly toward each other at least cooperative, and there wasn’t any real dispute happening. So, cool it, don’t worry. But I don’t hear that kind of reassurance very often. Tell me what is the real situation? Who’s our friend and who – do we have any enemies

Ernie Regehr 

Well, the – I think one of the extraordinary things about the Arctic is that it has been a zone of unusual cooperation. And there’s a whole – there’s a range of international agreements and, and international political commitments to continue that cooperation and that, for example, the identification of control over the continental shelf is all – it’s all – there’s a, there’s a law-based process by which that takes place. So, I think the broader consensus in mainstream conventional and Western circles, including military circles is that the Arctic is not an area of imminent threat. There’s not an expectation of Arctic induced combat in the, in the Arctic, no one – it’s not in anybody’s interest to do that. There are some fears about spillover from conflict and other regions into the, into the Arctic, I mean, in as much as there is major military presence there. If you – if the NATO and Russia were to come into active conflict in Europe, God forbid, the likelihood of that spilling over into the Arctic is fairly strong. But the likelihood of Arctic conflict rising, escalating to a crisis, in which military combat seems a possibility, that I think is universally regarded as very, very low. But there is increasing military activity there. And there has, and there have. So, there are also increasing calls for there to be dialogue – military to – military dialogue between Russia and the NATO states, in the Arctic. And particularly, that there should be broader strategic dialogue between NATO, North America and Russia, on coming to common understandings that what are the requirements for strategic stability in the Arctic for a, for a rule of law operations, tactical and day to day operations in the Arctic, so the requirement for dialogue and that kind of diplomatic engagement is – gets – becomes much more important, and the isolation of Russia from these forums, as has happened since 2014, in the Crimea, that we need to get over that, and understand that we need to be in constant dialogue with them. And that’s not a means of, of turning a blind eye to violations of another state sovereignty. But it’s a means – it’s for the purpose of trying to maintain stability in a region, which if it goes bad, is bad for the whole globe.

Metta Spencer 

Okay, I’m just trying to think of all the states that are in the Arctic, how – are all of them either members of NATO or Russia?

Ernie Regehr 

There is – so that they’re – understood, there are eight Arctic states and eight states in the Arctic Council. There’s Russia. And then there are five NATO members, US, Canada, Greenland, Denmark, Iceland, and Norway, and then Sweden and Finland, which are our partners, or NATO partner states, essentially. So, it’s a fairly one-sided thing, but Arctic – but Russia is not a minority in the sense of vast land and sea areas, and resources and populations. You know,

Metta Spencer 

what would you say that the, the Russian military is equivalent to the combined militaries of all these other states, the NATO states plus Finland and, and Sweden did you say?

Ernie Regehr 

Yeah, well, it’s, it’s superior to all of those combined with actual facilities in the Arctic. But of course, it’s much inferior to NATO collectively, right. And the United – you know, the United States has very, very little military presence in the Arctic except for submarine patrols. That’s its main presence there – whereas – and has one operating icebreaker, whereas, you know, Russia, as we know has 40 to 50, operating,

Metta Spencer 

How many does Canada have?

Ernie Regehr 

I think it’s six, a half a dozen, it doesn’t have a – especially of middle range, icebreakers. So, these are coastal icebreaking. Russia is acquiring new generations of nuclear-powered icebreakers. They already have some of those, but they’re, they’re building icebreakers that will go through up to four meters of ice. So that’s a big, big, big ship. And, and, you know, the concern is that, that it can create pathways for not only for liquid natural gas tankers, but also for, for military vessels using – Is there any part of the Arctic Ocean that they – that no icebreaker could penetrate? Well, and right now, the – in – I’m not sure in that in the dead of winter, but there have been, but there have been voyages directly through the central Arctic Ocean, through the thickest part of the ice.

Metta Spencer 

So, the ice there, you’d say about four meters at the worst. And so, somebody, somebody can go there if they want to. Okay. Now, you mentioned the connection between Russia and China. And I know they have some sort of strange friendship nowadays. But how friendly are they? That is, I understand that China would like to have a presence in the Arctic in some form, and is always claiming new ways of establishing a presence there, but with not – for example, a gold mine, I think recently, that was one of the things

Ernie Regehr 

they wanted to buy it from a Canadian one

Metta Spencer 

But would Russia support China’s requests to be part of the Arctic? I don’t know whether they want to join the Arctic Council, or I guess they couldn’t, but what and how are they trying to get their toehold there? And does Russia play along with that?

Ernie Regehr 

Well, I – the Chinese, I think it’s correct to say, do not really have a keen interest in a military presence. I mean, some people fear an Arctic military presence by China. But China wants a shipping route through the Arctic. And obviously, and it certainly wants access to rare earth minerals in Greenland and Canada and so forth. I mean, it has mining interests. It has a lot of commercial interests that it sees potential value in the Arctic, but a big part of it is the shipping route. And China’s certainly helping Russia and building an infrastructure for a shipping route through its Arctic so that there’s cooperate cooperation there. There’s no question.

Metta Spencer 

Well, if we open or if we, as if you and I personally will open the Arctic, but if somebody opens the Arctic shipping, I would assume that it would be international that any anybody with a rowboat who wants to go there can do it? It wouldn’t be specifically China’s shipping route, it would be international, right?

Ernie Regehr 

Yeah, absolutely. And it runs in the northern sea route, runs entirely through the exclusive economic zone of Russia, not through Russia and territorial waters, in some parts of it do, depending on the ice conditions. But all it’s within the exclusive economic zone. So that gives Russia some obligations in order to do environmental controls and those kind of kind of things that have to happen in a shipping.

Metta Spencer 

What an economic zone is

Ernie Regehr 

Well the – so that the – I’m the wrong person to explain this. I’m not an international law expert, but essentially, along the coastline there, there’s – 12 miles out are territorial waters. And that’s the exclusive zoning the same as the land, it’s – you have sovereignty over that area, and then 200 miles out, is you have exclusive economic rights within that, within that zone. But these are international waters. And everybody has the right to travel them. The Americans charge and I’m and I think the Russians give them reason to that, that Russia is really claiming it’s those exclusive economic zone waters as being Russian waters and aiming to manage them as if they were territorial sovereign waters of Russia, and requiring other states to get permission, so forth. So, the United States in this new naval document is talking increasingly about doing freedom of navigation missions through there just to establish, establish the fact that these are international waters that everybody has a right to,

Metta Spencer 

Okay. Also been a few years ago anyway, and I don’t know whether it’s settled, there was a, there was a dispute based on where the shelf of the, of the continent ends or drops off or something like that, that the water rights and the claims to certain parts of the ocean would be settled on the basis of where – I guess there’s a drop off

Ernie Regehr 

Yeah, Law of the Sea that is now being all of the Arctic states are putting in proposals to define their, their continental shelf where it goes in and goes beyond it can go beyond the exclusive economic zone. And that gives you right to the resources on the ocean floor. Exclusive. Right, I see the resources on the open of ocean floor. And so, in the North Pole area that means both, I mean, Russia has laid claims on that, as has Greenland as has Canada, I think that’s it. But these are so – but it’s understood that these disputes will be settled by scientists, not by soldiers. Depends on science, collecting scientific data on where the, where the continental shelf…

Metta Spencer 

and that still has to be determined.

Ernie Regehr 

Yeah, all their claim claims are in and that will take a long time, under the Law of the Sea for that all to be to be settled. No one has immediate access to that area, in a way.

Metta Spencer 

And so, there’s stuff down there that people might want to drill for or what. I hope you’re not gonna put oil wells and stuff there.

Ernie Regehr 

That’s exactly right. But I – it’s so – it’s not sure, I mean, I don’t, I just don’t know enough about it to know what all kinds of potential resources are. But that, that’s in the process of being settled. And there was the – something called the Ilulissat declaration 2008. In Ilulissat, town in Greenland, where all of the Arctic states met, and committed themselves to settling Arctic disputes according to existing international law, which is Law of the Sea. And that was a, that was an important, important declaration in principle that reinforced the Arctic as an arena of cooperation, rather than competition leading to – come to conflict. And in 2018, that Declaration was again, was renewed. And so that’s part of the – and in the – in for the International Arctic Ocean. There has been an all-Arctic agreement to prohibit any fishing that becomes available in the central Arctic Ocean until such time that there have been scientific studies done to assess the nature of the fish stocks and how much fishing can be, can be controlled. And that’s an agreement of all of the Arctic states, including, but non-Arctic states as well, including Japan and, and China. Well, that’s just another, that’s another example of the cooperative milieu of the Arctic.

Metta Spencer 

Yeah. Well now tell me about Novaya Zemlya. Right. That’s, that’s where they tested nuclear weapons. I don’t know what else they did up there. But doesn’t sound like a place anybody would want to live. What, what – Is there still military activity going on up there? And tell me about it?

Ernie Regehr 

Yeah, there is a new, there’s a new base being developed there now. And it. It’s interesting because it’s one of those trefoil bases, one of these that you may have seen pictures in the newspapers of this three-pronged base of big military facilities that can house several hundred Russian troops throughout the year. And it’s in – they’re quite grand facilities that have everything from a chapel to gymnasiums to all of this. And so there, there are station troops there, as well as radar facilities and, and air defense facilities are out of there

Metta Spencer 

Is the place contaminated? I worry, you know, you hear about things like places where they have – where there are sunken submarines with, you know, a lot of radioactive material that nobody knows how to get at anymore. Is the Arctic in general, a, a safe environment? Or are there radioactive contaminants floating around up there?

Ernie Regehr 

Yeah, well, I think that there is. I mean, there’s been a lot of cleanup that was done through this international partnership agreement that Canada was part of, and there’s still major legacy from the cold war and nuclear weapons development by that. I mean, that’s, that’s about as much detail as I’m…

Metta Spencer 

They haven’t been testing any weapons, or at least nuclear explosives there for what, 20-30 years. How long? I don’t know.

Ernie Regehr 

I know, I don’t know for how long but for a long time, yeah. I – there’s a de facto moratorium, but when it began, I’m not recalling right now.

Metta Spencer 

But now I know that people in Kazakhstan talk about the pollution still remaining around Semipalatinsk. So, I wondered if maybe the same thing was true around – as some – I don’t know.

Ernie Regehr 

Yeah. Yeah. No, I’m sure I’m sure it is.

Metta Spencer 

I wouldn’t volunteer to serve up there if I were you. Okay, all this is fascinating. Any advice to the world? Can – what would – if you were in charge of trying to make steps toward nuclear disarmament and toward really, an end to any hostilities, and you were responsible for the Arctic, what kinds of new decrees would you issue?

Ernie Regehr 

Well, I would simply emphasize the principle of the Ilulissat declaration and so that declaration is important and emphasize that the – this – the – all of the intention towards – attention towards on the resumption of great power competition so far, though, I mean, I think we have to make a very conscious effort to keep the Arctic out of that. And recognize that – I mean inevitably it’s part of it because it’s a major part of the Russian nuclear arsenal is there but we need to stabilize that and prevent destabilizing anti-submarine warfare patrols in the Arctic and make sure that the Arctic does not kind of become a climate, which negatively impinges upon the pursuit of nuclear arms control and elsewhere

Metta Spencer 

and protect Santa Claus ourselves.

Ernie Regehr 

That would be a priority, of course.

Thank you.

Ernie Regehr 

NORAD is on that so we’re fine.

Metta Spencer 

Okay, this has been fun. Thank you so much.

Ernie Regehr:

Pleasure. Take care.

T202. COVID Work

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 202
Panelists: Ronald St. John and Jon Cohen
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired: 10 March 2021
Date Transcribed: 19 March 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: Adam Wynne

 

Metta Spencer

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer. If you’re thinking of either getting COVID or getting a vaccination, you’ve come to the right place, because today we’re going to talk about COVID vaccination and all things connected with the equitable handling of this pandemic. I have with me two very knowledgeable people. Jon Cohen is a staff writer on Science Magazine, who covers epidemics. And it looks like he’s been doing it a long time and knows his way around a few viruses. And he’s, I guess, where are you, Jon?

Jon Cohen

I’m based in San Diego.

Metta Spencer

Oh, good. All right. I’m a Californian by upbringing.

Jon Cohen

I’m half Canadian also.

Metta Spencer

All right. And in Ottawa, a friend of mine, Dr. Ronald St. John, is ready to talk to us about his experience as an epidemiologist. He spent a number of years with the World Health Organization, especially the Pan American end of things or side of things, and then was with Canada’s Public Health Service, and was in charge of SARS and Canada’s response to SARS. So I think he and Jon Cohen have things to say to each other. I’m going to let them mostly tell us what they’re up to. But let’s start with Jon, because I believe you said yesterday you had an article you wrote about the pending surplus of vaccines. Can you tell us what you have in mind on this issue?

Jon Cohen

I did a story with Kai Kupferschmidt, our correspondent in Berlin, that looked at the contract agreements that the wealthy countries of the world have made for acquisition of COVID-19 vaccine. It seems preposterous right now to talk about surplus given that everyone’s scrambling to get vaccines, even in wealthy countries. But the reality is that UNICEF catalogues how many people could be vaccinated by the purchase agreements that the wealthier countries of the world have made that far exceed their own needs. So, for example, the United States and Canada both have agreements to have over 500% of their populations vaccinated. Which leads to a whole lot of people who could be vaccinated if those purchase agreements actually lead to product and purchased product. In the United States, which would be the largest over purchase, we could vaccinate – with what we have committed to buy – 1.5 billion more people. That’s a lot of people. Right now, there’s something called the COVAX facility that was set up by World Health Organization and its partners to ensure that there would be access and equity to vaccines around the world for COVID-19, unlike what happened with pandemic influenza in 2009, which was a fiasco where the wealthy world hoarded vaccine. So COVAX is a great mechanism, it is a fantastic idea. But to date, it only has committed to rolling out enough vaccine for 247 million doses of two-dose vaccines. You can do the math, cut it in half, for the world, for the poor countries of the world. And the US, in contrast, by the end of May anticipates vaccinating all adults, which is about 200 million people. And by the vaccine that we have purchased already here in the United States, come the end of July, we could have 200 million more people vaccinated. What are we going to do with that vaccine? The US may well donate it, and it may well donate it to COVAX, and COVAX is encouraging countries to donate through the facility. But there has been no formal discussion and plan about how to do it. I quote Nicole Lurie in my story, who was a top official at the Obama administration during 2009 flu epidemic, saying that when the US went to give away that vaccine, there were a gazillion obstacles that surfaced, including the need to fumigate a pallet of vaccine before it could be sent to the Philippines, which delayed that shipment by two weeks. So you have to have these discussions now, to figure out how to do that very positive thing later. It can’t just happen with a snap of the fingers. And if you look at Canada and the United States and about a dozen other countries that have fairly large populations over 25 million people. I calculated with Kai that there are nearly three billion people who could be vaccinated with those surplus vaccines. It’s huge.

Ronald St. John

I agree, Jon. it’s amazing to me that Canada had reserved contracts for vaccinating three times its population roughly. And then reserve two million doses out of COVAX. We have no need to withdraw any vaccine from COVAX, but we did reserve two million doses, which astounded me and I do not understand the rationale for that. But it’s a little bit like so many things in the world, where we have countries and have not countries. And our inability to distribute things equitable across the divide between the have and the have nots is an ongoing problem.

Jon Cohen

There’s a wrinkle to this and it’s that the United States is the hardest hit country in the world by COVID. And so, the United States has a desperate need for a vaccine that some countries don’t share. So, there is a reason for vaccine nationalism in the United States. We’ve had more death than anywhere else. We have suffered tremendously. And you can understand from a politician’s point of view, why they cannot discuss donating vaccine right now, when there are still people here in California where I live, who are terrified of becoming infected, who cannot access a vaccine, and who even meet the criteria that have been established here for being vaccinated. It is a mess in this country if you want to get vaccinated. I became vaccinated. I’m 62. Because I volunteered at a superstation that vaccinates thousands of people a day. So, I’m considered a medical volunteer. And indeed, my working at that superstation puts me at great risk, because I’m in close contact with huge numbers of people. But that’s an exceptional way to get vaccinated. And I’m not, by the criteria that exists, otherwise eligible. So, I understand why countries… as one person said to me about the United States, you cannot say no to governors, and yes to other presidents. That is political suicide and maybe even foolish, at the same time. We’re moving at such a rapid pace that I think people are blinded by the surplus that’s going to happen. We’re going to be awash in vaccine way before people realize.

Metta Spencer

How soon? When do you think that might happen?

Jon Cohen

Given that the United States is the largest purchaser and that Biden has committed to vaccinating all adult Americans by the end of May. We will have a surplus in the United States, I predict, certainly by the end of July. Because that’s when we have delivery commitments of Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, and Pfizer for far more product than we can possibly use. Then there will become a question of: do we want to vaccinate children in the United States? Do we need booster shots for people to combat the variants that are circulating and might require stronger immunity? Is there a durability issue that requires booster shots? Those are all real and salient reasons to reserve some vaccine and not give everything away. But this is a dynamic, and you need the top people sitting down regularly to discuss how to adjust. And that’s what this whole pandemic has been about – adjusting. There is no certainty here. And that’s the big fallacy that I think keeps tripping up countries is that they keep pretending that they know what’s going to happen tomorrow. They don’t. We don’t.

Ronald St. John

Jon, there’s an interesting phenomenon and I’d be interested in your comment. And that’s when there is an emergency situation – like COVID – and when there is a certain ingredient or measure that needs to be used, like having a vaccine or getting a vaccine or some commodity that becomes in short supply – the international markets collapse and countries start to scramble under nationalism to get a hold of that commodity at all costs. And globalization sort of goes out the window. How can we deal with this in the future? Just let me give you a personal anecdote: During the anthrax letters scare in the early ’80s, early ’20s (2000s), there was a need in Canada to purchase some antibiotics for a national emergency stockpile. When I went onto our standard suppliers of antibiotics, within an hour, I was told that I had 40 minutes to make a decision about purchasing X, Y, or Z, because there were 4 or 5 other countries in line. And recently Canada actually ended up with a shortage of vaccine, of COVID vaccine, because we were dependent on the production facility in Belgium. So, this whole thing collapses in like lightning speed. And I’m curious about how you think we can deal with this.

Jon Cohen

Yeah, I think that, you know, you raise a really important point that we are defined by how we behave during a crisis, not how we behave during, you know, simpler times – – and we behave badly during crises typically. The COVAX facility is new, and it’s a clever idea to address this. But we see its limitations already, given that there are over 100 countries in the world that have not vaccinated anyone. So ideally, the world would say, as a Kumbaya world, hey, the priority is health care workers, frontline responses, responders everywhere. And once you as a wealthy country have covered your most vulnerable health care workers, start sharing at that moment. And there are people who argue that’s a huge mistake we’re making. France has donated 5% of its vaccine right now. And Norway says it’s going to do a 1-to-1 donation of its vaccine. But Norway has 4, 4 and a half million people France has only vaccinated 5 million of its own, of course 6 million today. It’s nothing it’s a drop in the bucket. So I think what we need to do is create more COVAX-like facilities for these responses that address things other than just vaccines, PPEs for example, our you know, a classic thing where we run out of masks and gloves. Why don’t we have a global facility that is set up to address… there will be more pandemics, Ron, you know that and I know that we’re not out of this, it’s not like we’re gonna emerge here and somehow have taken care of the pandemic problem. (dog barks in background) My boss is yelling at me, I’m gonna let her out of the office in a moment. But I think you’re spot on that we have to come up with mechanisms that say in the future, this will happen again. And history will repeat itself, there will be hoarding, and there will be, it’s a natural inclination to take care of your own. And what you’re seeing here as well is China squashed it’s epidemic against COVID without biomedical interventions. So, China has been using vaccine as a diplomatic tool. And so, then you enter in this other realm of geopolitics, where commodities become tools to establish economic relationships or political advantages. And that in itself, creates dilemmas. You know, Russia is doing the same thing with its Sputnik vaccine, which it’s selling, but it’s inexpensive, and it’s aggressively marketing it and saying to the world, we are good neighbors, we are good people. Now that well, that well may be true. I’m not arguing that what they’re doing is bad. But it creates geopolitical dynamics that ultimately shouldn’t exist. You know, we don’t really want that. I’m gonna let her [the dog] out. But I can hear you.

Ronald St. John

Right.

Jon Cohen

Jon, I’ve often thought that there was an argument, there is an argument, that from a country’s perspective, that what is over there in the other world can be in my backyard in no time, Therefore, we should help solve the problem over there, because it’s in our own in our own self-interest, to deal with things, but that doesn’t seem to gather a whole lot of, of credibility or, you know, force, when you get up against something like COVID somehow.

Metta Spencer

Yeah, I think that the whole spirit of globalization should be enhanced by the experience of being in a pandemic, but it’s so clear that germs do not respect borders, and that people travel across borders. And I would have thought that we would be, you know, exactly singing Kumbaya by now. But if anything, it looks to me like it’s gone the other direction that there’s more nationalism, you know, borders, harder borders than then before. Is that your impression or do we have something hopeful to look forward to in those?

Jon Cohen

Oh, I think I there’s been more scientific collaboration and openness than ever before, I do see progress. And I see scientists communicating. You know, one of the, I hate to say this, because we’re all so sick of Zoom. But what Zoom has done is it has put groups of people from different countries in the same room, having discussions day in and day out, where they don’t have to get on airplanes and fly to places or even have bad telephone connections. We are communicating information more aggressively with more openness than ever before. So, I do you see progress. But what we’re talking about the goal we’re talking about runs up against, I don’t know if you know, the old-world health organization, or Mata declaration that health care is a right, and the notion that we all are in this together, the reality is that poor people do not have the access to medical care that rich people have. That’s a reality. And it’s true in every country. And it’s true between countries. And we’re not going to erase that problem. Just as we’re not going to give everyone in the world screens on their windows and air conditioners, and cars that don’t break, there are there are always going to be divisions of wealth, and your access, Metta, to healthcare is going to be better than someone else in Canada who doesn’t have your resources. That’s just reality. And your connections to doctors and nurses is going to give you better care than other people. And that’s just reality. So, I think we have to find some sweet spot in the middle, where we say, Okay, we have a universal base that we are going to adhere to. And then if you’re wealthier, yes, you get better, you get more, but there is a base that is agreed upon. And that’s what COVAX is attempting to do, can we achieve it? Well, I think we need leadership from the G20. And from the wealthier countries of the world to really put money into this, and not just talk. And that’s a big ask. And you know, politically, you don’t get that far with your own people, unless you’re some small Scandinavian country. And that’s why we see all these great issues coming to the fore in these small Scandinavian countries, because they have buy-in in from their populations of 5 million people. My country is 328 million people. We are incredibly divisive and divided and heterogeneous. And look what happened in our last election. We had people attack our own capital. We’re a very, very split place. And so to get buy in in the United States, is tough. And it’s not a politically attractive thing for a president to say, you know, we’re going to lead the way here, but that’s the kind of leadership we need.

Metta Spencer

How far do you think Biden is going to go with his progressiveness?

Jon Cohen

I don’t know. I mean, we’re, we’re in a very uncertain time politically in this country. We did just see a $1.9 trillion passage of a of a bill that will address COVID more aggressively than it’s been addressed, but it was completely along party lines.

Metta Spencer

Does it cover this COVAX thing too?

Jon Cohen

Well, that that occurred earlier, Biden committed to COVAX actually, the Trump administration in December, the Congress, not the Trump Administration, the US Congress wanted to back COVID. And when Biden was still not president, but the elect, he backed this, and he has put money on the barrelhead. So yes, the Biden Administration is strongly backing COVID. And the Biden administration importantly, rejoined the World Health Organization. I mean, remember, Donald Trump’s Administration pulled out of WHO during a pandemic, which to the world that I live in, was, are you kidding?

Ronald St. John

I was gonna also talk a little bit about internal I mean, within country equity. We know that different segments of our populations have are currently having differential access to the vaccine, even when they’re on the list of desired people to be vaccinated simply because of perhaps access issues, or I’d be interested in how we can address the internal inequity within a country.

Jon Cohen

Yeah, enormous, enormous challenge.

Ronald St. John

You’ve touched on it a little bit because you’ve noticed that there is there is inequity built in, within societies, but this is particularly disturbing to me because we just need to get everybody possible vaccinated.

Jon Cohen

Yeah, in the United States, we have disproportionate burden of disease in African American communities in particular and in Latino communities. And there has been a great effort by people running the vaccine, steering the vaccine ship, to try to have leaders from those communities talk publicly about being vaccinated and to make it something that’s desired. There’s been a lot of vaccine hesitancy in African American communities in particular. But I think it’s also important to note that the Pew Foundation did a survey that found that the most hesitant people are White Republicans. Not that it divides politically more than it divides by racial or ethnic groups. The efforts have to make it simpler to get a vaccine. And it is so terrifically difficult to get a vaccine in the United States. That communities that aren’t as connected to the healthcare system to begin with, which we know is the central problem for African American and Latino communities are going to be left out. And you know, your first Americans are, what do you call it Canadian?

Ronald St. John

You’re our Aboriginal population, our Indigenous people. We have the same kinds of situations here, slightly different ethnic groups. But we do have the same problem.

Jon Cohen

 And it’s a disconnect from healthcare, isn’t it? I mean, isn’t that the central problem?

Ronald St. John

Yes.

Jon Cohen

That’s a systemic problem.

Ronald St. John

And, and also some ethnic profiling that takes place. I mean, the Asian Canadians have been, I’ve had some difficulties with discriminatory remarks, and so forth, during the COVID situation here in Canada.

Jon Cohen

I think what we need to do is learn from others successes. And we know, for example, with HIV, that one of the great advances in terms of antiretroviral treatment was bringing testing to the community to find who was infected in a community, and then bringing drugs to the community in a way that was simpler. That didn’t require getting on a bus and riding for an hour to get your drugs. But instead, people would come to you maybe, and we did this with tuberculosis and the direct observed therapy where you go door to door and make sure people are swallowing their pills. I think we have to get aggressive about it and target communities that want vaccine that can’t easily access them, maybe by having mobile clinics that go out and do it, or by setting up…

Metta Spencer

About those people who are hesitant though … I really don’t understand the logic or what their rationale is. But to what extent is it possible to push them? You are even I think I’ve heard some employers can require it of their employees. And I guess there’s a legal question of whether or not that is violating their rights. Help me get clarity about what the rules are, and should be, about insisting that people take the vaccine.

Ronald St. John

I’m going to jump in right here for because what you’re opening also, Metta, is the doorway to the whole notion of a passport or certificate for the vaccinated against the unvaccinated. And I’m, I’m really quite concerned about how the ethics and the law is going to play out, are going to play out over that.

Jon Cohen

They’re very tricky questions.

Ronald St. John

Jon, have you been thinking about passports?

Jon Cohen

Yeah, a great deal. And I think Israel is far ahead of everyone because they vaccinated such a huge percentage of the population. And Israel has been criticized for requiring people to show vaccine documentation to go to a shopping mall, for example. And what Israel says in reply is, “Hey, you know, you don’t have to go to a shopping mall. And if you don’t want to get vaccinated, don’t go shopping, don’t go to the shopping mall.” And they’re using it something as something of an incentive for people. I think there is a very troubling aspect to passports in terms of people who cannot access vaccines, right? And then you have an equity issue because they can’t go places other people can go at no fault of their own. So that a serious consideration. But the flip side is that we’ve used yellow fever vaccine immunization cards for as long as I’ve been on airplanes. And you know, I have my yellow fever vaccine card with me whenever I travel. And I accept that that helps slow the spread of yellow fever, the same thing was done for a time with smallpox, when that was a problem. There was an immunization card that you needed to show. So, I don’t think that the idea itself is a bad idea. But with yellow fever, anyone who wants the vaccine can get the vaccine. And the same was true with smallpox. So, the access and equitable distribution of product wasn’t at the center of the dilemma. I think it’s ultimately a matter of timing a year from now, when everyone can get a vaccine anywhere. I hope that’s true a year from now, the passport idea takes on a different sheen than it does today. I’m going to start traveling because I’m fully immunized at the end of this month. And I’m going to be traveling with my immunization card. And it is going to benefit me in some locales to have that card. And I think that’s wise, I think it should, because I think there is a different immune status in my body, that should be taken into consideration in terms of the risks that I pose to others, although we don’t really know how much transmission occurs yet, through vaccinated people. And certainly, vaccinated people can become infected. But I would anticipate that their viral loads would be far lower, and they’d be far less likely to transmit, we have to see the data. But that is logical. Right?

Ronald St. John

Right. Right. It’s beginning to look like that’s true.

Jon Cohen

I think I think there’s data building that that’s true. But the getting it the vaccine hesitancy question, I, I’ve studied vaccine hesitancy in great depth. It goes back to the first vaccine that Edward Jenner made against smallpox. And the England reaction to that vaccine led to the Luddite movement, which oppose sewing machines and industrialization, creating an anti-vaccine movement in the 1800s. And that movement has ebbed and flowed ever since. And there was a Supreme Court case in the United States in the early 1900s, about the smallpox vaccine. And the issue is ultimately about the fact that healthy people don’t want to stick needles into their bodies. And they ask, why are you going to… I mean, think about how we use needles, right? Who gets needles? Well, people have diabetes, for insulin; people who inject drugs that we think are dangerous, opiates, in particular; and most of us have never injected ourselves with anything – all of us have taken pills. And if a vaccine is a pill, it alters the hesitancy equation to some degree, but the idea of an injection into a healthy person into my perfect baby, you’re going to do this to my baby, that in and of itself, it’s a logical, rational concern, to not want to cause harm to some human body that seems perfectly healthy. But, you know, it’s the whole question of what is prevention? And how do we understand and think about prevention. And we are very bad at that as humans. And the way to address vaccine hesitancy is not to simply flood people with facts, because it’s an emotional response. In many ways. It is not factually based. And part of what leads people to change their minds about hesitancy is seeing others who benefit from the intervention. And I watched HIV denialism very closely where people didn’t believe HIV caused AIDS that evaporated, why did it go away? It went away, because very good antiretroviral drugs came out. And as they became accessible, people everywhere, saw their dying neighbor, get up out of bed and go back to work. So, anyone who was living with HIV who didn’t believe the virus was harmful, directly saw the benefit. We are now directly seeing the benefit of COVID-19 vaccines. We’re seeing deaths plummeting in settings, like nursing homes where they’re widely used, and we’re seeing Israel with its early data. And as those data show us, the benefit, hesitancy is diminishing, and that will continue and it will become more dramatic. As people who are hesitant in high-risk situations die. Unfortunately, that will happen. There will be nurses and doctors and people in nursing homes, who refuse vaccines, and everyone in their setting will be fine. And they will be put on a ventilator and die a horrible death. And people will see that and that will diminish hesitancy I’m sorry to put it that starkly, but I do think that’s what’s going to happen.

Ronald St. John

If I may just add this, I appreciate the way you’re putting the whole issue, Jon, because in public health we have such a tendency to try to explain to people what the statistics are. So, we are just reading a study with healthcare workers in the UK. On the frequency of anaphylactic shock following the Pfizer vaccine. And it was 0.25%. Well, you know, what does a person understand about point 0.25%? And you say, oh, well, that’s, that’s 2.5 people per 10,000. You know, I understand that. But the average person I just stated, doesn’t.

Jon Cohen

It doesn’t mean anything. “And if it’s me, if it’s me, it’s me, if I’m that person, it’s me.”

Ronald St. John

Exactly. I often said that, people I remember back in HIV days, people would ask me, what’s my risk of getting HIV and I would say, 0 or 100. For you, as a person, because either you get it or you don’t. As a as a population, it’s different. But I find it very interesting that I think in public health, we just don’t present things quite as clearly as we need to for the average person.

Metta Spencer

But Jon, if I can ask why the Republican, what is it? White male Republicans, is that the people that you say are resisting it most? Why would they be any more hesitant than anybody else if it has something to do with the experience of seeing people get well or die?

Jon Cohen

Well, the narrative that came out of the Trump White House began in February of 2020. With “this is not a big deal, it’s going to go away. Hey, it doesn’t really cause harm.” And that then be mutated into this a scamdemic. It’s not real. It’s a political tool being used by Democrats to get rid of Donald Trump. And let’s not bother wearing masks, and the President refused to wear a mask for a very long time. And, hey, you know, this just is like the flu. And it’s just something that’s just gonna come and go, and by springtime, it will be gone. All of that created a false narrative about the dangers. And in the Republican Party, it also became a rallying cry to try and win an election. And so, there’s residue left over from that. The hesitancy that now exists in Republicans, I predict will plummet as data… not just as data emerges, but as people witness reality. Reality is a really, really strong medicine. It just, you know, when you see, if you ride a motorcycle, you’re taking a risk. And if you see somebody in a motorcycle accident, and you see how horrific it is, it makes you rethink your risk taking I ride waves. I surf and I surf large waves, but I don’t serve the kind of giant waves the people who surf giant wave surf. And in part, that’s because I have been humbled so many times in the water, where I’ve reached my limits, and I’ve nearly drowned. And I’ve seen other people drown. And it changes how I approach that risky behavior. I still surf. And I still love it. And but I’m much more calculating about how I make decisions. And I think that’s true for all of us. We, the experiences we see that are frightening, lead us to modify our behaviors, and the experiences we have of things that are positive, that we see, really great things happen to communities. Like my mom plays Mahjong, she’s 91. She’s from Winnipeg. And yesterday, my mom and 3 of her friends who are all doubly vaccinated, had a Mahjong game without their masks on. And she sent me a video and it was just beautiful. And as people share things like that, of their relatives, that will lead to hesitancy diminishing because they see the joy that the vaccine has brought to people, they love. And they’re going to see grandparents hugging grandchildren, they haven’t hugged in a year, that’s happening all over the place, and it’s going to happen more and mor. And children will return to schools. And the joy that comes from this, from the protection of the teachers in the school through vaccination will have an impact. I’m certain of that I think we are driven tremendously by hope. I think that’s what humans are made of. And when we see hope in action, it changes us. So that’s my pollyannish view of it that my cynical skeptical side kicks in and I think there’s some people who are anti-vaccination. It doesn’t matter. They don’t believe in vaccines. They’re a minority. And there was a study done that I wrote about some years ago, in I think it was Michigan, where they said to parents who didn’t want to vaccinate their children, okay? You just have to come to the public health department and have a meeting for 30 minutes to discuss your concerns and then we’ll give you a waiver. Vaccination rates, steeply climbed, and hardly anyone went to the meeting. They couldn’t be bothered to drive down town and pay for parking and go listen to somebody. They weren’t anti-vaccine, they were hesitant. And if you created the slightest obstacle, they said, “Oh, to hell with it, I’m gonna vaccinate my kid.” So, I think that’s another clever way to address some of this and to separate anti-vaccine from hesitancy because they’re extremely different things. And most people are not anti-vaccine, they’re hesitant. And that’s different.

Ronald St. John

I think you’re right. I think if this passport thing, if you if people find out, you just cannot get on an airplane and go anywhere to visit your uncle, or to go to Miami or whatever, without evidence that you have been vaccinated, I think that may persuade a lot of people to get the vaccine.

Jon Cohen

I do too. And I think there’s a concept also that we haven’t talked about, and it’s about risk reduction and harm reduction. You know, in the HIV field, it became very clear that if you provided clean syringes to people who shoot heroin, that they don’t spread HIV amongst themselves, the heroin doesn’t cause HIV transmission. It’s the dirty syringe and needle. And people politically said, Oh, no, don’t do that you’re encouraging heroin use” and other people said “No, we’re reducing the risk of harm. They’re still going to be harmed by shooting opiates, but we’re reducing their risks because they won’t get HIV” and that had been hugely successful. We have to think about COVID-19 vaccination in terms of harm reduction. It doesn’t eliminate risk. That’s not what it does. It vastly reduces your risk of becoming severely ill, it may well eliminate your risk of being hospitalized and dying, for a period of time. And it may well vastly reduce your risk of transmitting the virus to others. That’s what it does. It’s not eliminating anything right now that we know of other than hospitalization and death, which do seem to be eliminated by the initial responses to these vaccines. That might wane over time, it likely will. But right now, I can say with great certainty that nine vaccines have presented efficacy data, and no one who has received any one of these vaccines – and we’re now talking about millions of people – no one has developed, has died.

Ronald St. John

Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I was asked a question. I was asked: “Well, there are now four vaccines approved here in Canada, and they’re not quite all the same. Should I wait and choose my vaccine?” I said, you take the next vaccine that comes along. Because they all stop death.

Jon Cohen

You know, Ron, we know what the virus does. So, you want to calculate precisely what a vaccine does? Give me a break? Right. You know.

Metta Spencer

I have the one question that I haven’t heard a definitive answer to though. And I don’t know whether you have the answer. To what extent are the existing vaccines good against the variants? I mean, if you take a vaccine, what is left for you as a risk of one of the South African or other variants?

Jon Cohen

Well, the best data we have come from the Johnson and Johnson study, which was in partially in South Africa, and no one who received a single dose of that vaccine ended up being hospitalized or dying. Even though 85 to 90% of the people who became infected and who are becoming infected in South Africa are becoming infected by a variant that can dodge antibody responses. The antibody responses are but one arm of the immune system, and everyone’s gauging the power of the variants based on their ability to escape from the antibody. But we have a whole other arm of the immune system that behaves in an entirely different way. Antibodies, for the most part, prevent viruses from infecting a cell by glomming on to them and blocking their ability to dock onto a cell. But when cells become infected, we have a whole other arm of the immune system that our T-cells orchestrate that targets and clears infected cells. And these variants are not getting around T-cell immunity as far as we can tell, to any significant degree. And that’s likely why people are doing well, even in situations where the variants that are most concerning are predominant. So, the variants are real, they’re a concern, they do weaken the ability of vaccines to prevent mild disease, they probably lead to more transmission. But in terms of what we really care about, let’s remember we got into this lockdown situation, because hospitals were overwhelmed. ICUs were overflowing in Wuhan in northern Italy, in Spain, in Iran, in New York City, in Seattle. Hospitals were collapsing, because they couldn’t handle it. Vaccines prevent that.

Metta Spencer

 Yeah.

Jon Cohen

So, you know, smell the coffee here.

Metta Spencer

You don’t have to convince me about the vaccine. We’re not quite as far advanced in in Canada as the US is, we’re a couple of months behind I think in our ability to make the vaccine available. But I’m certainly I’m on board with that.

Ronald St. John

That matter was due predominantly to the supply interruption issue. When the production… since we get our vaccine from Belgium, and the production vaccine, the Pfizer production capacity in Belgium was halted for a while because they wanted to expand their production, you have to stop the assembly line to do that. We had a shortfall of weeks with very limited supply. And now we’re in a catch-up phase.

Metta Spencer

So, you think we will get caught up?

Ronald St. John

I think it’s it seems to be accelerating right now at a pretty good pace. And we may, you know, the Prime Minister promised everybody would be vaccinated by the end of September, which is a great goal. Now people are talking beginning and talk about being able to meet that goal a couple months earlier. Let’s hope so.

Jon Cohen

There’s something else to keep in mind here and probably is true in Canada as well as the United States. We do not do mass vaccination of adults as a routine thing. We do flu vaccine, but you go to your local pharmacy and get a flu vaccine here in the United States. And there’s no signup process. There’s nothing or the Shingrix vaccine for shingles. There was a shortage of that vaccine, I had to get on a waiting list. But it wasn’t a sense of urgency about shingles. Because shingles is not a seasonal thing. It’s like shingles is in my body. I don’t want to get that virus. So, we don’t have a history of mass vaccination campaigns of adults. We do have children, pediatricians routinely, you know, vaccinate. That’s one of their main jobs. And in the United States, it’s a birth cohort of 4 million a year. And we figured that out. We’ve got that down. But our systems have to figure out the kinks of mass vaccination campaigns for adults. And as we figure out those kinks, it happens in a couple of months’ time. Everything speeds up.

Ronald St. John

Yeah, yeah, no, you’re absolutely right. I don’t think there’s ever been, certainly in this nation’s history, a mass campaign to vaccinate adults. We had mass campaigns for polio and kids.

Jon Cohen

Right.

Ronald St. John

But I think that was the last time we had mass campaigns. Now we vaccinate kids as they’re born. But to do everybody, to vaccinate adults of all ages, all occupations is a huge undertaking,

Jon Cohen

Especially with a priority scheme. If you just opened up the doors and said anyone can get a vaccine who wants one, it’s much easier. But when you start prioritizing health care workers. “Now okay, now we’re going to include nursing homes. Okay, now we’re going to include over 75, over 65.” It creates massive confusion here in California right now, you can get a vaccine if you are a food and agricultural worker or if you work in a grocery store. Okay, how do you prove that? Well, you know, you show up with your pay stub and do people take advantage of that system? Of course, they do. They forge documents, and the vaccine superstation where I’m a volunteer. My job last Friday night was being the first screen of people who showed up with documentation and wanted vaccine. And I had to turn away a lot of people. And it was almost comical the way people lie. And the way you know, and it was almost comical that I’m telling people, they can’t have a vaccine. I want them to have the vaccine. Who wants to turn someone away? So that’s part of the dilemmas that we’re prioritizing because we’re rationing. We’re doing a ration system. Yeah. Because of a shortage.

Ronald St. John

Yeah, absolutely.

Metta Spencer

So, it’s something about barcodes or, you know, there’s little things that you know, that they stamp on things. Apparently, they’re going to be using those and I noticed, I think today’s papers said that Canada is not set up with enough of those readers. Cell phones can do it. But the Government of Canada can’t.

Jon Cohen

Well, man, I was just speaking this morning with a researcher in India. And in India, they have very organized electronic medical record system for 1.2 billion people. And they sell smartphones for as little as $10. And basically, they’re not struggling with these issues the way we are. There are privacy concerns, certainly. And then you start to think about China and the way China uses smartphones to track people. But when it comes to public health mass campaign, this thing right here is a phenomenal tool that we haven’t figured out how to properly use and India has, and China has, and Israel has. You know, Israel has for HMOs for the entire population, it’s only 9 million people. Everyone has an electronic medical record. Every COVID-19 test you take is in your record, every vaccine dose you’ve received as in your record, every hospital visit you have for anything is in the record. If they want to figure out what’s happening with a vaccination campaign, they punch buttons on a keyboard, and they get answers. We can’t do that in the United States. We’re so fractured here that, you know, I there, there are four major hospital systems in San Diego alone, where I live. And they don’t talk to each other. And if you go from one hospital system to the other, you don’t just press a button and move your records. Oh, you file all sorts of confidentiality agreements, and you wait three weeks and you pay some money. And then maybe the records get there, and maybe they don’t, it’s a mess.

Metta Spencer

Okay, there’s one final thing I’d like to ask you to consider. And that is the question of actions that will try to stop the spread of pandemics in the future by early warning systems. And I particularly want Ron to describe the GPHIN system. Because when you were working for the Canadian government, you were in charge of this outfit, which you can, I’m going to let you describe and see whether or not… I know that the history of it has gone bad. But is there a prospect of being able to revive it or even expand on that kind of thing? Tell us about GPHIN, Ron.

Ronald St. John

Well, GPHIN stands for Global Public Health Intelligence System. And is the product of something here that we started, we created about the late 90s, when we realized that, given global mobility, infectious disease could be on our shores within 24 hours from anywhere in the world. And we needed we thought we should… we had a couple of incidents, that pushed us to develop a system that would monitor media worldwide, for outbreaks of disease. And so, we could anticipate – and that’s the key word anticipate -that we might have a problem here in Canada. So, we created this system, it was the first ever computer-based monitoring system. The World Health Organization bought in, so did CDC, and we’re still going today. But in 2019, early 2019 – and before that – the government sort of felt that, well, there’s not much happening in the world right now. So why are we spending money on this early warning system? Why shouldn’t it be diverted to other priorities? And they said, well stop issuing international alerts, because we just don’t need those. There’s nothing happening in the world. That was in May of 2019, which was about seven months before COVID came. So, our early warning system got muzzled. And it has become a big issue with now a panel of inquiry looking into what happened, why, and so forth. There are lots of reasons, it’s complex. But the… we feel strongly, I feel strongly that we need the early warning systems, not just based on media, but looking at other innovative ways of finding out things like Twitter’s and social, some people talk in on their social networks and we may be there’s a lot of noise there but sometimes there might be some important information. We need to know how to tap into that and other systems as well. To enhance our capacity to detect something that we say uh-oh we need to anticipate this might become bigger.

Metta Spencer

Well, shouldn’t this also be global in scope.

Ronald St. John

It is global, Metta. Now. It has been global for some time, and it has been linked into the WHO, the World Health Organization. And it is now part of something called Epidemic Intelligence from Other Sources. EIOS Programme at WHO and GPHIN contributes about 20% of the information. Now, there are lots of different like systems: PROMED and Health Map and you name it. I mean, there are lots now. And they’re all being they’re trying to consolidate this information in WHO with some difficulty, because the systems are not compatible and there’s a lot of noise in the systems. But GPHIN i contributing about 20% of the information that WHO has at the present time. But GPHIN has not been updated or modernized, especially with its IT in some time. So, there’s a big issue now about what to do with GPHIN and how to how to get it back on track. Here in Canada and with WHO and the rest of the world.

Jon Cohen

And upstream of that we need more aggressive surveillance of animals that potentially have pathogens that can jump into humans. There is surveillance that takes place of bats and pigs and chickens. And it is useful, but it’s not done aggressively enough. And the US had a program called predict that in a similar timeframe was defunded right before the pandemic. That was a global collaborative effort to do animal surveillance to try to look out for potential, what are called zoonotic events, the jumping from one species into us. And if we can identify, let’s say, a pig farm that has an influenza virus that has never been in humans, but could grow in human cells, we could potentially, for example, vaccinate those pigs or take some other measures to protect the workers there from becoming infected by those pigs. And that’s where we’re failing upstream, is we’re not aggressively enough doing the surveillance and acting upon what we find to prevent zoonotic events, like the one that likely is behind the pandemic we’re experiencing right now.

Ronald St. John

Yeah, I mentioned there is this movement called One Health. And the basic principle is that our health is inextricably linked to our animal’s health, and vice versa. And the fact that we’re all here on one planet. It’s all linked. And there’s there is a movement to do exactly as you say, Jon increased surveillance and… Go ahead.

Jon Cohen

I was just gonna say the One Health movement is tremendous. Several years ago, they held a meeting in Mongolia for the One Health Conference and they held it there because more humans live with animals in Mongolia, it turns out than anywhere else.

Metta Spencer

Really? Horses, they ride horses. I have pictures of them doing it. What else do they do?

Jon Cohen

 Well, they have horses, cows, pigs, chickens. I mean, the way that farming and agriculturally based communities live with animals creates a lot of opportunity for viruses and other pathogens to jump around.

Metta Spencer

Yes, but they tell me that the contact is increasing. Now that I don’t understand. Because you know, yes, we are tearing, building houses in jungles and you know, tearing down habitat. So somehow that seems to be exposing people to pathogens more than even in the days when we were all farmers. I don’t know. And I don’t understand it. But that’s what they claim.

Jon Cohen

There has been a lot of opportunity for pathogens because of habitat destruction. That certainly is taking place. But the primary way … just look at influenza. What happens? Why do we have changing vaccines every year for flu? What is that about? Well, that’s about the fact that chickens and pigs get infected and other wild fowl, for example, get infected with influenza viruses that jump into us. And then they mix with viruses that are already in us and create new variants that we have to deal with. If that happens with SARS COVID-2 watch out. The variants we’ve discussed so far are variants of SARS COVID-2. If you get a mix of a new coronavirus and SARS COVID-2 we are screwed. That’s what worries me.

Ronald St. John

I’m really thankful that this coronavirus COVID-19 has not behaved like MERS coronavirus where the mortality rate is as high as 35%. That would be unthinkable.

Jon Cohen

Ron, imagine if this coronavirus hit children the way it hits adults and we had ICUs filled with dying five-year-olds. We have been so spared of that horror. And I think we have to be grateful that this virus is as wimpy as it is.

Ronald St. John

I agree 100%. As wimpy as it is, it’s a good way to put it.

Metta Spencer

Well, we’ve covered the waterfront. I think that this is very enlightening. I hope you don’t mind if I put some clips from it into Peace Magazine. I’m working on the next issue now. And I think it’s important to share as much of it as I can. So, it’s very kind of you, Jon, to be with us. And Ron, too. I see Ron more often.

Jon Cohen

Well, it’s my pleasure. I really enjoyed the conversation. Thank you. Thank you both.

Ronald St. John

Thank you, Jon. Enjoyed it very much.

Jon Cohen

Let’s stay in touch.

Ronald St. John

Take care.

Metta Spencer

Bye.

T172. Granoff vs Nuclear Weapons

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 172
Panelists: Jonathan Granoff
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired: 27 January 2021
Date Transcribed: 12 March 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: David Millar

Metta Spencer

Well, hello, I’m Metta Spencer. And today I get to get back in touch with a fellow I’ve known a little bit for a number of years, but not very well. So I get to know him a little better today. This is Jonathan Granoff, who is president or the head honcho anyway, at the Global Security Institute, which is someplace outside of… Kenwood… Pennsylvania, is that where you are… No, not for a long time. Last time I knew you were… Where are you nowadays?

Jonathan Granoff

Our offices are two blocks from the United Nations [New York City].

Metta Spencer

Oh, okay. Well, that puts you in the big league, doesn’t it? … not the sticks… or an elegant suburb of Philadelphia as I recall. Anyway, it’s good to see you, Jonathan. And, and we are going to get caught up a little bit, because first time I met you,… we were both in the backseat of a car in Pugwash, Nova Scotia… and you were on your cell phone. And you were calling US senators, as I recall, just casually… as if you just wanted to check in with these folks see how they were doing… first name basis… my jaw dropped. I thought this is this is a peacenik with power. Anyway, I think we’ve met on a few other occasions, and I don’t know that you are on the phone with senators every day of the week. But at any rate, it’s, it’s good to know that I have a friend in high places. How are you?

Jonathan Granoff

I’m fine. Thank you… privileged and living in the suburbs of New York City… my wife and I are enjoying it. We go for hikes in the woods every day. And, you know, we do these zooms. So we’re intimate with people all over the world. We live in a fairly large, large home. It’s not it’s not environmentally perfect by any stretch… But I think… how difficult the present situation must be for people living in apartment houses.

Metta Spencer

I have an apartment house and I’m perfectly happy. Well, yeah, I never go out.

Jonathan Granoff

You don’t go out… imagine if you had three children, oh, that would be hard. And then imagine if one of the people in the house had to go out and work. And when they came back, you either had to quarantine them, or you were concerned that they could spread the virus. And then imagine that you have several generations, that you have elderly people who if they get the virus, they’re terribly compromised. And then imagine you’re in… public housing, where you have elevators that are relatively slow, dysfunctional, overcrowded. And then imagine… you’re in a part of the country, a large part of the country, where people have been told by the… former president of the United States, not to wear masks, and you have to interact with them. Just to go to the grocery or get gas for your car, or anything, and and you’re afraid if you tell them, “Put a mask on,” that they might shoot you —

Metta Spencer

I can’t think —

Jonathan Granoff

I think of this every day. how privileged I am. Under these circumstances.

Metta Spencer

Well, I feel the way very privileged too and I’m very comfortable. And I’ve got… arthritis, so I’m not comfortable. But otherwise, I’ve got a young girl who does errands for me and I have food delivered. And.. have I have a rich social life because I do this every day, I talk to somebody… on the zoom about four hours a day, which is better than I used to be, you know, in terms of being in touch with people. So I feel… I’m not missing a thing. Anyway, so we have a lot to get caught up with because you are kind of a mover and shaker in the global peace movement. And I’ve run into you at other international type meetings. And I liked the fact that you titled the institute, the “Global Security Institute,” which is, you know, pretty inclusive. So, why don’t we talk about what your organization is up to and the policy options? Where are we in the start of 2021 with a new administration in the US and the possibility of renewing the START agreement… Where do we stand and what what’s our assignment for the year or the decade? How about that first quarter? Yeah. You can break off any chunk of it you want.

Jonathan Granoff

Well, first I wanted to… highlight where we met in Pugwash, Nova Scotia. We were at Cyrus Eaton’s estate, which served as a bridge-building center for scientists of the then- Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War. And the Pugwash Conference Center has a legacy that most Canadians don’t know about. But if they do know about it, it’s a matter of appropriate pride. So, it’s this beautiful estate, you know, looking out on… the Atlantic Ocean. And during the height of the Cold War, scientists from the Soviet Union and the United States met there… in 1995, the Nobel Committee bestowed on those conferences a Nobel Peace Prize. And along with that, they gave a particular prize to one of the founders of the Pugwash conferences, a man named Dr. Joseph Rotblat. And the reason was that Dr. Rotblat. was on the Manhattan Project. And… when he found out that the heavy water facility in Norway, had been blown up by the Norwegian resistance and the British Secret Service operators, that the Nazis could not build an atomic bomb — and the whole premise of the Manhattan Project was to be a deterrent against the Nazis — he went to the leaders of the Manhattan Project and said, we should stop, because the raison d’etre of this project is no longer there. And their response was not explicit, but it was essentially, billions of dollars have been spent, we can’t just walk off. He said, “You build it, you’ll use it, and you build it, others will build them, and you’ll have will have a horrible arms race. And as a moral principle, you walk off,” —

Metta Spencer

You know, there’s a different angle on that story. And your, your part of it is not one I heard. I interviewed Joe Rotblat once. And the story he told me… had to do with Japan, that… General Groves told him… “This is not really for winning the war against Japan. This is for what we’re going to use it for next, which will be Russia. Because as soon as this war with Japan is over, pretty soon we’re going to be z war with Russia. And that’s what… this bomb is for.” And that’s when he decided to quit.

Jonathan Granoff

Well… they’re not contradictory. There was a slew of a slew of reasons that Grove articulated to justify continuing the project. And there’s more, there’s affirmations that were made to the US military establishment, and particularly to those who had to allocate these huge sums of money. But yes… the reason that we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was as a message to Stalin who was about to invade Japan. But… let me go back to Pugwash, Canada. And so — you’re absolutely correct, that was one of the arguments… but it goes back to the reason for the project of the Manhattan Project, it begins with a letter from Albert Einstein to President Roosevelt that said the Nazis are going to get the bomb. And that… reason falls away. They start looking for other reasons. So, this was a weapon, looking for a rationale. And he considered the weapon immoral, irrational and extremely dangerous and founded the Pugwash movement named after the venue in Canada, and we were there because of another, a great Canadian leader, Senator Douglas Roche. Who… started the middle powers initiative… looked at where the world is or and was, which was between — 1. the maximalist demand of nuclear abolition now today by the majority of countries in the world which don’t have nuclear weapons — and 2. the intransigence of the nuclear weapon states, despite their legal obligation under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to negotiate elimination… that middle-power countries, countries that rely on the rule of law that have that have fairly good records on human rights Canada, an excellent record, but we were pretty flexible, because our issue was not human rights. Our issue was nuclear weapons, countries with legitimate… governments that rely on the rule of law, could and should be a bridge between the maximalist demands and the intransigents, and to come up with practical steps that the world could take to walk down the nuclear ladder, and lead toward fulfilling the legal obligation that the International Court of Justice has articulated, the legal obligation to negotiate the elimination of nuclear weapons, and the legal obligation contained in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. And our retreat there was essentially focused on that agenda, building that agenda, to build that bridge —

Metta Spencer

And that’s really what the whole focus was almost the whole time, then we branched out a little bit here or there. But this big focus… has always been nuclear weapons. Yeah, by the way, Doug Roche had an article just yesterday in the Globe and Mail newspaper about the new nonproliferation (TPNW), not the Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons (NPT)… because Canada has, of course, not endorsed it… there’s a big effort here now to get Canada to, to not only sign it, but ratify it… which is of course, problematic, from many points of view, because people want to say, “Well, we’re a member of NATO… it’s not possible for a NATO member to join the TPNW”. But there’s a very strong argument that yes, it is possible. So that’s what he was arguing for yesterday. And we have a new minister, Foreign Minister, Marc Garneau, who was an astronaut… in Global Affairs. And he is he had previously stated his support for nuclear disarmament… before he took a very significant part in the government. But at any rate, now, the question is, does he still think that way? And does he have enough clout to make it happen?

Jonathan Granoff

Canada also has an excellent ambassador to the United Nations,

Metta Spencer

Bob Rae, I’m trying to get an appointment with him, one of these days on this show…

Jonathan Granoff

A very open, thoughtful, reflective, insightful, inspiring human being, and one would expect great things from him. When the UN gets back in motion. Under the Biden administration, it’ll be a lot easier. But you know, Canada has been, you know, missing in action the last few years, it has walked away from its traditional role as a leader in global cooperation as a bridge -building nation. And, in fact, deep the Department of Foreign Affairs hosted several endeavors with the middle powers initiative. And Senator Roche and I had… no less than four meetings with Jean Chretien. Really… I brought the former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to a meeting with him… Michael Douglas, the actor… the most impressive was a meeting with the…former Prime Minister Kim Campbell. And how cordial and how professional and how… mature as people they were… I was just thinking of like their character, both of them. Chretien and Campbell, compared to most politicians… they were real people of character and… thoughtfulness. And the current prime minister, to my surprise, given his background, his lineage… his father was a great world leader. And this youth has not taken the mantle of global leadership that the world so desperately needs. And… I would reach out to him and say, you know, there is a constituency in Canada: the business community that operates at a global law-governed level, the financial community operates at a global level, the human rights community of Canada, both domestically and internationally, has a legacy and positions for which it can take pride. It still is a leader in that… globally, on the issue of science and climate. Canada has a global perspective on the issue of the pandemic — Canada’s position in approaching it as a global public vaccine, and addressing it as a global public good. Canada has a strong position to be proud of… on the issue of on international security, on the melting of the Arctic, Canada has a position to be proud of. And it has leaders such as the… Order of Canada, which has unanimously come out in favor of the abolition of nuclear weapons, national heroes like Romeo Dallaire, a strong nuclear abolitionist — and there’s a very small minority in Canada dragging their feet on this issue… on the issue of nuclear abolition, Canada is a laggard, and it has fallen behind. And I don’t believe it’s consistent with the will of the people of Canada to be a global leader in peace and security. And what it can do in NATO… is cause an ongoing review of the process. And that review must include civil society. Thus far, the NATO review process has really been a very closed process. And that would involve having hearings in the Canadian Parliament. I’ve testified before the Canadian Parliament, and I was amazed at how sophisticated the parliamentarians were, how they were prepared, and they asked demanding questions. So, there could be hearings, and organizations like the ones that you’re a part of, Metta, should be part of that process… Canada could also be convening middle-power countries in a process to build that bridge between the maximalist demands and the intransigence of the nuclear weapon states. There are many things that Canada could do right now… Another thing that Senator Roche was a leader in… Parliamentarians for Global Action. They started an initiative called the Six Nation Initiative. And at that time, you had six heads of state. Papandreou from Greece, Nyerere from Tanzania, Gandhi from India, Olaf Palme from Sweden, and the respective heads of state of Argentina and Mexico. I’m glad you can remember all those, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. And they went to Moscow and Washington and made the case that they were all subject to the hazard of the nuclear sword being over their heads. And thus, they could only fulfill their first duty as the head of their states, which is to protect their populations, if the Soviet Union and the United States started talking to each other about the issue. And I know from President Gorbachev directly telling me, this had a very, very positive effect. Well, Prime Minister Trudeau could start a similar initiative of like-minded heads of state that want to be seized of the issue and bring it to the forefront at the General Assembly debates. Every head of state should be saying, we have yet to fulfill the first resolution of the United Nations to ban weapons of mass destruction, atomic bombs. That’s the first resolution —

Metta Spencer

— everything that you said. And I my own interpretation… is that Trudeau, the present Trudeau, Prime Minister, is very concerned about staying on the good side of the US. That’s always been the main motivation… the main constraint on politicians doing things a little bolder than they’ve done. And so he was being very careful and cautious about his dealings with Trump. Now, the question is, how much more latitude will exist in the Biden years, as Biden is by no means a pacifist, he’s very much a military-minded person, I don’t know how strong he is in favor of nuclear weapons, or whether the plans for the US expansion and modernization of the nuclear arsenal will continue on the present course. But if there is to be any kind of wavering on that, it might give a little bit more room for those… and there is a very strong initiative going on here in Canada, to press the Canadian government to take a stronger position against nuclear weapons. And either to get out of NATO or… I think the opinion is sort of divided whether Canada should leave NATO, or use the power that we have within NATO to instigate some changes there. So that’s, you know, in a way, I’m gonna throw it back in your lap since I’m on this side of the border, and you’re on that the southern side of this border. And if Biden is going to be a little bit more open to changes of a nuclear policy, how are we going to find that out? When? Do you have any feelers out?

Jonathan Granoff

No need for feelers, just need to look at the policy statements that he ran on, that he’s committed to move toward a nuclear-weapons-free world —

Metta Spencer

but everybody says that it just means, you know, like, 100 years from now, maybe —

Jonathan Granoff

No, I’m sorry. That’s not what it means. No. Okay. No… and I don’t think we should frame it… we should stop framing it as we’re against nuclear weapons. I think we should frame it as we are for… fulfilling promises that have been made under solidly negotiated treaties. So we are for Law and Order in the international arena. We are for fulfilling the legal obligation to negotiate the elimination of nuclear weapons, unanimously held by the International Court of Justice, and the positive law of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty [NPT}, that Canada is a party to and the United States is, and there are practical steps that have been committed to under the nuclear non proliferation treaty that remain outstanding. and Canada can push very hard on those because they’ll have support from the Biden administration, if it’s framed as fulfilling the rule of law —

Metta Spencer

And that’s really interesting. Because I, I have to, I don’t want to disagree with you, Jonathan. But, you know, even the Green New Deal people, and Ed Markey, who’s always a most fervent anti-nuclear weapons guy for the last 50 years or whatever. He’s part he’s one of the leaders of Green New Deal, and there’s nothing in there about militarism. There’s certainly nothing there about nuclear abolition.

Jonathan Granoff

No, but he has other legislation… he has other legislation on that, he has no-first-use legislation. He has a budget… He’s been putting forward legislation to change the budget and reduce military spending all of these so you know, no, I mean, certainly Markey has been consistent.

Metta Spencer

I am sorry, I shouldn’t I shouldn’t attribute the failings of the Green New Deal just to Markey. But I’m not criticizing him. I’m creating, criticizing, if anything, the limitations of the Green New Deal, which in every other way is just terrific. But it doesn’t really talk about militarism.

Jonathan Granoff

It shouldn’t… The goal is to get it done it you know, you don’t throw in other, may be politically naive to throw in other issues. You don’t want to… throw in the right to abortion in it. Also, you don’t want to throw in a human rights issue. Although you know, … we support these issues. Okay. So it makes no sense to do that, but the same people who are conscious of the need to get off the addiction to fossil fuel, are the same parliamentarians globally who want to move to the security of a nuclear-weapons-free world. And I know this because one of the programs of the Global Security Institute is Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament. And Ed Markey is one of the co-presidents of that organization. Okay. And so we I interact with parliamentarians all around the world. And these are parliamentarians who get elected on local, mostly parochial issues, you know, that are of local concern, which are taxes and lifestyles and things, things that are not existential, frankly. But who realized that the world is one? The climate is one, there’s no passports for the climate, there’s no passports for pandemics. There’s no passports anymore for capital, for the movement of capital, there’s no passports for art, communication, transportation — although we have passports — you can fly almost anywhere, almost everywhere in the world now. not

Metta Spencer

And not easily under the pandemic.

Jonathan Granoff

No, but I’m talking about the psychology of … understanding the world, and parliamentarians who understand climate often are the same ones who understand about nukes because –.

Metta Spencer

That’s what my reason, I take your point, I think you’re probably politically correct. And saying, don’t hook these things together? Maybe. But, you know, I’m always one looking for the connections between things. And the connection between global warming, and militarism, and especially nuclear weapons. I think, you know, there is, there’s a lot to be said about showing that these two issues are interrelated. And I think in, you know, when I talk to the public, general public, that’s one of the points I try to make. So I guess I was a little disappointed that the Green New Deal doesn’t make that connection.

Jonathan Granoff

But the connection… and this is something that the Global Security Institute is partnering with the United Nations and the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, which Joseph Rotblat was one of the founders, with Einstein and Russell, I’m a fellow in that — and one of the projects that we did, it is as pretentious as it sounds, the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, I think there’s about 650 of us — and one of the projects that we have, is to change the paradigm of how security is defined from the disproportionate reliance on militarism, and the concept of national security in derogation of or minimalizing global security — precisely Metta, because of the insight that you have, that we need to see security holistically. It’s very much the way medicine 50 years ago was very atomized. If you… said, Doctor, I have a terrible upset stomach all the time, he would likely give you a pill of some kind to address the symptom of the upset stomach. But today, any good doctor will say, What are you eating? How’s your… sleeping? Are you getting exercise, etc. Because we now know that the body is a whole. Similarly, the security of the human family cannot be obtained. relying only on nationalism. So the climate requires global cooperation —

Metta Spencer

— the thing that I am engaged with this complex Project Save the World. And we have six global threats. They’re not all equally ominous, but they’re they can all… wipe out a billion people at a whack. And that is not only militarism, and global warming, which are the two biggies, but famine, pandemics, radioactive contamination, and cyber risks. And if you look at them, they’re all interconnected, you can’t do you can’t solve any one of them without doing something about one or more of the others. So it’s,

Jonathan Granoff

And that’s why we need to, we need a new intellectual paradigm called human security, where we’re focused on human security so very much in the same way as in the 17th century, when when… Christians were slaughtering each other, as to whose definition of Jesus love was was better. And a third of Central Europe was… destroyed in Protestants and Catholics slaughtering each other and they, and… since they were killing each other, in the interest of immortality of the soul, they weren’t going to stop. And there were some, you know, walks, who got together in Westphalia in 1648 —

Metta Spencer

Wonks —

Jonathan Granoff

wonks,

Metta Spencer

I hear you’re just a little surprised that they were called walks. But they weren’t called that then —

Jonathan Granoff

We now know what they were they were: policy wonks… and visionaries. And they got together and created the Treaty of Westphalia which created the modern state. But the purpose of the modern state was to stop this religious madness, not to create a new madness of nationalism. And the UN is an institution that responded to the the destruction of much of the world in the 20th century, because of… the tribalism of nationalism … we need to… be pushing for a new paradigm of security. And we need to have a global discussion about balancing science, the use of science, the two pillars of this are science, as a tool to understand the natural world — but that alone is not sufficient, we also have to affirm the universal values of our humanity. We cannot just have efficiency and science as a value, we have to have the primacy of the individual … freedom of conscience, freedom of assembly, etc. So those are the two prongs and they have to be balanced. And I think this … you asked what I’m involved in, and I that this is where my thinking is now… And I think this is… the kind of thinking that has to be compelling enough to bring the best minds of our time together to come up with a balance between the efficiency that quantum computing… and biotech is going to give us: the efficiencies of manipulating populations and the fundamental freedoms that need to be protected. So —

Metta Spencer

How are you working on that? Because I think our goals are 100% compatible, if not identical in nature. But I think that the question of strategy of how to best move these move, the world… in that direction, is still open for discussion. You move to being near the UN, presumably because you think the UN is a good place to work on these issues. Is that right? Why didn’t you move to Washington DC instead?

Jonathan Granoff

Well, we did. We had an office… with retired diplomats across the street from the Senate right next to the Supreme Court, and called the Bipartisan Security Group. But in the recent years, there’s no bipartisanism, there’s been no bipartisan discussion. And we couldn’t raise any money for it anymore. So, we had to close the office. But… it would be very irresponsible to neglect the indispensable country… in the process. But… we’re, the way in which you infuse an idea into the public debate is by conferences and writing papers. So, I just published an article in Cadmus, which is the journal of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences and chaired the opening session in a two-day conference with the United Nations on “global leadership for the 21st century”. And it was very high level… it was opened by the director general of the UN… so that’s what we’re doing, right? You convene, you discuss, you identify allies, and you build… a movement for it, but… this isn’t new. This isn’t new, but what’s new is —

Metta Spencer

I think it’s not only not new, but it’s what we are in now is kind of a throwback or recession period, toward nationalism. I mean, all of this populist thinking, it has made it worse, not only, you know, the Trump period, but all these other things. Dictators who wannabe dictators around the world are certainly nationalists in their orientation… or they’re anti-globalist is what they think they are. But so I, I hope that we’re going to come out on the other side of that now, that we will be, except that the whole pandemic has created more, you know, the borders between countries are in trouble now, and much more local thinking. So, I don’t know that I’m very optimistic that we are really passing out of this period of nationalistic chauvinism into a more global way of thinking. I’d like to think that as soon as the pandemic is over, we’ll automatically see the value in interacting as a whole global community. But are you optimistic at this point in time?

Jonathan Granoff

I don’t. I don’t look at, I don’t think that way,

Metta Spencer

don’t you? Okay? No, I

Jonathan Granoff

I think like, what’s actually going on? Where can I make a difference? And I don’t look at it like… what’s the likelihood of success or anything? For me, for me, these are issues of … moral compulsion. And so I don’t use that metric. But I do… try and look and see which way the wind is blowing to figure out whether the wind’s behind us or the wind’s in front of us. When the winds in front of you, you can tack you know, you can still move the boat forward. But so the first thing that Joe Biden did is he rejoined the World Health Organization. That’s pretty clear right? Now, we’re going to rejoin the START treaty —

Metta Spencer

and the Paris Agreement

Jonathan Granoff

and the Paris Agreement. So I mean, we’re fighting for the soul, not just of America, but the soul of modernity. And modernity… has created an international cosmopolitan class that understands exactly what you and I take for granted. The reality of the picture, the icon from outer space, that the world is one mysterious, graceful sphere in infinity, where love is possible. There may… other other places, maybe there is maybe there isn’t. But we know that the highest value of love is possible here. And people understand that icon. It’s not just a marble. It’s an icon. It’s a symbol of our human unity and mystery and wonder. And the other icon of the modern age is the quest for security through the affirmation of absolute power and destruction, which is the mushroom cloud. And my grandfather would see a mushroom cloud and he would think of mushroom soup. But I see a mushroom cloud, and I think of Nagasaki, the last time these weapons were used, and the pathway of nationalism well, leads to war. That’s where it leads to. And to quote Martin Luther King on the subject: “If modern man continues to flirt unhesitatingly with war –“, he’s talking in the context of nuclear weapons, and his Nobel acceptance speech, ” — he will transform his earthly habitat into an inferno, such that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.” And that’s what’s before us. And we need to make it very clear to our political leaders, that this is how we see it, that this is not just an issue of partisanship, that this is not just an issue… of normal political discourse. But this is an issue of fundamental… sense of the blasphemy of degrading the gift of Creation itself in derogation of God’s blessing, in favor of something we’ve created… Human beings create states; we didn’t create the planet Earth, we didn’t create the climate, we didn’t create life. We created states… Why? We created them to stop our madness of religious bigotry. So we need to start redefining things based on the truth. You know, and this, this whole misidentification with… the things that separate us, rather than the reality of our common humanity is what’s at stake.

Metta Spencer

I want to let you know how much I appreciate your… idealism and the inspiration of what of the way you speak about these matters and I think we we have not only the the ideals that everybody and everybody shares and even these thugs, you know, patriots who, who are really doing so much damage, some part of them recognizes all of the things that you’ve just said. But and and so we all, at some part of our soul we share these values. And but of course, the reality is also they’re very practical, pragmatic, realistic. This worldly reasons for abolishing nuclear weapons.

Jonathan Granoff

Well, we’re… the realists… we need to we need to claim the realist debate. Because because it is not realistic to continue to be addicted to fossil fuel and think there’s a sustainable future. It’s not realistic. It’s not realistic to think you can have a vaccine- apartheid world, with… with walled states, with walled communities, with walled hearts and leaders who are that way. It’s not realistic. It’s not realistic. You know, it’s interesting that it was Ronald Reagan who pushed the Montreal Protocols to protect the ozone.

Metta Spencer

I’d forgotten. Right. And it was… Ronald Reagan, called George Schultz into his office (a right wing conservative American president, but he wasn’t, he wasn’t a fascist, he wasn’t crazy) and he said, Look, the scientists are giving me alarmist information that we could be destroying the ozone, causing massive cancers and agricultural disruption. Maybe they’re wrong, maybe they’re right, but we should have an insurance policy. And we can lead in America to get this done. Because who brought him into office was the right wing. So… America was wind in the sails of the Montreal Protocols, which Canada should be proud of. And when people say, Oh, you can’t get the cooperation, we can’t get the world to be realistic. Not true. Canada led with American support in getting the getting the protection of the ozone and reversing the destruction of the ozone layer from… hydrofluorocarbon molecules. This is the time in which, that opportunity has arisen now… Canada can push America toward a new realism in human security and global cooperation. And you have the intellectual heft… in Canada, you know, and you have the parliamentarians in Canada who understand this, and the Neanderthals who are still talking about unrealistic myths, myths, like strategic stability — that NATO … how can you have strategic stability when you’re also pursuing military advantage? It’s, you know, it’s totally schizophrenic. So, we have to say, We don’t believe you’re being honest, you’re being unrealistic. Do you want strategic stability, that means lowering the salience of the weapons? If you want military advantage, we’re going to have an arms race that will bankrupt us, and make the use of weapons more likely. Neither of these are realistic. What is realistic, is working together on those existential threats that you laid out: the climate, cyber, pandemics, poverty, you call it hunger I call it poverty, nuclear weapons, and on the horizon, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotech and all of these new capacities that we have. This is what’s before us, either … we’re going to be in pieces, or we’re going to be in peace. And a country like Canada, … has a legacy and… the moral authority. By the way, you domestically have a country that’s truly multicultural, and a true sense of freedom. And when I hear… the scandals that you guys have, and that it upsets the Canadian people, and Ithink of what we are living through in the United States. I mean, we just had an attempted coup! — What our scandal is that the the prime minister was caught eating a chocolate bar in Parliament. He had to apologize.

Jonathan Granoff

Yes, honestly. Canada, grow up already. You know… you actually exemplify… be the leaders that you have to be… demand of your leaders that they take a global leadership role, because you’ve got the right to do it.

Metta Spencer

Well, Jonathan, you got me all fired up, I can hardly wait to finish my day, we have so many things to do. And you’re doing your part, and I want to do what I can. And thank you for this because I want to share it with my Canadian friends. And they’re going to be all fired up to. So it’s wonderful to have you as our partner, and especially to have you there at the UN where you have access to some people that we don’t necessarily have much contact with. So Bless you.

Jonathan Granoff

Oh, bless you. Thank you, Metta. And thank you for being a thought leader and a heart leader for so many years. You know, this is not something that you’ve just come to in a fashion way, this is something… that was a calling that you responded to.

Metta Spencer

It’s true, for both of us but for me, it’s also fun. I hope you’re having as much fun with it as I am.

Jonathan Granoff

But… I think that we have to get the millennials… to know that you can make a difference. We can claim some victories that — our voices… — because they bring peace. But peace is not as eyeball compelling as conflict. We’re set up to watch out for conflict. But when there’s peace, we just kind of take it for granted. It’s like our health, right? It’s like our health when you’re healthy. You don’t think about it… we should. And … we should be grateful for our health, and we should be grateful for people like you who responded thanklessly to the call for peace.

Metta Spencer

Bless you my friend. And it’s just a delight to be back in touch anytime that, next time we meet it may be in the backseat of a car going someplace in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, or it might be in Geneva I think which is the last time I met it maybe

Jonathan Granoff

Hearings in Ottawa.

Metta Spencer

And maybe hearings anonymous… Indeed, indeed. Thank you and have a great day.

T166. Rotary and IPPNW

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 166
Panelists: Dr. Richard Denton
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired: 25 March 2021
Date Transcribed: 11 March 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: David Millar

Metta Spencer

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer, and good morning to you and to Richard Denton. Today we’re going to talk about the Rotary Club, which I’ve heard about all my life, but my goodness, I’m impressed with him lately. And just finding out all the wonderful things that Rotarians do. And Richard Denton is a big time Rotarian. He’s also big time in a whole bunch of other things. He is the co-chair of the North American Committee of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. And he’s involved with Pugwash, very involved. And with the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace. I’ve just teased him about being the first bearded lady in the Canadian Organization of Women. Okay, and so we’re going to have a conversation about all these wonderful organizations that he’s engaged in. And he might recruit a few of you. I should say that if you’re watching this live, you can write a question in … the chat box, and my assistant Adam, who is watching… if he sees a really interesting question, he’s authorized to interrupt our conversation and on zoom, and ask Richard whatever question he has… So, you may have a chance to put a question directly to Richard Denton. Good morning, Richard. Hello. wonderful to see you.

Richard Denton

Great to see you.

Metta Spencer

And wonderful to see this wonderful background, which you tell me is not a green screen, but some wonderful, tricky thing that you can put on your computer. So, it’s a virtual background. Virtual background. Yeah. And you have all these words that mean peace, peace, freedom and “pace”… “paz”… all these different languages. Is this Rotarian? I see a gear wheel, which must be a rotary symbol, is that right?

Richard Denton

Correct. Yeah. over that way. …the rotary wheel… was actually designed by a fellow Rotarian. I like liked it, and she was kind enough to offer it to me.

Metta Spencer

Uh huh. Okay, so that gear we although it has been around a while, right, it must have been the founding symbol of the organization.

Richard Denton

Correct. Rotary is the oldest and largest service club in the world. It was founded by a lawyer, Paul Harris in 1905. And we now have 1.2 million Rotarians. And really, it’s probably…about 2 million because when you add younger people in Rotaract and Interact… and spouses, then it swells to about 2 million.

Metta Spencer

What is Rotaract?

Richard Denton

ACT is the ending of it. Correct. And it is for young people University age, and then on up. It used to end at about 30-35, and now there is no limit. And it is now functioning pretty much the same as rotary, it’s on just about equal par with rotary and will be in 2022.

Metta Spencer

What happens they have their own separate meetings or do you get together, or what’s the relationship between oldsters and youngsters?

Richard Denton

Well, obviously, we’re all working in — our motto is “service above self”. So, we work on projects, to better our community and to better our world. And often, we will work together and also can work separately… as clubs.

Metta Spencer

Okay. And is it always — my impression is that it’s quite a progressive organization. In general… anybody could call their orientation service. But is there some sort of consensus about what kind of service you want to perform in the world?

Richard Denton

Well, yes… there’s lots of service organizations… Lions, Kiwanis, etc. And our motto is “service above self”. So, as I said, service to our community and to the world. We follow what is called the four-way test. And one of my mentors has taken the four-way test … will it be beneficial to all? Will it be bringing goodwill and friendship? Will it be fair to all and then when you develop a relationship with another person, then — and you have that trust between each other, then you can get into the nitty gritty, which is the fourth question, is that the truth? And so, you can apply this to just about anything, you know, to any type of discussion, be it in your marriage, be it in your workplace, be it in world politics. And we feel that, you know, if there were more Rotarians in politics, who applied the four-way test, the world would be a much better place.

Metta Spencer

How do Rotarians get along with other service clubs? You know, like Lions and Elks, and I don’t know what all there are. But there are a number of other other I think of them back in the day. When I was in high school, I used to be invited to give talks to the Lions Club lunches. And, and I think they gave me a couple of hundred dollars for a university … for me to go away to Berkeley… I don’t know that they were all that progressive, although I didn’t try to poke them and find out. Do all of these service clubs have a lot in common or is there… do you have strong cleavages between groups of service clubs?

Richard Denton

Well, certainly I would say there’s no cleavages. I mean, we’re all helping our own communities, and to better the world. I think each club has their own niche. And so you’re here in Canada, you hear of the Kiwanis Music Festival. And they put that on. Rotary has historically been a men’s club, old gray-haired men who were at the top of their businesses and professions. And… even back in 1905, they looked for diversity so that you would not have two doctors in a club, you would just have one and you’re trying to have representatives from a variety of professions. Now, of course, what happened then was that… I’m a family physician, but you could have a surgeon, you could have a pathologist, you could have any other type of doctor in sort of subcategories. So that’s how they used to get around it

Metta Spencer

I know… The idea is to prevent a competition to doctors, trying to steal each other’s practice… was that the original…

Richard Denton

I would say, actually, no, the idea was to certainly network. So different business people would network together. And we often have sort of the joke that you’re an outstanding Rotarian. So instead of being in a conference, listening to the speaker, you’re often out in the hallway out standing in the hallway and talking with colleagues about other business pursuits. So, it was very much an organization along those historical lines. Now, as you say, yes, we are a very progressive organization. And now we allow anybody … in who still holds our values, our core values, and who has the time and the energy to put into service projects. And so that… the core value of the of the organization… is to work, helping others in a variety of ways.

Metta Spencer

Well, I can tell anybody without even asking that your core value is peace and that your work … within Rotary must also represent your work for peace, right? So, tell us about the kind of… you have a committee of peace committee or something, don’t you? Well,

Richard Denton

In Rotary, there are what we call six areas of focus, which are health, water and sanitation [mothers and children, education, local economies]… of which peace is also one. And then being a progressive organization, we have just added the environment as the seventh area of focus. So, we’re now looking at climate change and how to address that. But the major project that Rotary has been involved in, of course, is “polio plus”, and we have raised a billion dollars to immunize, vaccinate the world, and the Bill Gates and Melinda Gates Foundation has matched that with another billion. And so, we have almost eliminated polio, plus several other illnesses in the world… such that now only Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries in the world that actually have live polio cases.

Metta Spencer

Uh huh. Yeah, I was hearing about that a few years ago. And then was it after that, that there was a real problem? I think that was in Pakistan, that the US government sent out really spies…, disguised as vaccinator promoters, and this turned the public against them… I’m sure I’m not telling this right.

Richard Denton

Well, yes, that’s the story. The American government had people going around, pretending to be vaccinators, and they were then able to locate Osama bin Laden by that technique, and found out his location… through that. And then of course, as a result, now, people have a great distrust for vaccinators in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And so that has done a great disservice to our organization and to what we are trying to do, and to the cause of ending polio. Oh, yeah, sure.

Metta Spencer

Well, is there a possibility? Or have you considered, has Rotary considered mobilizing people to go out and administer COVID vaccines? Looks like now they’re gearing up, at least in the US. And I’m sure that other countries as well, I don’t know, I haven’t seen that much for about Canada. But to take over stadiums… how people go to the stadiums in, you know, that kind of numbers, to get their stuff jammed in their arm. Could ordinary people… could I for example, if I were able and interested, volunteer to… give these vaccinations or would… it really requires medical personnel to do it?

Richard Denton

Good question. Metta. Certainly, Rotary is using expertise in vaccinations, and because of our experience with polio, and we have the word “polio plus”, meaning that we also vaccinate for other diseases, the measles, mumps, rubella, those sorts of things. And so, we are now doing just as you say, using that expertise to vaccinate against COVID-19.

Metta Spencer

So, I presume there’s no real trick to… I’ve myself done it. I was an office nurse for a few years, and I’ve injected people occasionally. But I think that the rationale was that you need to have a medical person around in case there was… somebody with a reaction, an immediate serious reaction. But I know they give vaccinations at my local pharmacy. I don’t know I don’t think they do COVID. But they do some kind of vaccinations. So, to what extent is that going to…? I know we’re veering off topic, but I am curious about whether or not that is going to have to be a limiting factor, making it necessary to have medical people nearby, in case somebody has an adverse reaction?

Richard Denton

Well, certainly that… is the case. Now with polio. It came in the two forms. The Sabin and the Salk. One was an injection and therefore, yes, you did need to have medical personnel. The other was given as a drop on the sugar cube, or just a drop in the baby’s mouth, child’s mouth. And so, as an oral, it was much safer to give, it didn’t require the refrigeration so much. And… any “volunteer” basically could give that… you’re right, when you’re injecting a needle, though… there is the risk of anaphylaxis reaction, which the patient can have, what one might call the Darth Vader syndrome, where they lose their ability to breathe, their throat will swell… and they can die. And so, you need to have medical personnel who are trained in resuscitation and could administer the drugs immediately to prevent that.

Metta Spencer

Some kind of epinephrine or something like that, is that what… the correct…?

Richard Denton

Yes, adrenaline. Epinephrine is the first drug, and then steroids and then antihistamines.

Metta Spencer

So maybe if we have a whole stadium full of people, there might be a couple of people around just in case, who could —

Richard Denton

need that

Metta Spencer

Okay, well, there we go straight from talking about the Rotary to

Richard Denton

Well, that’s all part of “polio plus”, which is Rotary’s big project.

Metta Spencer

Uh huh. Well, good, wonderful. I didn’t actually didn’t know any of that. So but I know that you have this Rotary peace organization, which must be some sort of club within the club. Is that the general idea? Tell us about that.

Richard Denton

Well, we are individual Rotarians that are concerned about the risks of nuclear weapons. And I think, as we have seen this past week, down in the United States, with the storming of the Capitol buildings, things can go wrong. And we have the president, who has… sole authority to push the button… and there’s his conversations there, to put it mildly, with the leader of North Korea. They were joking —

Metta Spencer

Rocket Man.

Richard Denton

They weren’t joking, unfortunately. But they were talking about who had the biggest button and whether it would work or not. And we’ve got nine countries in the world who now have nuclear weapons. And so, it is based on having a rational person who is in control. And this may not be the case. I mean, one can look at presidents of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was in pain and on narcotics, which can affect your mental abilities. Ronald Reagan was suffering from Alzheimer’s in his latest stages. You got Brezhnev who may have been intoxicated at times. So those are some areas where you worry… you obviously need safeguards. So they’re, the military is instructed, of course not to do anything that is illegal, but at the same time, they need to follow the orders of their commander-in-chief… who is the president. So that is a concern. The other concern is certainly the risk of accidents and miscalculations. We’ve seen several movies: Command and Control, we’ve seen The Man who Saved the World, about a Russian who thought that Russia was being attacked by nuclear weapons. But did not launch a counter attack until he had visual proof or radar proof.

Metta Spencer

I think he didn’t believe it. That’s the thing. He was supposed to believe it because this was supposed to be the rock-solid evidence, but in fact, he knew damn well it wasn’t. And then he used good sense… Stanislav Petrov.

Richard Denton

Yeah. But there’s been numerous other examples. during the Cuban Missile Crisis, we now know that the Americans found a Russian sub, they didn’t realize that it was nuclear-armed, they started throwing depth charges at it. The Russians on board said, “Hey, World War 3 has broken out, we need to launch our missiles.” Two of them said yes. And a third said no. And so he was also a Russian man who saved the world. Absolutely.

Metta Spencer

Well, we’re all in the business of saving the world. And this is Project Save the World that we’re on. And you do as much as anybody I know. In those regards, I have to really, really admire your commitment. I don’t know anybody who’s got more zeal for the kind of work that you do.

Richard Denton

Oh, you’re my mentor. You’re the one who’s done this project on how to save the world and come up with your six… possible risks to the world?

Metta Spencer

Well, they’re actually fairly similar to the things that the Rotarians had already identified. Although I must say, not many people were thinking about pandemics when we formed Project Save the World. And we said a pandemic is up there, right with some of the worst ones, as a threat to humankind. And I guess we’ve been vindicated — for what it’s worth, if anybody wants to feel proud of having anticipated COVID. I guess Bill Gates is probably the main one who anticipated that and saw how dangerous the situation was. And, you know, if you compare what we’ve been going through to some of the previous pandemics, it’s hard to say this, but we kind of got off easy, because … there have been pandemics that have wiped out even a larger proportion of the human population. So… really what we need is a movement, a social movement…, there is no social movement — like a peace movement, or hunger campaigns for food in the world, or some of these other social movements. There isn’t anything for the general public, to work on, preventing pandemics, it seems to me that the people working against pandemics are all professional, public health experts or epidemiologists or people in… paid to do medical work. So, I think we need to… build up our awareness in the general public of the importance of… the transmission of viruses and things from animals to people, and maybe from people to animals. I don’t know, that that kind of One Health approach could stand… some help. Maybe we can get Rotary to… take part in that kind of orientation.

Richard Denton

Right? Well, I mean, first of all, you are my mentor, asked me how To Save the World looked at six risks. And I think what the pandemic has shown is that all of these risks are global problems. They transcend borders, and countries around the world have not prepared for these catastrophes. So, I think what we need to do is have a new mindset, a new way of thinking, to stop spending money on the military, and to spend it on treating the six areas of your focus, which are as you say, also the six — and now seven — areas of focus for Rotary… health and infections and sanitation and water, and all of these then go together to create peace. You know, what we’re finding now is that… you can’t vaccinate in Pakistan and Afghanistan, if you don’t have peace, if you don’t have trust, if you cannot build up relationships with people. And so, peace is… fundamental. And one of the things that Rotary is involved in now is the Institute for Economics and Peace, that has come out with the… the eight pillars of positive peace, we often we think of peace as a negative thing, the absence of violence, the absence of fear of violence. But this Australian, Steve Killelea, founded this institute, and came up with a Global Peace Index, a way of measuring peace, and he looks at things like a well-functioning government, equitable distribution of resources, a free flow of information instead of the fake news… the propaganda that we have now… having good relationships with our neighbors… working cooperatively together, multilaterally, multi nations together, and I think this is where the United Nations could play a much larger role. If it… gets better funded. You could look at human levels, our levels of human capital, you know, it would be much more important to fund… scientists…working on your six problems, as opposed to modernizing nuclear weapons at a cost of a trillion plus dollars, over the next 20-30 years. You know, there’s the acceptance of human rights… we’ve certainly seen this in the past year with, you know, Black Lives Matter. And here in Canada, we have systemic racism with our indigenous people… low levels of corruption is another area… in the military, you know, if a hammer costs $3, but if you put military on it, it suddenly jumps to $20 or more for the same hammer… and then of course, sound business environment. So, all of these things are all interrelated. And, you know, I think, as you say, Metta… back in the, during the Cold War, we had a social movement against nuclear weapons. Now that Greta Thunberg and our young people are Interactors — high school people are now addressing the climate crisis down in the States, they’re addressing gun violence… all of these are interrelated. And what we need to do is to show that and… desertification of land which will dry up, people will then be forced into starvation, you’ll have famine, which is one of your areas of focus again, people will then move — become refugees. We then… give arms and weapons. And… then that creates more refugees if they try to flee the violence. And then Canada then looks to taking in the refugees… and I think this is the problem, it’s that we often don’t look at the root of problems. And we’ve just tried to address them superficially saying, okay, we’ll take in the refugees, as opposed to saying, Okay, why did this happen in the first place? It’s the climate, and it’s us selling arms —

Metta Spencer

I think the thing is, people often say… we just can only do so much. So, let’s pick one of these things and work on it. The truth is, I think that if you work on them all together, it gets easier because they’re so connected and connected to everything else, you know. You can’t really solve any one of them without doing something on some of the others. So, just the example you gave of this chain of event of disasters, one leading to the other We have to think of it that way. And, and if we address it as a package then… oh boy, it’s wonderful to be on the same team. As you know what we’ve only talked about Rotary, we haven’t even given you time yet to talk about IPPNW… you are the co- chair, the North American co-chair of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which is a Nobel Peace Prize winner from way back and did a huge amount during the Cold War, to really change policies, especially I think, in Russia, maybe in the US to some extent, but tell. Let’s talk a little bit about that before we wind this up.

Richard Denton

Well, I think maybe… we should end on a hopeful note. At this week, on Friday, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons comes into effect. And this will make nuclear weapons illegal. We’ve known that they’ve always been immoral, illogical, and insane. And now they are illegal as well. And yes, IPPNW was founded equally by a Russian and an American cardiologist, who both looked after their own leaders, and were able to influence their leaders and bring them together, and eventually to end the Cold War. And for that, we got the international… the Nobel Peace Prize in 85. Now, we formed the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, which got the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

Metta Spencer

And it was largely supported by IPPNW —

Richard Denton

And now it’s brought… all these various peace organizations around the world, and they pushed the countries to form the UN nuclear ban treaty in 2017. So, the NGOs, the non- government organizations, like the International Red Cross, and Red Crescent societies, and all these other peace organizations came together and pushed the states, the various states to actually come up with this new treaty. And so, this is definitely a positive note. I think, IPPNW is working again, it’s a international organization, and it is working on a number of fronts in the United States, one of our members, Dr. Ira Helfand, has come up with Back from the Brink, which has our five steps: not to be spending the vast sums of money on nuclear weapons… no-first-use, to remove the president from having the sole authority to launch an attack, etc. And so, I think, you know, we’re looking at Don’t Bank on the Bomb, which is a program to divest money from nuclear weapons and their delivery systems and put that into the climate crisis. And to address pandemics and to all the other global problems that need global answers through a strengthened United Nations.

Metta Spencer

Well, within about 24 hours, we’re going to have a new president of the United States, who will make all of those things a little bit easier anyway. I don’t think he’s a red-hot disarmament person yet, but maybe we can push things in that direction. Anyway, you know, what we need to talk about IPPNW further. So later on, I’m going to get you and somebody else or maybe a couple of other people from IPPNW together for a whole conversation… we’ve given our attention so far to Rotary, which absolutely deserves it. And now we’ll move on to some other group one of these days. So, All right, thank you so much, Richard. This has been extremely enjoyable and informative because you’ve told me some things I didn’t know and I bet you a lot of other people don’t know either. So yeah. Share this with other people if you have any opportunity to do so, and maybe we’ll get some new Rotarians in the world knows

Richard Denton

that that’s our what we’re looking forward to do is to increase our membership throughout the world. Definitely. Terrific.

Metta Spencer

Thank you so much. Have a great day.

Richard Denton

Thank you. Bye-bye.

T180. Peace Workers in Georgia

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 180
Panelists: Irakli Kakabadze, Julie Christensen, and Shorena Lortkipanitze
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired: 5 February 2021
Date Transcribed: 16 February 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: David Millar

Metta Spencer

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer. Today we’re going to go to Tbilisi, Georgia, which I’ve never been visited, but people tell me that Georgia is just paradise, a beautiful place, especially Russians like to go there. So, I want to meet some friends. My old friend Irakli Kakabadze is in Tbilisi, Georgia in a studio someplace. And he has two friends. He’s just introduced me to Julie Christensen, whom he met in the United States when they were both I think students at George Mason University. Is that right?

Irakli Kakabadze

You were my mentor

Julie Christensen

I was a professor already. I

Metta Spencer

We got that straightened out… be sure we know the pecking order around here, who knows what. Right? Absolutely. And their friend Shorena Lortkipanitze – Irakli Kakabadze, Julie Christensen, Shorena Lortkipanitze…close enough? No, I’m not really very practiced with Georgian dialect and names. But I know they always have two or three different endings. And like you everybody in Georgia has either an -itze or a -badze… Alright, anyway, we will not explore names here. But we will know that I’ve already had a little bit of a conversation with Shorena, who is a peace worker. So, all of these folks are, you might say professional peace workers. And there is no more holy … mission in this world, then to be a peace worker, in my opinion. So hello, everybody, it’s nice to meet you. Well, let’s sort of pretend that I am the guest and Irakli is the host, because you have some topics that you would like for us to cover. And, and therefore, I think you should be in charge of deciding what you want us to talk about. And I’ll do my best. Okay, exactly. What would you like for this conversation to be all about today? Yes,

Irakli Kakabadze

there are a number of very interesting topics for war and peace times — from Georgia, and in Georgia, and to Georgia — because right now, war and peace times are around the world. And yesterday was very interesting speech by President Joe Biden, who made a number of points about US foreign policy. And of course, the whole Caucasus and whole world was looking towards this speech. And BBC was having it in live and lots of other stations, and it’s broadcast everywhere. And he talked a bit about Russia. And he talked about spreading the power of democracy, which the whole world is waiting. And he said, America is back, which is a very interesting statement. And in South Caucasus, we do have a need of America being back — because lots of Georgians, lots of Armenians and maybe Azerbaijanis and maybe other ethnicities in South Caucasus feel that America needs to be back in the Caucasus because it has been absent for four years during the Trump administration. And during that time, we already had a number of incidents and last one happened in the last months of the Trump administration when the Karabakh conflict took place and Mr. Putin and Mr. Erdogan took leadership in that conflict, even though the formal fight was between Azerbaijan and Armenia. But Mr. Putin and Mr. Erdogan proclaimed both of them that they kind of peacefully solve the conflict, which is unfortunately not true. And lots of people have died in this very, very horrible conflict. And right now, we have a new division by which Georgia is kind of surrounded by neighboring empires. And it’s almost 100 years since the Kars treaty between Soviet Russia (basically Soviet republics of Caucasus), but it was Russia and Turkey. It was done in September and October of 1921, which basically divided Caucasus in two halves between Turkish Empire and Russian Empire. Now, lots of people are afraid there’s going to be a new division between Turkey and Russia which seem to be in alliance against the West. And because of that lots of people, lots of ordinary people are very concerned that Georgia is going to be facing another number of occupations — since we do have number of territories that are occupied already, but with the pronouncement of Mr. Erdogan several months ago in Baku, which made that… six-nations Caucasus union, he proclaimed that Russia and Turkey will… lead a new alliance with Russia to Iran, and then three South Caucasian republics… Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, which lots of people didn’t like. And that initiative by Mr. Erdogan, who is… not very well known… as a democrat, as much as his friend, Mr. Putin. They’ve made some interesting and very, very unusual, I would say, first time in… history, maybe with few exceptions… like Lenin and Ataturk in 1921, that Turkey and Russia made a deal, how to divide South Caucasus, and now America is back after being absent for four years.

Metta Spencer

Wait a minute now. They, Russia and Turkey have made a deal of how to divide the South Caucasus. That’s a big statement. I never, I don’t think that made any public statement. But how do you think they have agreed to divide the South Caucasus? That is a remark, remarkable claim? Do they acknowledge that as surely, they haven’t admitted that that’s what they’re going to do?

Irakli Kakabadze

No, the pronouncement here this year was — last year actually — was by Mr. Erdogan that he’s created, Russia and Turkey, are creating a six-nation Union of the Caucasus, of which the members are Turkey, Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and if Armenia desires they could join… that was the pronouncement… and it is easy to check this, how they divided the Caucasus in 1921 in the famous Kars treaty, that a number of Georgian provinces went to Turkey, number of Georgian provinces went to Russia… Saingilo province went to Azerbaijan, and there were some other Georgian provinces that were divided between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. So it’s the new division — which set up the whole Karabakh situation and all other things — happened in the city of Kars in 1921, and on 100th anniversary, it could be revised, according to that treaty. So Mr. Erdogan was basically saying that now Caucasus would revise this treaty and those big countries who were always deciding the fate of small nations (like Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) would make a new deal, to make a new beginning… make a new day.

Metta Spencer

I would like to hear Shorena and Julie, react to what you said, because I heard you say something similar last time, we had a talk show, but I didn’t, I kind of let it fly past me. Because I think what you’re saying is such an extraordinary assertion, if it’s clear that this is true, and why don’t — I mean, it’s, it’s an epoch-making development, and everybody in the world should be talking about it. But I haven’t heard anybody else say it. And I wonder how much other people would agree with your assumption, and I’m assuming that it’s really just your guess, that they made some sort of deal. Because, you know, we would hear about it. Shorena and Julie, please, what do you think of what he’s just said? Do you agree with him?

Julie Christensen

I’m going to go you know, I’m, I’m the American here. I’m going to listen to Shorena first, then I will respond.

Shorena Lortkipanitze

So, I would differently — I mean, this is one of the assumptions. But I would… not say that… there is deal or there is conspiracy or they have divided and —

Irakli Kakabadze

Announcement of six nations.

Shorena Lortkipanitze

Yes, yes, absolutely. But I would To draw attention and focus more on the situation, now in the Caucasus. So, remarkable thing happens. You know, in the Caucasus we were, I was growing up and when I was student, lecturing, and we we used to have this frozen conflict here in the Caucasus — and even thinking about that, what should be the kind of resolution or how it will develop? I mean, it was so difficult to think… how this frozen conflict would melt. So, what will happen? How… would it happen? It would be military, it would be peaceful, how? I mean, what are in the minds of big states, active in the region regarding that? So, and actually, every time as especially Azerbaijani-Armenian tension grew up… I was thinking that… they will stop, because — yes, is it beneficial for countries? how long this tension will last? All these violent conflicts, and what happened last year, from 27th of September until 10th of November… the period of war. I mean, that was something again, with this deal, and with this, changing the status in the region itself, the status quo. This is something very, very remarkable. It gives a lot of —

Irakli Kakabadze

All these people dying, “remarkable”?

Shorena Lortkipanitze

At lot of people died… from both sides, and lots of civilians, and new IDPs, different emotions and attitudes towards the developments in the region, and frustration for peace workers, because we couldn’t do anything. I mean, not me, but also me as a part of that process… it happened because last year, this time, we were organizing a peace march with… the Gandhi Foundation, and we were so excited about Armenia meeting peace-marchers and these people, and then we were waiting for them in Georgia. We wanted somehow to connect this peace march with Azerbaijan, and then this war… pandemic and then war. I mean, this is something we would have to, I mean, how, what does the we have to ask questions: are wars still… are these conflicts still won by wars? I mean, is military still so much important in international relations in, in, in today’s world — if you have big army… For me, this is the question first of all…, to understand because if we see the forces’ military balance in the region, in… among South Caucasus countries, Azerbaijan has the biggest army, better equipment, technology, and Turkey… supporting and backing — and then Armenia also quite big military power, Georgia very small. And what we see is… that if you have big military and you have good technologies, and you have drones, you can win wars? And then what? I mean, this is something what’s really very frustrating.

Metta Spencer

Let me ask broaden the question a little bit, because you talked about the frozen conflict in the Caucasus. I of course, the first thing I would be thinking… was Armenia and Azerbaijan, but there are other frozen conflicts, you know, the South Ossetia and all these parts of Georgia that are in question, you know, what, what’s the status and

Irakli Kakabadze

occupied by Russians.

Metta Spencer

Yeah. Okay. You’re looking for a new solution that presumably would reduce the frozen conflict solve, settle the frozen conflict in all of those places, but not, not one big move. There’s no one initiative, is there, to try to reorganize who’s in control of what territory in the Caucasus? I mean, what I think Irakli is suggesting is that there’s a plan underway to Make a grand…rejigging of the Caucasus, you know, the map, in the Caucasus… between Russia and Turkey.

Julie Christensen

So I’d like to jump in here as somebody who has worked on the Soviet Union and Russia for a long time. So, I would say this that, you know, it has always been clear that there were two empires, the Russian Empire, and the Ottomans. And the question was… where was the boundary between the Russians and the Ottomans? And that’s, I think, what were we thinking about a little bit here… because these are the big powers. And then we have the smaller powers in the middle. And… for somebody who’s worked on the Soviet Union, or Russia, I mean, I worked on Russia for a long time, I do think that: Russia has in mind and has always had in mind the fact that the Russian Empire, it’s just like, you know, Ivan the Terrible or whatever, you know, he said, all the rivers in Russia, you know, he will take the Russian Empire, to the end where all the Russian rivers flow into the ocean. You know, the Russians have always wanted to take the Russian Empire to the Ottomans. They stop there. The Russians stop, when the Turks begin. That has been historically, the boundary between those two powers, historically, for a very long time. So, what is really curious here is we have Erdogan suggesting that it’s going to be like, this little friendly little neighbourhood in which it’s going to be Turkey, Russia, Iran —

Irakli Kakabadze

IK Exactly, yeah.

Julie Christensen

— and Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan clearly may be okay with that. Armenia has a lot of friends. And I just feel like Georgia is going to be feeling a little bit worried. Because it’s going to, it’s going to put… it’s throwing Georgia back into, into Russia, as you know, another “Orthodox” (give me a break!) country. I mean, this, this worries me a lot, too. As as an American who’s very far away, it’s not my problem. I’m a Scandinavian, you know — but I would like the Scandinavians right here right now. And I think this is a serious problem.

Metta Spencer

I know I’d like to Norwegians here right now. No, I —

Irakli Kakabadze

On the next show —

Julie Christensen

Know, I’m very worried about this too. Maybe. On the other hand, I love what Shorena was saying at our last meeting, which was that Turkey nevertheless is a member of NATO, right? And maybe we could cut this a different way. Maybe we could do a different… cookie cutter thing. Maybe it doesn’t have to be, you know, the Russian Empire verse versus the Ottomans. But and, you know, and then I have to say that I was just listening to you Metta… we have a lot of problems that are global. Here, that are like a higher-level problem… no matter where we are, and I think, you know, this is like on a lower-level problem. And I know there this is this new book I haven’t read recently by some woman who wrote this is, is it an inevitable that we have to be at war all the time — are wars, you know, just in our nature? and so, I’m sort of sitting here in Tbilisi in quarantine forever. Ugh! And, you know, just wondering how it’s gonna play out with the Ottomans, the Russians, these two empires, and, you know, NATO and, you know, and where we’re going globally. So that’s where we are.

Metta Spencer

If you wanted it, let’s say you’re trying to think of an alternative to having two big empires, again, bumper to bumper. Then the third option… would be to figure out how the EU would be related to that. And I don’t see that much connection. I don’t even see that much interest in the EU in trying to establish a foothold or something in the Caucasus. I mean, it would be nice if we could say yes — certainly I don’t think you can count on Biden. I don’t think the US has any — you know, they’re not in the game —

Irakli Kakabadze

Can I make some explanation here because I think when I made this speech about the Kars Treaty, which is a historic fact — basically, Russia and Turkey have divided the caucuses in a new way? I mean, before that, you know, the towns of Artvin and Kars and all these places belonged to Russian Empire. And then they belong to independent republics of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, lots of the territories — and then they were taken, and kind of divided by the Soviet empire and Ottomans… Ataturk… but to Empire, but the whole thing is there right now. Why do people desire Americans here, why people desire Europeans, also president Macron’s… involvement?

Metta Spencer

I’m not hearing too well. Back up. Why something Americans there? Would you say?

Irakli Kakabadze

Why people desire America? And why people desire French? why people desire British? they’re not talking about NATO.

Metta Spencer

Why… Georgians want relationship, with the US with was the French with the Britain. Right?… if they don’t want Putin or Erdogan, what else have you got?

Irakli Kakabadze

They see — the lots of Georgians have lots of historical memories from those two empires, which are very painful, and are in lots of ways are afraid of those two empires conquering Georgia again, which is very close to reality… that union of six starts to function. Throughout Georgian history of 25 centuries, barely what we will say that with the newest history of Georgia, today has been conquered number of times by Ottoman Empire as well as by Persians. But then, of course, last 200 years were under the Russian Empire. So, it’s very understandable that people not just Georgians but other peoples in the Caucasus too have those fears. Different types of fears, see that Russia and Turkey are together to make a new order. And they already made it because Russian troops are right now in Karabakh and South Azerbaijan. Turkish troops were there on the parade in Baku and northern Azerbaijan. There’s a long history of the involvement of these empires in the Caucasus, and right now to defend a democratic state and democratic civilization, the democratic system, or let’s say, a liberal democratic system — right now, lots of people feel that connection. And basically, a partnership treaty. A partnership treaty with the United States of America and European Union will be the only solution to save the sovereignty of those small countries, especially in Georgia.

Metta Spencer

Well, it sounds reasonable. I would, I would say that if most Russia and Turkey have reached any kind of agreement, then indeed, the only option that you might have is hope that —

Irakli Kakabadze

There is no agreement yet. I’m sorry to interrupt, but there is no agreement yet. But the pronouncement was made very clearly by Mr. Erdogan. And he knows how to do it. And Mr. Putin agreed. So, this is very concerning.

Metta Spencer

Okay, then the name of the game is how to get Europe interested. I don’t think that the US is going to be at all engaged there. I don’t see how you could expect the US to help much at all. But Europe maybe, France maybe.

Julie Christensen

Yeah…

Irakli Kakabadze

The United States has military bases right now, from Turkey to Greece. Some military bases there. There’s a talk about this. And, of course, the Georgian civil hope that President Biden he mentioned the situation around Russia. And he’s, I understand, (of course, that that could be a not very good sign for some peace builders with Russia), but … he is much more principled with the Russian imperialists in lots of ways. So, he said the infringing on… sovereignty of the independent nations of Georgia and Ukraine is unacceptable for the United States. And I would add, this is true because… certain territories in Georgia are occupied by Russian forces as well as certain territories in Ukraine. And in this situation, sovereignty is absolutely breached by the Russian forces. And right now, the union of Russia, Turkey, Iran and three other nations, small nations who won’t have any power over them. This is very, very — and we need to look for some ways to do it without armed intervention, of course, I’m not advocating an intervention, I’m advocating a peaceful solution to this problem, but it’s a very dangerous precedent.

Metta Spencer

Okay.

Julie Christensen

Can I add something about, you know, please, um, but I want to say something about the United States and what they’ve done in terms of supporting Georgia and supporting this region. One of the things I was most impressed by was the United States has put their third most important hospitals for wounded veterans in the entire planet, here in Tbilisi. So, there are three places: Walter Reed out of DC, somewhere in Germany… and the third is in Tbilisi, and the army, the United States Army has put them here. And another thing is, I have a lot of my students who are here doing this, I am so proud of them. But anyway, they are working on this and Tbilisi has the best equipment because it’s German. So, Tbilisi, and for prosthetics and things here, they’re here in Tbilisi, and they’re in Germany, and less in Walter Reed. But the thing is, of course, we don’t want this. I mean, this is not a desired outcome is to be — giving wounded warriors who’ve been blown up in various wars here, you know, prosthetics — but I think that they This is a sign that the United States trust the Georgians… in this region, and that is what’s so concerning here. It is so concerning here, because the United States if they’re far away, it seems like I do think I mean, I agree with Irakli, I think the United States is the best support for Georgia in a certain sense, because I think they respect the Georgians the most, although, maybe the French, the Germans, you know, maybe — I am not undermining the Europeans. But you know, the Armenians have a lot of support the Azeris have their own support. And so, we’re thinking a lot about the Georgians here. And I… I hear that concern, and I don’t know, and Shorena’s a political scientist, which I’m not I, you know, I’m, I’m really a specialist in film culture. So, I’m speaking, but I’m speaking also from the, you know, perspective of the United States and a lot of my students for many years.

Shorena Lortkipanitze

Yeah. A few comments about this six-country dialogue, right, in a partnership in the region, it’s very asymmetric I mean, of course, there is danger of — three big powerful countries, and three small, less powerful countries. And for Georgia, of course, this is very dangerous union, because you have this Russia… occupy… Georgian territory and the struggle continues, and — of course, without US participation, EU participation, that should not be happen… because we would be in a very, very weak position in that discussion… As for public discourse… if we see all these polling, sociological researches and poll links, US is [the] number one partner for Georgia, strategic partner and this is perception among public… for NATO integration and EU integration. It’s also very interesting because it’s permanent for the last few years: 80% for EU integration. Georgian population supports EU integration and partnership and friendship, let’s say with the EU, and 75% of Georgian population… support NATO membership. So and in all these pollings, Russia is always some kind of enemy it’s perceived as an enemy and occupier… it’s around 20% thinking that it’s still possible to do something to be friends with Russia. So, I mean, this is already a very good indicator of where we are … so what works for us for Georgians, we are far from US, we are far from even Europe, because even Ukraine is closer with Europe. So, we are too far. And geography still matters. And we are here like in a small part of the land between two seas, and between three big powers, let’s say because Iran is also here with… its historic, let’s say, aspirations in the region. So, it was not only Turkey, of course, it was also Iran.

Metta Spencer

When talking about that, about the Iranian aspirations, is it really that Iran wants in on this deal, or was he just fantasizing? Or were, you know, Erdogan and Putin just trying to be as inclusive as possible? How important is Iran’s influence? And how much interest is there in Georgia? In, in being in such a thing? I mean, the idea of organizing a six-nation thing, there’s nothing inherently saying that that couldn’t be in-, you know, a democratic and pretty independent region. I don’t think it’s likely but it could be, but with Iran in the deal, I don’t know. Yeah. How do people feel about Iran there? And, and about the idea of being somehow a partner with Iran?

Shorena Lortkipanitze

Yeah, it’s very interesting. Iran was and is under sanctions. And of course, Georgia is also part of that regime. So economic relations, trade relations were quite restricted for last years because of the sanctions. And Georgia was very strict. But there were some — yeah, so this, the sanctions component in this relation is very important, because it didn’t, it does not give countries opportunity to cooperate, to trade to exchange. So that’s why this decade of this process, somehow affected very much on the economy. There is not much discussions about Iran at all. But what is what’s interesting, there was quite a big inflow of Iranians in Georgia, in 2013, and 2015, because we have very light restrictions on this entrance and permissions and so on. And a lot of Iranians were coming in Georgia, some of them were settling here, and trying to get some more permanent or some temporary… longer permits. And, and you see, in even before … pandemics, but I am speaking about beginning of second decade of 21st century, it was fair, people were coming here to have this freedom, to enjoy some kind of freedom. And even Iranian singers and musicians were coming from Europe or US, Canada and having some performances here for those coming here from Iran. So, this is that was very common. So, for Iranian people let’s say certain… travelling, Georgia was perceived as a kind of paradise of freedom, and so on and so on. And but after these restrictions, again were into force… and now, of course, pandemics. We have less people now, people from Iran, but still some businesses operate. We have Iranian Chamber of Commerce here are three, four years ago, they were certain — I was kind of writing about debts, and that’s why I’m quite informed — trade, a conference, and the Iranian minister or Deputy Minister… of trade and commerce, and all these Iranian businesses and Georgia’s. But I don’t think that it’s it went into kind of some intensive relations, but there were some attempts. And I think this was Iranian government’s attempts, somehow… the lightening of the sanctions regime and have this connection with Georgia. For many Iranians, Georgia was seen as a kind of transit country to Europe, because they were coming here to go to Europe, to US, from here. So, I mean, this is the land of opportunity… for Iranian people, and of course, in these bilateral relations, there were some attempts — but Georgians, we’re with America, I mean, all Georgian policies towards Iran. And these bilateral relations, they were very much driven by Georgian/US relations, and what is negotiated… when Julie was telling us about that Americans trust Georgians, or they like Georgians, let’s say this is because we try to adhere to the bilateral rules… what we what Georgia and US… have agreed. So, I think that this is — to tell the truth… there is no any essential discussions, Iran is not –. Yes, there are discussions about Turkey, and [t]hat’s interesting. But government have always tried to be very, very nice to Turkey, never to.. bring anything on the public discussion to surface, because we know that there were some trade-related, not very good conditions for Georgia in these bilateral trade agreements, and Georgia wanted to negotiate them or still wants, but this this is never taken… for… public discussions, and what’s interesting for Georgia/Turkey relations, before elections, one of the political parties they wanted to, they even had this big poster in Adjara Autonomous Republic, indicating that not only Russia is the enemy, but Turkey’s also enemy. And actually, there was a very, very strong public kind of protest against that, that poster, and it was very, it was kind of election, pre-election campaign, part of campaign, but it didn’t work. And this party also didn’t get as many votes as they got during previous elections in 2016. So, I mean, it’s because, yeah, I mean, this is generally how it looks like, what’s interesting. What I see as a problem is Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the relations between these countries, the level of partnership between these countries on bilateral level… trilateral… does not work because of Azerbaijan.

Metta Spencer

I’m sorry, you’re referring to — you make it sound as if there’s some positive relationship among Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Really.

Shorena Lortkipanitze

There was, of course,

Metta Spencer

was during the Soviet

Irakli Kakabadze

Soviet Union, of course there was.

Julie Christensen

I mean, that may sound like Pollyanna. But, but that did happen. You know, and we talk about that, in terms of the recent war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, that now, there is no sympathy between Azeris and… Armenians — where even in the previous war which was the Armenians… nevertheless, under the Soviet state, there was a sense of, you know, commonality. And, you know, and I, that sounds, maybe I’m being naive to say that, but that it was, there was there was a sense of the Caucasus under the Soviets, and that’s not here now… It’s falling apart. And part of it has to do probably with the external things which we’re talking about, which is Turkey, Russia, and everybody, you know, breaking it up. So, we have a big problem here. I mean, I also think that Iran might be interesting for here, but we also have a problem of the church, which is that the Georgian Orthodox Church… will put up with Iran. But… they won’t, and, and it’s so… tragic.

Metta Spencer

So true. Look, what is your best option, if you had this whole situation solved? What would it look like? What kind of game plan do you have in mind and or maybe you have two or three different things you’re considering? But what would you like to have come out of all of this?

Irakli Kakabadze

Metta, can I add one thing to what was described as our coexistence, because this is a very important matter, for understanding the future, how the how the future will be. So we remember times of peace and we remember it very well in 1960s 70s, or 80s. And until 1988, we… had a peaceful time where there were almost no borders between Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. So, in the Caucasus, you need some sort of a lingua franca, as they say, today, for the peaceful coexistence of three old cultures and a number of really, really old civilizations, what, to what really worked during the Soviet Union was that Russian served as a lingua franca until our national liberation movement, and I did participate myself in that movement and Russian Empire right now is seen as an enemy, as, by majority of people. I’m not happy about that. But that’s the fact. But the problem is right now, if we don’t have a lingua franca, we need one language, Metta, we need a lingua franca to interact with each other. Because our cultures are very different, very distinct, and very old, and lingua franca, which was Russian earlier, but it cannot be Russian anymore. We need a new actually lingo franca, and all the people —

Metta Spencer

What would you like?

Irakli Kakabadze

You would like we would like to get I mean, Scandinavian will be great, as Julie has suggested.

Metta Spencer

Everybody should learn Swedish is that the solution live? Icelandic.

Irakli Kakabadze

But right now, lots of people in Georgia see United States as the strategic partner, and Georgia has contributed to the wars that the United States had in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have contributed with the soldiers and everything. And now lots of Georgians feel that we need guarantees of our security from our closest partners, basically, by peaceful means. We are not meaning that by any kind of military interaction and intervention, [but] by peaceful means. This is the United States of America, Great Britain, and maybe France. Maybe Germany, too.

Metta Spencer

I don’t think you’re gonna get it. I don’t think I’m sure. I don’t think I you know; I don’t even know whether I want it to happen. I don’t like it. I mean, but the US is not going to guarantee the national security of Georgia.

Irakli Kakabadze

But how does it go on to the national security of Afghanistan or Iraq? or Syria or in lots of other countries?

Metta Spencer

Look what happened when they did! Do you want that? No,

Irakli Kakabadze

I don’t, I don’t want Russians. I mean, the alternative to American forces is these six unions six nation union and majority of Georgian are against it. They don’t accept the Empires, the Russian and Ottoman and Iranian… it’s totally unacceptable for Georgia, to be slaves to the Russians, or Turkish or Iranians.

Metta Spencer

— if you —

Irakli Kakabadze

will never accept a life, Georgia, like that.

Metta Spencer

If you, it’s nice of you, it’s very flattering. That you’re pleading with me to give you American support for national, Georgian

Julie Christensen

 from a Canadian . Are you kidding?

Metta Spencer

Yes, I promise you we Canadians will protect you. Yeah. Yes, Canada.

Julie Christensen

Us Canada. But, you know, Dr. Ronald Suny (Chicago University), you know, back in the old days, and I don’t really like I think Ronald Suny — had, you know, was really unfair with this history. But, but, you know, his idea was, nevertheless we should have regional elections. And I think that would help because there are so many layers here you know, and when I was talking to our friends, Susan Allen (George Mason University) and stuff and she was saying, you know, not everybody hear me with all these nationalities and all these people, but I want to say one thing, that when I was in you know in Virginia, and some of the Georgians who were there, were saying, they said, you know, Americans, Americans or Europeans spend millions of dollars to protect some sort of rare species of birds or something like that, but you have ancient cultures around the world who are close to extinction. And this is what we’re talking about here. And these are really deep, you know, cultural, historical things. And it’s so worth preserving them, it is so worth preserving them. On the other hand, it’s not worth, you know, blowing up the damn planet. on these issues, you know, if we’re going to just like destroy ourselves in our planet, then who gives a flying -, say, you know, my Californian, you know, who cares? Who cares, you know, this, let it all — but if we care at all, these are ancient cultures. And it’s not just the Georgians, you know, I think that there’s others. And they are, I mean, they are so rich in culture, and in deep historical value. That, you know, the United States is like a baby, but a very big baby, and a strong baby, and Canada. And so, what are we going to do? I mean, how are we going to deal with this? And how are we going to try to survive as a, as a planet? And as a world, and at the same time preserve some of these? Absolutely, you know, wonderful things? And then why do we have to fight about it? I mean, why can’t we respect what is valuable in these old cultures?

Irakli Kakabadze

I think the world order should be about respecting small nations’ rights to exist and not to be conquered by the big empires. And that I think, could be Joe Biden’s one of the main achievements. And I really hope that he will do that, because he started like this.

Metta Spencer

Here’s where I would join you Irakli? I absolutely think that if you want to solve the problem, we’re, we’re coming at it from the wrong end. It sounds like we’re talking about how to make deals among various nation states, and try to come up with something that’s reasonable for, for the freedom and wellbeing of people in all these countries. And there, and I don’t see that happening, even with the US — leadership in the US can no longer impose its will on other countries very much. And that Biden’s not going to be able to recover that I think the angle, the approach to all of these things has to be at a global level, I think the United Nations should have some sort of new initiative to rethink some of the general rules about relations between states and the rights of – guarantee, have a guarantee from the level of the whole world providing some sort of international peace service or something like that which would come in and an offer assistance, and support in in times of crisis or conflict, and in defend human rights wherever they are, and defend civil liberties, wherever they are. And approaching it as a global thing is, I think, the only way we’re going to solve all these multiple problems. Because if you’re looking for one country, the US to defend you against another country, Russia, or even against Turkey. And if you’re looking for even the EU, EU to do that, I don’t think any of them are going to work. But a bigger solution is sometimes easier than trying a whole bunch of piecemeal.

Irakli Kakabadze

What about Metta, my question…? what about Woodrow Wilson’s great vision? great vision for 14 points of peace, where the weak should be defended and the strong should be fair, and there I agree with you, should be done throughout the through the United Nations organization. That’s absolutely the point. The point is that the small nations should not be slaughtered and genocide should not be made of the small nations because the bigger Empires are stronger. And we have number of genocides that happened in this area. And all these people have suffered because they’re small, just because they’re small. And now, the United Nation, United Nations needs to get stronger. And I would like to ask you this. Once we do this — we’ve never heard of United Nations, and the United States and France and Great Britain and other security council members contribute to this anti-imperialist stance, which establishes the right for small nations to exist, and not national Darwinism.

Metta Spencer

Okay, we could go off on a whole different program here, where we talk about national sovereignty, and Woodrow Wilson’s principle of self-determination, etc., which I think is the only thing that he did wrong. I mean, maybe he did other things wrong, but that was a blooper. I think the whole notion of self-determination for nations, and the emphasis on protecting nations, is exactly what has led us into this rabbit hole. So, I don’t want to get into that right now. Because I think we need a whole different conversation about that. But I’m looking at transnational guarantees that the world protects the rights of any, any people who are being threatened, or her rights are being deprived. And that would have to be a global effort. But we’d have to stop thinking in terms of the importance of guaranteeing nations. I know, frankly… nationalism is the worst enemy.

Julie Christensen

But you know, so there’s a question of their nationalism on one hand, and there’s also cultural history on the other. And what we need to do we need to do is, perhaps it isn’t a nation, doesn’t have to be a nation, but we have to somehow protect that part, which is the history of, you know, culture, and humanity that has come and maybe it’s been associated with nations. But, and maybe we could sort of decouple that and say, let’s, you know, so there’s also this great value of human intelligence and culture. And we can’t lose that either, as we survive. So how do we combine those two, and they don’t have to be by nation, even language, you know, we don’t want to lose all these languages of the world of humanity. We don’t want to you know, do we really want to all speak one language? I mean, maybe we’d be happier. But, I mean, there are so gorgeous — I mean, it’s like, it’s like nature, nature is not like one animal.

Metta Spencer

I think, you know, it’s a beautiful question. And obviously, we have less than one minute to answer it. I didn’t think we’re gonna answer it today. But I think we have an agenda already established right there for another conversation; don’t you think? Exactly, no, and it is. So

Julie Christensen

it’s such an important con- you know, it’s that it’s very, very important.

Metta Spencer

Right? Well, we’ve had a good start for what I think is a very important discussion.

Irakli Kakabadze

Thank you and I’ll go for it. Next discussion.

Metta Spencer

Thank you all. It’s been fun.

T158. Democracy and War

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 158
Panelists: Marc Eliot Stein
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired: 11 January 2021
Date Transcribed: 11 March 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: David Millar

 

Metta Spencer

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer. Do you think we can solve the problem of war? Do you think we can abolish war? Well, I’ve been working on it a while. And we’re going to talk to somebody today who’s also working on that. He’s working in an outfit called World Beyond War. And this is Mark Eliot Stein. Hi, Mark. How are you?

Marc Eliot Stein

Great… thanks for inviting me here.

Metta Spencer

Well, we’re both of us peace workers, or in casual terms, peaceniks. And you’re in New York, I think, and I’m in Toronto, and we met a couple of years ago, or maybe three at a conference that… our board put on here in Toronto… your organization’s the most effective peace working outfit I have seen. You’re really good at it.

Marc Eliot Stein

Well, we’d all be thrilled. Well, it’s —

Metta Spencer

And I really respect the extraordinary organizational capacity. And I don’t exactly know what your role in it is. But I think that you handle a lot of communications things for the organization, right. So I think we need to eventually get to talking about our mutual concerns about trying to bring peace to the world. But really, I don’t think we can start the day as if nothing had happened yesterday. Because yesterday was the day when Biden was certified as the next president of the US. And I was busy on zoom with other things until quite late in the evening, when I first discovered that there had been that there’d been a domestic terrorist attack against the US Congress. And so in a way, I’m just getting caught up on that news. But I was shocked beyond belief. Maybe we should start off by talking about what has to be a threat to human security and peace. Globally — when we have… what even nice people would call a madman in…. power, and with control over… nuclear weapons… from the US, as well as all the other military units. I think we are talking about: How the hell did people get ourselves into a predicament like that? Where we are… the world … human civilization could be put to an end? … he could he could push a button… And that would be the end of civilization. And human beings have set it up to be that way. I think that’s something we ought to give a little thought to. What do you think?

Marc Eliot Stein

Oh, for sure. Yes, it is… quite a morning to be talking to you. I’d like to… reference what you said about World Beyond War. That’s very nice to hear that you think highly of this organization. And there are several peace organizations… one thing that I really like about the peace movement is none of us are competitive with each other, we’re all on the same team. And you know, World Beyond War has many affiliates, and many partners. But it’s nice to… hear you say that you think we’re doing great. We are… growing at a fast rate; the organization was founded in 2014. I think… But you know, we’re not an old organization. And we’re growing at a great rate. And I just want to say first about the Trump ordeal, the Trumpist ordeal is that I feel lucky that I joined World Beyond War. Only about three years ago, I joined by going to a conference just like the one where you and I, Metta, you and I met in Toronto, where I think you are now — that was a wonderful conference, September 2018. That was my one-year anniversary, in September 2017. I just walked into their conference, didn’t know anybody there in Washington, DC. And said, I want to get involved. I want to help. And luckily, I’m a web developer. So to answer your question, what I do is I’m a web developer. That’s what I do for a living — I am the technology director for World Beyond War. I’m very gratified to have spent the Trump years not just bemoaning how horrible everything is, but… working on what I think is the most important activist cause in the world, which is ending war. And I certainly consider Trump to be the prototypical warmonger. The idea that he’s antiwar, I consider it laughable. He started a war in Iran. He’s escalated the war in Venezuela. He’s created a new war on our Mexican border, and he’s created a civil war right here in the USA. So… I am very agitated about what we saw yesterday, I did watch, you know, I work from home as a software developer, so that means I… have my TV on way too much. So, I watched all of it. You know, you said you tuned in later, maybe I’d be feeling better today, if I tuned in later. But it was just absolutely shocking to see. You know, the first thing that I’m appalled by is that the DC police who beat heads when it’s BLM, when it’s Black Lives Matter, who react to black people protesting with tear gas and sticks… just get these white supremacists into the Capitol. It’s shocking everybody I know.

Metta Spencer

I heard some of the pundits, late night people saying that they suspected that there was some sort of inside support for it, because apparently there were police officers or somebody in charge, opening the barricades allowing in and… I saw one guy… taking a selfie with this officer, as if, you know, they’re buddies, you know, and that this kind of cooperation occurred rather than a proper defense of the Capitol? I don’t know. I don’t know enough about it. Did you see enough to give you the idea that maybe they’re… I read even this morning that that this event had been planned… by the Proud Boys or something for months? Maybe other groups as well? I don’t know. But… this had been planned. It couldn’t have been a complete surprise. In fact, Trump himself… somebody asked him a while back, do you commit to a peaceful transfer of power? And he said, Well, all depends. So, this is a pretty good indication that he had intentions to support something of this kind. So, I don’t know what can be done. What do you think, given the first one?

Marc Eliot Stein

Oh, I agree with what you said there. I also saw the video of the DC police simply letting … the rioters enter the Capitol… building, you know, I’m not talking about the capital city, the Capitol building, let letting them actually end. I also saw what you saw, the picture of a cop taking a selfie… with one of these people. And… you said this was this was planned by Proud Boys. I believe this was planned by the Trump administration, because… I lived in DC, I lived in Virginia for a while I know DC very well. And… at 12 o’clock in the Ellipse, which is just across the park, a direct path from the Capitol … it was completely known… they were certifying the electoral results. It was a very key event in the capital. So, they interrupted the certifying of the election [in the joint session of Congress]. And, you know, basically, when the Trump event ended, it was simply a matter of walking across the Mall. The Mall is this long rectangular park in Washington DC, walking from one side of the park to the end of the park, which is the capital. So, it was it was very… the risk that there would be a riot at the Capitol was completely known to everybody, and yet there was no preparation.

Metta Spencer

Okay, so would Trump himself have been… orchestrating it? I mean, that is saying more than I had, I know that everything indicated that he was encouraging it, but to actually have been engaged in, you know, creating a space for them to meet in and… then giving the order that the police should let them in. Was there is there any reason to believe that there was an actual directive supporting this? I mean, I think maybe we don’t know yet. But have you heard anybody say that… could have been the case?

Marc Eliot Stein

I don’t think — electoral results, the whole context here is, is that Trump is is going to lose office and be subject to criminal prosecution. And he’s doing everything he can to, you know, to subvert the transition of power. So, the key event was that there was this certification going on in a joint session of Congress, which is very rare, when the Senate and the House are both gathered together. This is what was happening. Trump planned an event very close to this at the Ellipse in the park. So yes, I don’t think there was a directive. I think there was a setup… by putting this big event so close to the Capitol, it was clearly being… orchestrated, that there would be some kind of riot. I do not think … anybody anticipated that the DC police would let the rioters right into the Capitol. I don’t think anybody could have expected that. That was inexplicable. But you know, I also, I’m, I don’t want to focus just on yesterday, because I want to get back to the question, you’re asking what can be done — I mean, I have been seeing that Trump ordeal… through the lens of fascism. That’s how I view this. And I also understand, Metta, you are… a sociologist and a peace scientist, and you may have your own framework for understanding what’s going on. Many — you know, some people think Trump is… just a dumb, dumb, racist? I don’t think so.

Metta Spencer

I think he is a genius at what he does —

Marc Eliot Stein

— a large white supremacist. But, you know, I think… the way we interpret what happened yesterday probably has to do with how we interpret the last four years and maybe the last 200 years. So, there’s so much to say, I don’t even know where to begin.

Metta Spencer

You know, here’s my dilemma. And not so much a personal dilemma, because, in fact, I don’t know, and I have no contact with any Trump supporters at all. Living in Canada, and especially living in isolation, I don’t go out much because of COVID. I don’t have any reason to meet people except my own network anyway. So, I literally do not know a single human being who supports Trump, and it’s completely unfathomable to me. So, my speculation is… in a way all hypothetical. But I do have a sense of what it’s about that I think differs from the typical analysis. And that is, and one of the reasons I’m pretty confident of my judgment on this, although it was [not] my predisposition to believe this because I’m kind of an anti-Marxist… Marxists are very, very oriented… toward class analysis, explanation of things in terms of social class-struggle. And so maybe that’s my bent, but what the exit polls for the November election indicate to me is that and I spent some time looking at them. The usual demographics that you would expect to explain these variations in voting results have very little effect, if almost negligible, that is particularly education and income, which are the big drivers of, of social class and social activities, mostly. And it turns out that income is not related to support for vote for Trump, according to the exit polls, except when you get to above $100,000 a year. For people who earn that much… They are the ones who support Trump. So, it’s not… the usual explanation is that it’s poor disadvantaged people who’ve been shut out of the labor market by globalization and they live in the rust belt, or they live in Appalachia or… they’re underprivileged, and… it is poor people supporting Trump. Well, no, it’s not. The people who supported Trump, if anything, had a higher income, slightly higher on average, but the real break, the noticeable difference occurs only among people who are quite prosperous, and they are more likely to support Trump than poor people.

Marc Eliot Stein

Okay.

Metta Spencer

On the other hand, you’d say that education, mostly it’s a matter of under-educated people, believing Fox News or something. And I don’t think that either, because it looks like education in the exit polls didn’t make much difference, except among people with postgraduate education, master’s or professional degrees, that kind of thing. And those people were much more pro-Biden. So, you see professional people, who presumably would be the people with good incomes, but it’s they go in opposite directions — income, if anything richer people vote for… Trump, but education, if anything, uneducated people vote for Trump, and those two just cut, you know, where do you find uneducated millionaires? Well… not even really education that… varies particularly, it’s only among the most, what they call elite, you know, people with professional expertise, training, that kind of thing that you see any variation by education, so I think it’s not social class. Now, what is it then? Well, the results that I have seen from people who actually spend time with these ruffians, these neo-Nazis and so on, are saying that it’s primarily a sense of the… feeling that their dignity is being compromised, that they should… have a higher social status than all these immigrants, and… Muslims and all these people… so it’s a competition… for status as opposed to money. And… therefore, what is the solution? Well, the solution — if it really is a matter of feeling offended, because you’re… not given proper deference and proper politeness and, and prestige, and so on, the answer would be, just go give them more prestige, be nicer to them, show that you really appreciate them? Well, that’s what Trump did yesterday. He said, “We love you” to these guys. Yeah. And that’s interesting, because I don’t love them. And I can’t disguise the fact that I have real contempt for these people. So, in a sense, yes, it’s elites looking down on them. And yet… it’s not. What can you do about it? How can you pretend otherwise? I mean, can you try to make up to these people by going and saying, you know, come to dinner at my house, I think you’re such a good company, I want to invite you over. You see what I mean? Well,

Marc Eliot Stein

yeah, I have so much to say… First, I want to say that I… do know many, many Trump supporters. And there are several reasons. One is that I am into social media. As you know, I I’ve been very involved with World Beyond War’s social media, and I also do my own social media. And I do consider that social media is a serious place for discussion of these topics. So, I interact with Trump supporters, not jerks… not … ruffians. I do. I do want to turn that around. I hope… us peace activists are ruffians sometimes in the good sense, but… I believe that all people are good. I am very much a believer in that everybody is good, but when we are stupid or when we are ignorant, we make mistakes and when we are poorly led, we make mistakes. So and by the way… right before talking to you, I’d been talking to a friend of mine in Indiana, Columbus, Indiana… because he told me he voted for Trump. And I’ve been… berating him for it and trying to ask him, how does it feel?… because I know this, this friend of mine, and maybe he’s even watching, he knows, because I was just arguing with him. You know, he voted for Trump. And I said, do you feel ashamed? Now that you see what’s happening … in the Capitol? Do you feel ashamed? And what — By the way, what I find for many of these… types of people, is that they are dealing with what’s going on right now by shutting it out. This… particular friend of mine… doesn’t watch the news anymore… shutting it out, simply being in denial… of how odious and murderous and evil your government is — is a way of dealing with it. I want to say —

Metta Spencer

during about yesterday, what was his answer when you asked him, Do you feel ashamed?

Well, this was very funny. His answer was he didn’t know it happened. Do you know that there are a lot of people who only watch Fox News or who only listen to —

Marc Eliot Stein

…Fox…

Well, they have a very, very different way of presenting this stuff. So even — and this particular friend, I believe, doesn’t watch televised news at all. But he is… basically on a no-news diet. And I believe the answer is because “he can’t handle the truth” to quote Jack Nicholson, you know, some people who, a lot of people who… are on the Trump team have gone into a no-news diet, because it’s the only way to… handle the guilt. You know, the fact that they’ve… cast their lot with white supremacists, fascists, that they are on the Nazi side… because… I live in Brooklyn, New York now, but I grew up in Suffolk County, Long Island, which is only 30 miles from here, but very red, very Republican… It’s a sort of Irish-Italian working-class neighborhood. I’m Jewish myself, but you know, growing up there has led me to have many other friends who are Trump supporters. And… the county, I’m from Suffolk County, voted for Trump, and what people don’t know about New York is that we have a lot we have a lot of red as well as blue districts here. So, I do believe that the reason we are in this disaster is… that the news sources that they are watching are polluted by… corporate fascist propaganda. I’m talking about Fox News and Rush Limbaugh Oh, by the way, so you know, some people don’t even know that like the influence of the Rush Limbaugh type talk-radio, Mark Levin, etc. is vast… these voices are very influential.

Metta Spencer

I haven’t even heard them; I don’t think I would watch. I never heard Mark Levin. Have you listened? Well, at some point? And I don’t know, what is it? How can you characterize what —

Marc Eliot Stein:

I consider it my goal to talk to Trumpers. And as an anti-war activist, I consider it my goal to talk to people who believe that war is a positive force in the world, which is unfortunately more people than… you and I… there are more people who think that war helps the world, which I think you and I both know is just such a sad, sad misconception. But I again, I believe people are poorly led… it’s the leadership and it’s the community. It’s the media. So, when, you know, I want to sort of tie it back to what you were talking about class and education. I don’t I don’t think the voters are the problem. The voters in America are not the problem… our media… feeds us to two contradictory narratives: the MSNBC narrative and the Fox News narrative… basically choose one and hate the other… And I think you and I probably are way to the left of MSNBC. So, it’s very sad for people like us that we don’t we don’t even have a channel —

Metta Spencer

 Well, yes, but that, that’s, that’s where I get in trouble. Because my friends say, or people who really, you know, there’s kind of the notion that if they’re people who are hurting because they’re lost, they’ve lost status and they feel under-recognized and under-appreciated in status, then the thing to do is reach out and talk more. I admire people with that point of view, Van Jones on CNN has that point of view, he really is extremely good at talking to people he disagrees with. Okay, I am not, because I really think when they’re telling a lie, I’m gonna call it a lie. I can’t help that. And I… yesterday, I did a talk show with a dear friend who said, I use the word “backward”. And she said, don’t use that word. I guess the logic is, if you use more respectful terminology, you don’t call people backward that’re insulting you, what do you call them? I don’t know. I call them backward. And that’s, you know, that’s the problem. How can I lie enough? To pretend that I respect people that I simply don’t?

Marc Eliot Stein

Great question. I mean, my answer is to dive in and engage with them. You know, I told you the story of my friend in Columbus, Indiana, but I would say I have about 5-6 of these running conversations. And by engaging with them, I think I understand what… So that is my answer. But I also —

Metta Spencer

If you think you understand them, do you really have respect for their point of view? I mean, do you really think they are right, in any sense of the word?

Marc Eliot Stein

Oh, great question. First, I, I would have to say, when I’m engaging with them, I’m working on them. I’m working on each of them. So, I do have respect for the fact that they are willing to talk to me, because anybody who’s… a Trumper, or a white supremacist, who… doesn’t want to examine their deepest beliefs isn’t going to… spend their time talking to me. So now, you know, with that said — I have to point to… the most important word here, which is tribalism. So… a person who’s in the deep South, their heritage is… the heritage of the of the deep south. And, and by the way, another thing I believe, now I know you’re in Canada… I do believe that heritage of the Civil War… is still with us today. And so, if you’re, if your tribal feelings are that Black Lives Matter is evil, and therefore the cops who are busting heads at Black Lives Matter riots must be good — if that’s your tribal… sort of configuration, then you are doomed to have that as a starting point. And the best you can do is, is build up from there. So, I’m thinking about cultural legacies. I mean, you and I are both people, but we come from families that that taught us — I feel lucky that I was born into a progressive… open-minded multicultural family… I feel lucky that I have many different ethnic groups in my family, and that I meet many different types of people in in my world, but people who have more limited exposure and maybe don’t have as much diversity in their lives, I think they default to white, (I’m talking about Americans here) default to white supremacist tribalism, which is what Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are pouring into their heads. And no, I don’t want to overemphasize the importance of media. You know, it’s not like I think, I think media, pushing the white supremacist narrative is the only problem. But if I had to… pick out the single cause of Trump, I would say… Fox News and talk-radio, the single — that’s my opinion, maybe, ah, you but you and I know how powerful it is. I know how influential it is…

Metta Spencer

We believe in freedom of speech, where you and I are both democrats in the lower-case sense of the word… so one of the important things I believe in is is free speech. And if that’s the case, we are giving a blessing to people who want to say lies, who want to distort reality and so on. So I know what do you do about that? I find it a real dilemma. I can’t actually… because as I say, I don’t meet any of these people. If I did, I would … have a difficult time pretending to be respectful. Let’s say that.

Marc Eliot Stein

Well, what if what if we map this back to the fact that you and I are both peace activists? Because the fact is, neither the Republican or the Democratic Party in the United States is aligned with what I believe, and I’m guessing not fully aligned with what you believe? Because the United States has problems that go beyond, you know, what we’re dealing with? So, I feel that… the big answer, and this is why I’m a peace activist, the big answer is to fix our most fundamental problems. And that involves dealing with America’s immoral foreign policy, and our fossil-fuel abuse and our corrupt capitalism. And… the crimes of Wall Street which go unpunished year after year… and trickledown —

Metta Spencer

Are those the things that you talk to when about when you talk to your Trump-loving friends? Do you talk about

Marc Eliot Stein

Yes…

Metta Spencer

and, and foreign policy and militarism and so on? And how far do you get with that? I mean, you know, to be honest, there was a time when, when Hillary and Trump were debating, and… I thought, I’m just not going to vote, because I can’t vote for either. Well, I didn’t, thank goodness, I I realized that not voting for her was in effect voting for him… and because I thought about what he would do to the Supreme Court, etc. And then, but I didn’t really feel that it was going to be any move toward peace, either way. Because, you know, the Democrats are just as tough on that as anybody, I guess.

Marc Eliot Stein

Well… can we can we take a step back and think more idealistically about the fact that if we were to manage to end war, and I know… that’s a far cry from where we are, that maybe by resolving… the root causes of the misery in our society, and the guilt in our society and the trauma and the… fear? You know, how much fear is caused by… fear of foreigners, fear of invasion, fear of war… we know how many billions of dollars we spend on weapons, that’s how afraid we are — if we can address the root causes? You know, I… actually believe… that the human race is, is changing at a fast rate. And, you know, I know some peace activists are like, oh, back off this… cosmic stuff. But… sometimes I can sound like Marianne Williamson, who I actually think is quite brilliant. I don’t know if you know her, who she is –.

Metta Spencer

I know… I don’t really know her work much. But I know, she’s kind of… pie in the sky sort.

Marc Eliot Stein

But, I come from a pie-in-the-sky background too you know, I studied philosophy in college, and my intro to peace activism didn’t come from being on the streets, it came from reading books, you know, so… I actually think it is our project, to fix our biggest problems and our biggest problems are war… racism, violence, greed, and to not… shrink away from fixing our big problems. And then the types of people Van Jones, they’re talking about… not living these lives of fear and trauma and self-hatred. I mean, it’s my belief that war generates trauma and fear that echoes and reverberates in our life. I certainly wouldn’t disagree with you… only by solving our most fundamental problems, can we have better politicians and better governments!

Metta Spencer

… I certainly agree with you, but I would have a little bit of different angle on it because I think… war is not the only threat to humankind and human survival. And we’ve got global warming, as you know, we have the possibility of famine, we have pandemics… we have cyber risks. Everything from… Chernobyl… to having your government offices hacked and all of your secret plans revealed. And, and our electric grid may be blown up if they want to. So there’s everything… all of those things. And I see them as something that we can handle best, not separately, but all together as a system, because I think they’re all interdependent causally. And probably the linchpin of the whole thing is militarism. Because it isn’t just the fear that people have as a result of war or the anticipation of war, but also the effects of investing in and maintaining a … huge arsenal of weapons and arms, armed forces, and all of that, that… misdirects, our funds and our energies away from the solutions that we need to give… into really bad, bad.

Marc Eliot Stein

well, I would also add the more practical fear of the many people who are part of the military-industrial complex of losing their livelihoods. Unfortunately, the military-industrial complex is a big, big part of our economy. And that’s no small fear. So sadly, by putting weapons manufacturing at the core of our economy, as we have, along with fossil-fuel abuse, we make it the fact that solving our biggest problem would actually be economically disadvantageous. So… the gun to our head is the military-industrial complex — and work… Eisenhower said it, you know, we’re gonna destroy ourselves with war profiteering and look at the damage we do overseas… I do recognize the privilege I have of sitting here in a comfortable apartment in Brooklyn, when my country is waging war in Yemen… and supporting… Netanyahu in Gaza… the various things we’ve done in Latin America, that we’re still doing in Venezuela… this is, again, why I feel like we have a chance to fix this. You know… I’m not an antiwar activist, just for the sake of doing it, I believe we’re going to end war, we have to end war, either we end war or we die, you know, or our planet disappears.

Metta Spencer

Well, yes. And —

Marc Eliot Stein

Go ahead. I just wonder how you react to something like that?

Metta Spencer

Oh, absolutely. I think we’re on the same page completely. The only thing that I’m now focusing more on is the notion that just telling people to stop investing in military, if –it’s not enough, because… not only investors would lose profits (and… I believe in telling them… take your money and put it someplace else) but also the jobs would be lost. And, you know, here in Canada, we are funding… an industry that’s producing armored personnel carrier vehicles on a big scale for sale to Saudi Arabia. And the government has not wanted to stop doing that, although the public sees this as a shameful thing to do. But the government continues, because they will have a huge number of jobs… suddenly lost if they stopped it. So I think that as peace workers, we have to not only say stop doing this, but rather show where we should put the energies and jobs… building, green infrastructure building, and don’t use the word green, because that turns people off sometimes, but at building, creating job… that are good… that we need to have solutions to, that would be contributing a real good answers to things, Say, Stop this, but also create this, and we have to be doing the research on what needs to be done and how to actually take the same people who are working in this particular area, who are going to lose their job and say, “Now, when we shut this down, we’re building a plant that’s going to do this instead. “And you’re all going to be hired and here’s what your jobs are going to be, that kind of closeness of showing the linkage needs to be done more, I think then we’ve been doing it.

Marc Eliot Stein

Well, there’s a, there’s a three-word phrase for that: Green New Deal. And I’m very much behind it… I’m concerned that you said the word green is… I use the word green a lot —

Metta Spencer

… find everything, but I’m, belong to everything. But at the same time, if what you’re saying is, we got to be able to speak with Trumpists and right-wing people in a way that they can hear, then there’s the dilemma. If you use the word green, that’s the end of it, they don’t want to hear it. But if you use jobs, or you know, health care, or education, or improving their highways and bridges, so they’re safe, etc., then they may be able to hear it. But there’s certain words like green, that may, in fact, be counterproductive for… I can’t talk to these people. You say you do? Well, I don’t talk to them.

Marc Eliot Stein

Well, you know, maybe some of them will listen to… your podcasts and your videos… and hear you, even though you don’t — because I want you to talk to them. But I want to say that when I talk to them, I do a lot of the talking… I feel sorry for some of my friends because… I don’t… take a take a tentative stand on these issues. If somebody says they think the environmental movement is wrong about anything, they will have to listen to me explain why they are stupid. And you know, when I say I talk to Trumpers, I don’t coddle them. I talk… reality to them. And… I do think that the environmental movement, the green movement is a winner right now. We are we are winning with that one. And we need to lead with that. In fact, one of the one of the goals of the peace movement, I think right now is to better explain how the military is the biggest offender in the world of environmental —

Metta Spencer

Well, except that, as I understand, if I look at the green New Deal documents, they don’t talk about militarism. That’s the one thing that they actually don’t mention that. Yeah, take money out of the military and put it here.

Marc Eliot Stein

Yes, no, I know… I also sometimes have to argue with people who might consider themselves… further on the spectrum, from… conventional politics than me because some people don’t even like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and the Squad. And you know, what I consider to be… and Bernie Sanders, you know, our only good politicians, in my opinion, these are our only good politicians. But even these politicians — simply because they are officeholders, and they are in the Democratic Party — they’re certainly not mainstream in the Democratic Party. But you know, many people… who are progressive will reject even Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. So, the word “green” will cause problems on both sides, but we just have to keep persisting… I don’t take it from them… they will hear me explain why they’re wrong.

Metta Spencer

You know, I deal with it. But go back to my original dilemma. If you’re going to explain to them why they’re wrong… does that work? I mean, arguing with people, I don’t think often works. I’ve rarely seen anybody say, “Oh, yes, you’ve just convinced me that I’ve been wrong all my life.”

Marc Eliot Stein

Yeah, I know what you mean. You know, maybe you can the question between us here is, do we solve the problem of fascism or Trumpism by addressing the voters or by addressing… the ringleaders? And I actually, again, I think the voters are… I don’t think the voters are the problem. I think the problem is the crap that we that we shovel out to voters, you know, give them give them these choices. You know,

Metta Spencer

What are you gonna do to stop it? I have no idea how, how to stymie it. I don’t even listen to Fox News. I don’t know. But any of those right wings, you know, theorists if you dignify them… with that term… they’ve got a right to speak. I believe in freedom of speech.

Marc Eliot Stein

Oh, yeah. But I believe… the answer is we have to fix our problems… if we don’t end war, we will never have a good government. That’s what I believe. I believe war and democracy; the institutions of war and democracy are incompatible. How can we possibly call ourselves a democracy when we’re inflicting violence or profiting on inflicting violence in other countries, and, you know, the world has not been connected for that long — 100 years ago, it was possible for a person in the United States or in Canada, to not realize the effects that militarism is having around the world. We don’t have that problem anymore. Now we know… how guilty we are. So again, this is why I’m an anti-war activist. This is why I don’t you know, I have some friends, by the way, and I respect them, who spend a lot of time calling people for elections… vote for Joe Biden vote for… this Congressman. I don’t spend any time on electioneering. I spend time on anti-war activism, because the election is… downstream from the problem. The problem is more fossil fuels, greed, capitalism… Does that kind of answer your question? I mean… the questions you’re asking can’t be answered easily, of course. But that’s how I would do —

Metta Spencer

well, you’re absolutely an ally, I am delighted to have this conversation with you. And our hearts are exactly in the same place. Whether… our operational priorities are how you schedule your day, and where you’re going to write checks to cover this or that fund. Whether you’re covering the same things that I’m — I don’t know, but we are, they’re certainly compatible… the organizations that you support, and the ones that I support are certainly compatible. And working in the same direction? I think… there’s value in really noting that… people who are working on pandemics or people who are working on… food security… people who are working to try to solve cyber risks, those are people who are working on the same system. Yes, that we’re all working against. We’re all trying to solve the same set of problems that are interrelated. And I think we ought to know each other a little better and, and be in touch and if anything, find ways of collaborating more, you know, I’d like to, I do have good contacts in the World Beyond War. I’d like to have more. I mean, you know, let’s find ways of helping each other. So, terrific.

Marc Eliot Stein

Let’s do this. I’d love to have you on the World Beyond War podcast, which I host I do one episode every month. So, let’s, let’s do more of this. I mean… we’re both putting out messages here. So, let’s, and I agree, we are allies, and I’m glad to know you.

Metta Spencer

Great. Good to make a new friend. Thank you so much, Mark… Take care.

T182. The McIntyre Powder Project

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 182
Panelists: Janice Martell, Dr. Richard Denton, and Dr. Keith Meloff
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired: 9 February 2021
Date Transcribed: 18 February 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: David Millar

Metta Spencer

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer. And we’ve been talking quite a bit lately about uranium mining. Because one of our main concerns project save the world is about radioactive contamination. So of course, we talk, there’s a lot of radioactive contamination in Canada, I would say, especially in Ontario, because we depend so much on nuclear power. But and so I’ve had a lot of friends who’ve been here talking about the dangers of nuclear waste and problems about mining. Now, I think we need to go a little bit beyond that, because there are other kinds of issues involved in mining as well. health issues, and I would say even they involve human rights issues, because public health and human rights converge at a certain point when you get people being forced to take measures that may not be for their own health, but for other reasons. So, I’ve become acquainted with a lady who is very concerned about an issue called McIntyre pot powder. Her name is Janice Martel,

Nice to join you, Metta. Thank you so much for having me here.

Metta Spencer

It’s wonderful to see you. And I’ve also invited a couple of physicians who are knowledgeable about these matters. Dr. Richard Denton is a dear friend of mine who works quite a lot on the public health safety of mining and exposure to radiation. And he and Janice both live in Sudbury now. So, they’re just about to get acquainted. And Dr. Keith Meloff is a physician who has done work on precisely the health issues that Janice is so concerned about.

Richard Denton / Keith Meloff

Okay, good.

Metta Spencer

I’d like to start off by asking Janice Martell to tell us her story. She’s the founder of the McIntyre Powder project. And tell me about it.

Janice Martell

Well, the McIntyre powder project is a bit of an Erin Brockovich type of project. Basically, my father, his name is Jim Hobbs. He was an underground miner in Elliott Lake Ontario and in the uranium mines. He also worked in the Sudbury area mines. But when he went to Elliot lake in 78, he started underground there and had to breathe in a finely ground aluminum-oxide dust called McIntyre powder. It was named after the McIntyre mine in Timmins, Schumacher, Ontario, developed there in the late 1930s. And by the early 1940s, it was being used in all of the gold mines in the Timmins area, sort of sequentially, and it was introduced into uranium mines in the late 50s and early 60s. And the McIntyre powder was theorized to prevent silicosis, so that the theory was that if you inhale this into your lungs, it would affect the solubility, the aluminum particles would engulf the crystalline silica, which is very sharp-edged pieces of, of silica that happen when you — they’re contained in the ore bodies high in amounts in uranium and gold mining. And when you break apart that rock in mining, this crystalline silica — they, the miners are inhaling this dust. And it can cause scarring in the lungs and make the lungs less flexible so that you can’t breathe. This is silicosis, and the rates of silicosis are really high in, particularly in the in the Porcupine mining camps, around Timmins, and mining executives there came up with this theory, in conjunction actually with the Banting Institute in in Toronto, [it] had some involvement in in trying to solve this silicosis issue. And they started applying miners with it —

Metta Spencer

Excuse me, but what would be the symptoms of silicosis? Anyway, in other words, we were going to pre- it prevented disease but I don’t know what that disease would have looked like.

Janice Martell

So, it like I say, you’re breathing in these this crystalline silica molecule molecules, it causes scarring in the lungs, so it makes the lungs less elastic so that it’s harder and harder to breathe. People with silicosis, they have you know, sort of caved in chests because they have a hard time getting their breath. They can have a very blue appearance or you know…. It leads to death and in in Elliott Lake where the crystalline silica content is that much higher in the in the mines, probably close to double what it is in the gold mines. You had miners dying in the late 1960s, early, early 1970s, for mines that just opened in the 1950s. And usually silicosis has a, you know, a 20, 20+ year course before it would lead to death, but they were dying in droves in the what fraction of the of the miners whatever, contract that disease. It’s been a while since I looked at those stats. There was a survey done in in the late 1920s, I believe, by the one of the Interior ministries, to look into it, the Sudbury rates were quite a bit lower because their silica content in the rock was quite a bit lower. And Dr. Meloff is showing you a canister of McIntyre powder, aluminum dust. So, they would grind up this aluminum dust put it into these canisters. And for miners before they went underground, on shift, they would have a formula for the room content. So, it was one gram per 1000 cubic feet of room content. And they would so they would put so many canisters in a compressed airline, they would puncture them and send out this blast of aluminum dust that as miners are changing their clothes to go underground, getting into their work clothes, they would be inhaling this for generally around 10 minutes, or so sometimes a little bit more, but usually around that that amount of time, before they went underground. So, it was a it was a forced… there was no informed consent. They certainly didn’t know. You know, they were just told to breathe deep This is gonna prevent silicosis — there was no, you know, here’s the risks, here’s the benefits. And they really didn’t know. The documentation that I looked at. said it would take at least 15 years before they even know if it had any effect on silicosis. They had no control group for this. It was just a forced human experimentation, public health, industrial health experiment that was conducted from officially from 1943 until 1979. It was a Fifth Estate episode, in a Toronto Star, you know, copro- investigation that really shut that down in, in September 1979.

Richard Denton

They, they take an elevator down the shaft, a stunning depth, actually. And before in the elevator, they blew in this aluminum oxide dust, it was like a cloud of smoke that they were inhaling before they went down the cage all the way into the mine. So, this was a procedure where they actually took numerous breaths of this very fine black or gray powder, depending on the composition at the time, into their lungs.

Janice Martell

Right before they went underground… yeah, it was done before they got into the shaft but in the mine dry or in Quirke Lake where my dad mined where my dad worked, they actually had a like a tunnel between where they, you know, got out of their street clothes and stuff and into their work clothes and they had to sit in that tunnel. And there was no way of going around it, you got locked in there. So, it was basically forcible confinement and forced aluminum dust inhalation as a condition of employment. So, if they, you couldn’t avoid it, you would get suspended if, or threatened with your job loss if you know if you fail to do it, so. So, my dad ended up with Parkinson’s 10 years after the mines closed, and my, and I knew nothing about McIntyre Powder. He didn’t talk about it at the time. I was 11 and 12 at the, at the time that he got it. So you know, I’m a kid I don’t, you know, it’s not something that he would talk to me about anyways. But when I found out about it 10 years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I wanted to know more. So, I started doing research on it. And initially there was there was basically there was two references to McIntyre powder on the internet, when I first looked into it, and one was a study that was done with by Sandra Rifat and colleagues out of the University of Toronto from a 1990 study where she actually compared, she did a mental, mini-mental status, examination. So, the kinds of tests that you would give to determine if there was any kind of dementia, she gave those to miners who had received the aluminum dust and miners who did not. And there was a statistically significantly fact for cognitive impairment in the miners who got the aluminum dust and the longer that they had been exposed to it the worse that that cognitive impairment was so it was like a dose-response relationship.

Metta Spencer

Did it look like dementia or did it just have other quality psychological qualities?

Janice Martell

It was it was a cognitive deficit. So, they didn’t, they struggled more with cognitive functioning. That’s how that’s what that study came out with. So, and the only other reference on the Internet at that time when I looked at it in 2011, was the mining Hall of Fame and it had the general manager from McIntyre Porcupine mines R. J. Ennis and you know, talked about how he cured silicosis in miners, cured that disease by introducing the aluminum dust. So, it was a real vacuum of information out there. I spoke to somebody at the United Steelworkers who had worked in Elliott Lake, and he said, you need to talk to you need to Google ‘McIntyre Research Foundation’. And when I did that there was a hit at the Ontario archives. So, I went to the archives of Ontario and did research there. I went through all of the McIntyre Research Foundation’s archival funds. And then from there started, you know, talking to miners and creating a voluntary registry to see what kind of health issues there were. And I have 545 on my volunteer registry, and I think it’s 53 of them have Parkinson’s. So that it led to that kind of sort of basic mobilizing and mapping of what kinds of health issues are there led to further study. And in 2020, we, the Occupational Cancer Research Center, just published, released their findings of a study that they did, that compared the neurological disease rates in miners who did not get the aluminum dust miners who did get the aluminum dust, and then the general population of Ontario, and it found a statistically significantly higher rate of Parkinson’s in the miners who got McIntyre powder. So, they started to compensate those miners, including my dad.

Metta Spencer

Well did it help with the silicosis in the long run?

Janice Martell

No. There was a Western Australian study, this was this spread out, the use in several countries, not just in mining, actually, in the United States. It was used in dozens and dozens of silica-dust producing factories. But the it was used in the Western Australia gold mines and a study in 2013 found that it had no impact on silicosis rates at all. And there were, that study found that there may be higher incidence of cardiovascular issues. So sudden death by cardiovascular in the miners who got it and potentially higher risk of Alzheimer’s. That’s what that study.

Richard Denton

It is the case… I was a neurologist that served in the underserviced area program of the Ministry of Health for a long time, the better part of 30 years. So, I was a traveling neurologist or an itinerant neurologist based principally in Timmins. But I actually would see patients literally all-over northern Ontario, and even as far north, northwest to Sioux Sainte Marie and Thunder Bay, and also by telemedicine either based in Timmins, which was the beginning actually of telemedicine to the north. And it had a co-location was with Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. So those were those were the two actual sites for telemedicine. So, I consulted with people, even as far as the James Bay and the western shore, James Bay, Moose Factory and so on that I saw, a lot of people, underground miners who are exposed to the aluminum oxide and who also had early onset of dementia and other neurological disorders including Parkinson’s and Parkinson-related illnesses. In other words, Parkinson lookalikes. They weren’t Parkinson’s, but they were Parkinson-like diseases.

Metta Spencer

To ask a dumb question, because I did Google this. And one of the things they talked about was Parkinson’s disease, and Parkinson-ism. Those are two different things.

Keith Meloff

Yeah, that’s a very good question. But and in fact, it’s still in evolution because there’s an ever-increasing number of Parkinsonisms, where we are understanding the pathology is not the same as in, if you will, standard Parkinson’s disease. In any event, it is also the case and I would like to make this brief but it is the case that I collaborated because I worked in pharmaceuticals as well. Aluminum can be chelated as lead can be – copper – you can actually suck it out of the blood with medication.

Metta Spencer

I’ve heard it as some sort of offbeat treatment for some diseases, right?

Keith Meloff

But it’s actually true.

Metta Spencer

I never heard it explained what is chelation?

Keith Meloff

So what it is, is these molecules, metal molecules, iron, aluminum, copper, manganese, lead, they can be che-, there are agents that will suck them out of the blood. The lead is a toxin, ubiquitous toxin, mercury is another, some of them are harder to — so there are actual chemicals that have been around for a long time like pharmaceutical pharmaceuticals that have been around for a very long time, British anti-Lewisite, so on… And there’s one in particular that draws out iron and aluminum and it’s called Desferrioxamine and why is this important? Because there is a population of people who get the disease called thalassemia, you may or may not have heard of thalassemia, it’s actually fairly common, even in Timmins, because it is a disease that’s hereditary that afflicts people from the Mediterranean area, like Italy and Greece and so on. And there were a lot of Italian miners who had this. They would have —

Metta Spencer

I know Nancy Olivieri, who goes to Sri Lanka, I believe, well, I worked with her, with –maybe the Sri Lankans have a high incidence of it, or,

Richard Denton

Actually, we had this molecule — Ciba Geigy. It’s a Swiss company that’s now called Novartis, it’s a colossal Swiss pharma company. They made two key leaders Desferrioxamine which is given by injection, and Desferrel which is oral, and Nancy worked on a drug called Desferrel for thalassemia is a big controversy about that which I don’t want to get into. Fact of the matter is that drug is approved for oral treatment for iron overload, iron overload, specifically for thalassemia, (which is a disease we don’t need to talk about) — but it also sucks out aluminum from the blood. And Dr. McLachlan, Dr. Donald Crapper McLachlan, at the University of Toronto was very, very focused on aluminum toxicity. He was convinced that aluminum was a major contributor to Alzheimer’s disease. He was convinced of it. And he had the brains of miners that were donated to his laboratory in Toronto. Forever. I have tried in vain to find out where those brains are. No one seems to know. It is the case that they likely perished because the freezer that contained those brains broke down in a power shortage at the Tanz Institute [Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Disease] at College Street and University Avenue in Toronto, and have been forever lost. But I don’t know. And I’ve actually contacted people who do know, and the people who do know, don’t know where those brains have gone, which is very unfortunate. It’s America launched.

Metta Spencer

Are you saying that because they’re lost, nobody really knows whether Alzheimer’s or is caused by affected by aluminum?

Keith Meloff

I mean, well, it’s complicated because we, clinically these patients clinically had Alzheimer’s. And that is unequivocal. Dr. McLachlan showed us an experiment which Janice just alluded to, that Desferrioxamine slowed the progression of patients who were exposed to aluminum. It slowed their progression of dementia compared to a group of patients who’ve got a sham injection of drug. And that was published in The Lancet several years ago. And it’s an interesting publication. It’s not a perfect publication, but it’s a very suggestive publication. That Desferrioxamine actually might be useful in treating miners who are exposed to aluminum. It’s not the story is not easy, and he was part of a group scientists, one in Kentucky, who really believed that aluminum was toxic to the brain. And we have aluminum, not just for our mines, but we bake in aluminum, aluminum foil, we have underarm deodorants that are largely aluminum based. So, there’s other environmental toxicities you know, that we’re susceptible to from aluminum in the environment, it’s ubiquitous in our environment, because we eat with it all the time. A lot of food is made in aluminum. Cooking. So —

Janice Martell

if I can interject a bit, the one of the, one of the primary things that differentiates, I think with McIntyre powder is the fine ground aspect of it that it’s in the fine particulate and ultra-fine particulate size. So, we are wondering, beyond the aluminum if the, if the particle size, particulate size itself is causing problems. So, Andrew Zarnke, my, my colleague, at the occupational health clinics for Ontario workers, he’s doing studies on, that, he analyzed canisters of McIntyre powder, and found that it you know, it was in this extremely fine particulate size — in the, you know, things like air pollution where you have this fine, this beyond ultra-fine and fine and fine particulate — they have higher issues of cardiovascular disease and things like that. So those nanoparticles in and of themselves have been found throughout the body in the brain. And one of the concerns that we’re looking at is, is that particulate size itself is that the issue, the formulation of McIntyre powder, was changed in 1956. To make it even more fine. They wanted to, they wanted it to get down to the deepest recesses of the lung. And the Occupational Cancer Research Center study that was published last year showed that was released last year, showed that any mine worker who had the formulation post-1956 had an even higher risk of Parkinson’s. So, it does tend to make us think along those lines, that’s something that we need to investigate a little bit further, with respect to, you know, not just the fact that it was aluminum, but the way the manner in which it was distributed, you know, right before they went underground. I mean, when you are an underground miner, you are exposed to all kinds of, you know, silica, silica dust, diesel exhaust, there’s different kinds of toxins that you are — and some of them are carcinogenic: diesel exhaust… silica dust… arsenic — there’s things that you can be exposed to, in that environment. And right before you go underground to do that, your lungs are being overwhelmed by this, you know, it’s not like you’re, you know, the WSIB time-weighted in over an eight-hour shift. Well, that’s not how it was delivered, you had this extreme dose, right before you go on underground and overwhelmed the lungs’ systems, their natural ability to clear out, clear out dust particles. And so, you have this compromised lung and you’re in there with no ventilation because the specific instructions from the McIntyre Research Foundation, which were the mining industry executives, and some industry doctors, from this foundation, their specific instructions were that you were to have no, you know, airflow, so close all the doors, seal them, you know, get rid of any windows, or at least seal them up, and have no ventilation while you’re taking this stuff. So, you’ve compromised your lungs right before you’re now exposing them to all of these other toxins underground. So those are some of the areas of research that we’re wanting to look into further, beyond just the fact that it was aluminum, because there’s no other population in human history that was exposed to aluminum in this way. You know, this finely ground aluminum dust that they were forced to inhale. So, it’s some of the other studies can be you know, can certainly bring up concerns and things that we want to look at. But there’s this also this other aspect of it that that is really we need to study these particular miners, and in it, one of the human rights issues for me, apart from the lack of informed consent, and that they were essentially in these gas chambers, is that there was no follow up. Once they you know, once they just discontinued it, it was like, Oh, well — you started this human experiment and they — inefficient, they need to follow up with these miners and find out what happened to them? And that’s what I set out to do. And that’s what’s —

Metta Spencer

Because they didn’t. And they should have done. Who should have done that? That’s follow-up research. What should have happened? Well, maybe the whole thing shouldn’t have even taken place in the first place. But, you know, who should have done the kind of work you’re doing, Janice?

Janice Martell

Well, I mean, this was a public health experiment, and it should have been a public health follow up. You know, the government was aware that this was happening. And, you know, they gave their tacit approval. And when the Food and Drug legislation came in, in the late 40s, the research that I looked at is that the McIntyre Research Foundation met with the officials in Ottawa, and they basically said, Well, you know, this is, you know, you’re not giving this to the general public… our inspectors aren’t gonna be very interested in you. So, carry on. So, there was a regulatory oversight that was abysmal. They just dropped the ball and nobody followed up. And it was really when… the media made a big difference in

Metta Spencer

I would, because of what Dr. Meloff said, I’m wondering if there is a possibility that one could get aluminum poisoning and all of the cognitive, and parkinsonism or the other diseases that might result from aluminum exposure, from things like cooking and aluminum pans, or using deodorants — then your, the research would have to be rather complicated in order to separate out the effects of the aluminum that you was inhaled, as opposed to aluminum from other sources. Wouldn’t that complicate the research project? Or have you thought of that yourself in in trying to do this kind of follow up study, Janice?

Janice Martell

Well, I mean, I’m, I’m a lay person, right. So, I’m, I’m a layperson and an advocate, so I’m just kind of trying to gather the information and be a resource around it. But I mean, the …JM aluminum toxicity is unquestionable, it’s neurotoxic. But how the mechanisms, you know how that might affect something like Alzheimer’s or dementia. Dr. Denton has his hand up you? Yeah, jump in there. Go ahead, please.

Richard Denton

I just want to make a couple of points. One, I’m just a country doctor. But as a country, doctor, you have a lot of patients, and you see clusters of disease occurring. And you wonder why. And rarely, though, do we actually then try to find out? What is the case? You know, I can think of my colleague, Dr. John O’Connor, who saw a cluster of cancers in the Alberta tar sands, and traced that to the toxins that were coming from that industry and basically had to leave town as a result of that —

Metta Spencer

The story there. What’s that about? That people got mad because they felt that you found out something they didn’t want to know.

Janice Martell

You don’t bite the hand that feeds you in an industry town.

Richard Denton

Yeah. So that that’s it, but I again, want to applaud people like Janice, because it’s often the lay people or miners. There is a miner in Kirkland Lake, who traced his lung cancer to radon gas that is a heavier-than-air gas. It therefore concentrates in the mines. It’s radioactive. It’s not only in the uranium mines, but it’s in all the mines. And as you were alluding to, Metta, it was hard to eliminate things like smoking, because a lot of the miners smoked. And so therefore, they said, Wow, well, your lung cancer is due to smoking, but he did not smoke and was able to finally get WCB, the workman’s compensation board to recognize that that as a health hazard. And we now know that radon gas is the second cause of lung cancer. And it’s… compensable and it’s also found in basements of houses. And so, you now can test that. So again, I simply want to applaud people like Janice for doing this research, you would think that it should be as doctors, but often it is not. It’s the lay people. And I think the second point also is that workers are exposed to bad situations, toxins, and are not informed of it. And so, you have the women who applied the radioactive radon to… watch dials, and developed cancer as a result of that. And as again, Janice points out, the workers are not informed. And particularly we see this often with indigenous people. The uranium mines often occur on indigenous land, they are hired to do the work, but they are not told of the risks. So, my points are that we need to be doing a lot more research. We need to, it’s people like Janice, and miners and people who are the workers who are really the heroes for pointing these problems out. And then it is finally up, back to people like Dr. Meloff and scientists who then can do the research to find these problems. But to me, the real heroes are people like Janice, and I just want to make that point, who —

Metta Spencer

I’m glad you

Richard Denton

took the risk of workers in situations of being exposed to toxins, and not knowing about it.

Janice Martell

Thank you. I have to say Dr. Meloff, many of the people that I talk to remember you, they bring up your name. And I when I say that I’ve met you and that, you know, they’re just very grateful because you believed them, you know, and you said yes, this person has Parkinson’s or parkinsonism or whatever. And, you know, when I was thinking about coming on this, this this show and having a conversation about this, and thinking about how it how it really connected with peace. In order to achieve peace when there’s been wrongdoing, you have to acknowledge the wound, you have to acknowledge the wrongdoing and that this was swept under the carpet and people like yourself. Dr. Meloff, you, you were a frontline physician who gave validity to their lived experiences and they you know, 30 and 40 years later, those families remember you. And I just wanted to say that.

Richard Denton

Thank you. You know, it’s interesting that the source of the aluminum that I provided for further study was given to me in 1989 by a woman called Erma Vosdingh, from Virginiatown. So, most people in Toronto have no idea where Virginiatown is. I actually know. It’s, it’s not far from Kirkland. But I mean, this was because her father had complications from the aluminum oxide. So, it’s an absolute irony that I have like a dozen canisters, because she provided me with about a dozen canisters [of] the McIntyre, powder, some of which were a little different in color. So, there were some that were grayish, and some that were blackish. And that I think, is what Janice is talking about that the fine powder may have different particle size. There’s no doubt in my mind. We have other epidemiological evidence of metals causing problems. Lead is the best known I would say. Lead is terrible. Because lead affects not only the brain, it also affects your blood forming, because you get anemia. Children who eat paint chips that are leaded. I don’t know if you’re familiar with this, but it’s a very, this is serious problem is still a problem in North America. And you read about Flint, Michigan, where they have lead in the water, a monumental problem. A pediatrician there was… noticing that children were getting anemia. And it was it was because of lead in the water. I’m so old. I’ve taken care of children with anemia related to lead and brain damage — so that’s how old I am. I actually treated these children who were exposed to lead in Minneapolis. And there’s manganese miners in Chile, they get Parkinson’s disease. And even in the Negev, you may have heard of the Negev, it’s in southern Israel — Bedouins were a migratory… an indigenous population that traveled between Egypt and Jordan and Israel and so forth. They eat, they drink water out of leaded pottery. And there have been cases in, among Bedouins who’ve developed Parkinson’s from the lead. So, this is a really global problem. And the radium, I couldn’t agree more with Richard, I mean… radiation is bad for the brain, it’s bad for your body. It causes malignancies, among many other things. So, this is a monumental, I really think this aluminum powder should be studied in, in animal experiments. To look at the brain after exposure to aluminum oxide,

Metta Spencer

Well, that’s one thing I wanted to ask is we need to move on to talking about the future. I’m wondering, out of all this experience, and experimentation and, and research and tragedy, what has been learned and what needs to be studied further? And what actions are should be taken now? What do we know that we should be doing something about? Probably, maybe Janice and Keith Meloff have different ideas about where to go from here. But I’m always looking for solutions. So what needs to be done, that we should promote as a line of either research or policymaking?

Janice Martell

Certainly what Dr. Malak was talking about with animal experimentation, I think that that is, is something that is being contemplated. The initial review, or the initial assessment of what McIntyre powder is, was necessary to developing something that could be consistent to be able to do those kinds of experiments. So that’s sort of the first step that that Andrew Zarnke, and his colleagues, including Health Canada, had, were part of that review. And, and that would certainly give us some models as to as to what the impacts are, and to be able to study that… there’s a technology… some nano diamond technology where you can attach this tracker to the particles of aluminum, so that when it’s you do the inhalation experiments, you can actually see in the body where it goes. So, can it pass the blood-brain barrier and those kinds of things. So that’s something that is being contemplated. And I think the kind of study that the Occupational Cancer Research Center did for neurological disorders, they could do something similar for the other kinds of health issues that we’re seeing showing up. I mean, respiratory is huge, different cancers, cardiovascular conditions…. One of the things the OCRC study found was they did find higher rates of Alzheimer’s, and higher rates of motor neuron disease in mining in general, not related to McIntyre powder. But compared to the general population and motor neuron disease, that diagnosis, they had some difficulties, because of the number codes that are used in family physician offices versus hospitals, in figuring out, you know, how many of those would be something like ALS, but in general 70% of those diagnostic codes refer to ALS? And I have —

Metta Spencer

Let me unpack that. Are you saying I think I did see reference to this, that ALS itself is one of these motor neuron disease problems, and that it could be could be affected by aluminum or by just any kind of thing in the mining environment? Any mining?

Janice Martell

Yeah. And I, I, I’ve seen some high rates as well around pulp and paper mills. So, I’d be interested in knowing what the common elements were in pulp and paper mill towns in Abitibi. From what I understand, there was an iron ore mine that had I think five, with ALS — in the Kirkland Lake area… So yeah, there’s some, there’s some things, certainly that are beyond my scope. But things that I’d be interested in and on a sort of a public policy issue. I think that there should be a national registry. If you are a worker, I mean, we’ve become a globalized workforce. If you are a worker, you have a right to know everything that is — have a registry, everything that you’ve been exposed to at work, that you and your state, or your legal representatives should be able to have access to that registry, so that they can track and see what are the health outcomes of workers who are exposed to certain things — at some point asbestos was not an issue, right? Because nobody was making the connection. At some point, beryllium wasn’t an issue… Those kinds of toxins and their health effects need to be studied if we’re going to put workers in a situation. And sometimes you don’t know at the time that it could be toxic. And lots of times you did. And I think that we need to have that and push for that. And part of my going into this was… not just to show and find out the answer that I wanted to find out for my dad… was his Parkinson’s related, which I have that answer now… if you can show with this group of workers… this was not an inherent working condition, this was introduced by a powerful mining industry and a government that kowtowed to them. And if you can show what a human rights abuse it was, and how we need to push beyond the way that we deal with workers now? You know, workplaces close down by the time these occupational diseases develop, unions disband. You know, when, you know, when the mining industry in Elliott Lake decommissioned and the mines closed, those locals of the… unions dissolved, because there was no more workplace. We need someone (and it needs to be a national effort) to track what these workers are exposed to. Right now, we’re retroactively doing that at the occupational health clinics for Ontario workers. But it’s… very difficult to do and you have a lot of deceased workers who can’t give you what they were exposed to in their working conditions. So, we kind of look at it as a cluster and try… people who are alive can tell the tales for the people who passed. And the things that I would recommend.

Metta Spencer

Thank you, you obviously have something on your mind.

Richard Denton

Just a couple other points, Metta. I think as Janice has pointed out, to see a toxin develop in people, it’s often 20+ years, to show the cancers and that sort of thing. So that makes doing the research difficult. Number two, I think we need to use what we call the precautionary principle, which is: if you don’t know what it’s going to do, don’t do it. And so, you know, we have seen the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, CAPE has launched a ban on the cosmetic use of herbicides and pesticides for lawns, and we know that those are toxins. So that that is something that can be done. And it was interesting that it started in a little community of Hudson, Quebec, just a small community. And now with the help of CAPE it spread across Canada, and the provinces have now restricted that use. So eventually things do change and… come to light. You know, we thought that plastics were inert, that that was not a problem. Now we know that it’s the microplastics that cause problems, it’s now endemic in our lakes in our streams and in the oceans and is affecting all life there. Not only the large plastic that gets into straws, into turtles and things like that, and in the bellies of whales, but is also the microplastics that is now a problem. And as you also said earlier, with cooking… look at Teflon. We think that’s a marvelous agent. It keeps spills… off your clothing. If you don’t have to use a lot of oil in your cooking, it just slips off the pan. But it too is a toxin and a carcinogen. So all of these things are problems. And then the other point I want to make is that it’s not only the miners, but it’s their families. And the mines fill up the lakes with these toxins. And they become the tailings, become the slimes. And they… often have heavy metals, which then can become airborne, and again, get into the food that we eat. Again, Dr. Meloff and I are old enough to remember when it was recommended that we should all be eating liver. Because it was high in iron and —

Metta Spencer

I still eat liver, or I still leave eat liver, what’s the matter with liver I’ve missed? Well,

Richard Denton

It’s been taken off the Canada Food Guide. Back in the day when you and I grew up, we were recommended to eat liver. But now we know that the liver concentrates toxins. And because we feed animals, all these various toxins, you should not be eating too much liver. And you know, you can now get young calves’ liver or baby beef, but you would not be wanting to eat cow’s liver. And again, we don’t recommend eating wild game liver for that very reason. Because again, they are high in toxins. So yes, you should be eating game. Because it’s low in fat. And that tastes good. But you need to be avoiding the organs that concentrate the toxins like livers and kidneys.

Metta Spencer

Well, we started out with a few things to worry about. And now we end the program with a whole lot more things to worry about. This is not cheerful news. I’m sorry. I’d like to end with an upbeat message, but I’m not quite sure what it is. Dr. Meloff can you think of anything cheerful to end with?

Richard Denton

Well, I I agree with Janice, that what would be cheerful for me is to do exactly what she recommends is and that is to have a registry. I mean, the other interesting catchphrase would be class action lawsuit. Because if you actually think about the violation of proper experimental procedures, I mean, all of this work was done in violation of the Helsinki Accords… people who were exposed without informed consent to toxins. And this is I mean, they were there were trials over this, you know, in Nuremberg, I mean, this evolved into the Helsinki Accords, and international standards for doing clinical research. And I can tell you, there are numerous examples in history of violations of these human rights, testing hepatitis vaccines on mentally retarded children, for example, by very good people, I’m not talking the — these were not evil people who did this work. But they were actually in violation of standard experimental practices. And the same applies to the miners. This, this went into the 70s. I mean, this went on into the 70s, long past. These articles that were enunciated in the Helsinki Accords have proper safeguards for “experiments on human beings”. So I think that that would be actually a very interesting exercise. I have no doubt there are a lot of lawyers who would take this on. I don’t think it’s — I think it would be a win. I just think if it goes to the Supreme Court, I honestly think it would win compensation.

Metta Spencer

I’m trying to think organizationally, of how movements work. And I’m running this thing called Project Save the World. And one of our one of what we’ve chosen as a mandate, if you will, is to work on pandemics, and another is to work on radioactive contamination. And both of them are medical issues. But would this larger project that you’re saying — a registry of exposure to potential toxins? If we took that as kind of a plank, that in a way would almost cover both? pandemics to some extent, and certainly the radioactive contamination exposure, wouldn’t it? So that that kind of recommendation or proposal or campaign would be right up our alley, wouldn’t it? Richard, what do you think? You know, our project? And would that be useful for people who are working on uranium mining and exposure to uranium? Or nuclear waste, which is some of the stuff you’ve been engaged in?

Richard Denton

Most definitely, most definitely Metta.

Janice Martell

The cheeriest thing I can think to end this: that there’s hope that what happened to these miners… and to the factory workers in the States, this is used in Mexico, the people that I haven’t been able to even reach yet — that their life experience is going to promote the kinds of changes globally. You know, because there are disadvantaged workers… when a mine cable doesn’t meet Canadian standards anymore, we send it to a third world country and it meets their standards. Well, there should there shouldn’t be a privileged country. Workplace standards in a poor country, workplace standards of … migrant workers or whatever. It’s a human rights issue. People have a right to be safe at work and not be exposed —

Metta Spencer

I’m speaking as a campaigner. How would you if you were going to take this issue up and make this the crux of a campaign? Where would you locate it? Would you try to get it put through the WHO? You’re saying, it’s not just a local thing because poor countries have —

Janice Martell

And so I thought about United Nations, it is on my radar, more than a class action suit, to do a human rights application for what happened to the miners and it’ll that hopefully will be a platform to or a pathway to, to getting this because that would be my ultimate goal, No amount of money is going to,

Metta Spencer

I mean, you need an organizational affiliation and institution to carry them the ball, you know, especially if you want it to be big. So, you need to figure out who is your partner. And I don’t know. Dr. Meloff, or Richard, both of you?

Richard Denton

Well, a precedent is tobacco. And… the provinces and the governments are now going after the tobacco industry for not doing proper testing, not recognizing it, even when the evidence did come out. We’re still advertising a dangerous product, and not making it aware. And so I think, again, it’s government’s that need to be doing this and governments need to be doing the regulation. And when we take away that regulation, then problems happen. We see this every day. We see this in the nursing homes right now with COVID. The regulations have been decreased. The people that were to do the inspections haven’t been doing it simply because that they were cut back, the numbers were cut back. And as a result, we now have a problem with COVID. And so, but I think Keith’s point of legal action is you need to put financial con-, earmark things or tag things with finances, with money. And it’s only when you start to get legal action that things actually start to change.

Janice Martell

I have looked into it and the current premier in Ontario, brought in legislation to change the act around how to sue people. And if you sue, you have to actually — basically negligence is off the table — you have to prove that the person intended to do harm when… so it’s, it’s dead in the water for that reason. And to me whether it did harm or not, it’s the… negligent aspect… the ‘we don’t know what this is going to do’. We think this, we didn’t have a control group… there was some evidence of, you know, manipulation of the — just how the initial experiments were done on humans, you know, that, even by the standards of that day… did not measure up whatsoever, and this was just pushed through. So, I, to me, it’s the issue: that they were exposed is more of a human rights violation than whether or not it did harm. I would certainly want to know whether it did harm. But every person who, who was exposed to this (against any Nuremberg Code) deserves compensation for that and recognition for that, period. And when they have that, that’s how you get a path to healing. How do you how do you heal when it’s just, you know, some of the quotes from my miners, it is mind blowing, you know — “I had a baby, I had a baby. I was 18 years old. I was a father, what am I going to do? I didn’t want to inhale this. What am I going to do? I had no choice.”

Metta Spencer

Thank you so much. It’s really wonderful that you’ve done this. And heroic, really, because you did it on your own. You just took you took the initiative. Dr. Meloff, I’m going to give you the last word, it has to be a quick word, because we’re over time.

Keith Meloff

I would like to follow this up sometime. I’m on the side here. For me, it’s personal as well, because I’ve been involved with this at many levels. And these are terrible diseases. I mean, if it’s, it’s actually one of the more discouraging parts of being a neurologist is dealing with these diseases. They’re all lethal. The ones we’ve all talked about Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, all of these diseases are lethal. And they aren’t curable. They’re treatable, but they’re not curable. And they shortened lives. So I’m on side here.

Metta Spencer

Thank you. I really appreciate this extremely interesting and important conversation. So some follow up, I don’t know but Bless you all for the work that you’re doing.

Richard Denton / Keith Meloff / Janice Martell

Thank you. Nice talking to you. Bye everybody.

T152. Peaceworking in Armenia

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Peaceworking in Armenia

Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 152
Panelists: Jill Carr-Harris
Host: Metta Spencer
Date Aired: 4 January 2021
Date Transcribed: 10 March 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: David Millar

 

Metta Spencer

I’m Metta Spencer, and this is a great day for me because I get to talk to Jill Carr-Harris, a very dear friend who’s been off leading tracks across Asia. She was going to march from Delhi to Geneva, with a troupe of people following her. And she got as far as Armenia when COVID hit; she stayed there for a couple of… months, and then went back to India. And now she’s, she’s here in Toronto with me. I haven’t seen her because of COVID. But this is our first little get together in a while. Hello, dear Jill, how are you?

 

Jill Carr-Harris

Hello, Metta. What a pleasure to see you again.

 

Metta Spencer

It’s wonderful. Yeah, well, we have a great deal to do to get caught up, we need to actually skip a lot of your adventures this time. Or put them on hold for a while, so that we can talk about a serious global issue now, where I think you know more than most people. I’ve had some conversations lately about what has been going on in the Caucasus. And I know that you got stuck in Armenia. Since then Irakli has alarmed me with his prophecies — that serious human rights violations have been going on and may get worse. In, especially in Armenia, or with respect to the Armenian population,

 

Jill Carr-Harris

On this very, very important issue in the South Caucasus. It’s significant in terms of, in my view, global peace relations. So what happened is that, you know, Armenia… is an ancient civilization. It is one of the most ancient civilizations, and so many archaeologists and historians live in Armenia, and will tell you — as well, the 1000s of museums they have in their country will tell you — that Armenia was always in difficulty because it sat between what was once the Turkish Ottoman Empire [and] the Russian …(later the Soviet Union), and in early times the Iranian Empire. And so it was always squeezed. It’s a country that knows conquest… and yet ethnic Armenians have survived in this region, being mountain people… being really from this part of the world… the Turkish areas and the South Caucusus. They have a sacred relationship to their hereditary lands… There were many Armenians in the… Ottomans — living in Turkey. And at one point, and I don’t know the full story, but at one point, the, the Ottoman leaders really created a pogrom like our Jewish pogroms, and [in 1915-16] forced the Armenians to go on a long walk and many many died in what is known as the Armenian genocide . This was

 

Metta Spencer

about 100 years ago, right

 

Jill Carr-Harris

was about 100 years ago, it was over a period of about 10 or 11 years, from 1909 to 1921. that this happened, but they take usually the day of 1915… [or dates] in between to talk about it. But almost a million people were killed. And it what was very, very sad is that when the great powers after the first war, were trying to negotiate with a new Ataturk [regime] because, you know, at the end of the first war, the Ottoman Empire disintegrated, and the new Turkish country emerged. The Great Powers said to Turkey… even though they knew about the Armenian Genocide, everybody knew about it, they said, for the interests of the Turkish state, we will not make this Armenian genocide an issue — so that Turkey can… recover, you know, create its new statehood. And so as a result of that the Turks never acknowledged this genocide. And as time went on, they became harder and faster in their decision never to recognize it because if the Turks did recognize this genocide, they would have to pay reparations. So that was the first thing I want to record as as a very important historical moment. The second one, I believe it was under Stalin. Nagorno-Karabakh was part of ethnic Armenia. And when the Socialist Republics were being formed… getting a sense of their own boundaries. Stalin gave Nagorno-Karabakh to his Azerbaijan, but it was ethnic[ally] Armenia. And it was just willy nilly. He had maybe an, you know, an interest in Azerbaijan at that moment in time, but there was no logic to it. But that’s what happened. So at the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union… starting in 1990, the Nagorno-Karabakh also like Azerbaijan, and Armenia, declared independence. Nagorno-Karabakh could as another… area, claim its independence, but that was not suitable — that was very welcomed by the former socialist state of Armenia, but unwelcomed by the former state of Azerbaijan, former Socialist Republic, so they went and had a war over Nagorno- Karabakh in 1991. It had been building up. As the dissolution of the Soviet Union happened, people in Nagorno-Karabakh felt very uncomfortable and the… nationalism that had been under the surface, during the whole period of the Soviet Union suddenly erupted. So there was in from… 1988. on there was.. Azeris were… killing and taking the homes of Armenians in Azerbaijan and Armenians were kicking out Azeris from their homeland.

 

Metta Spencer

Okay, we should stop it enough to say that the Azeris are the national group in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijanis would be the citizens of Azerbaijan, but Azeris would be the, the tribal identity or whatever you want to call it, a national identity of people, right.

 

Jill Carr-Harris

What I’m trying to say and to be quick about it… as we saw in the dissolution of Yugoslavia into ethnic struggles of different groups, the same thing happened in Azerbaijan and Armenia, and Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethno nationalism came up, and each side wanted to to see Nagorno-Karabak… the Azerbaijan government wanted to see it under Azerbaijan, and the Armenians wanted to see it under Armenia or leave it independent. So fast forward. Well, they fought a war for three year: 30,000 people were killed. It was an absolutely horrible war. After that war in 93, a particular Council was set up under the what they call, it’s called the OSCE… under Europe, a particular negotiating body was set up in order to resolve this dispute, right. So peace was created, there was a body set up to resolve this dispute. And the chairs of that body was the US, France and Russia.

 

Metta Spencer

The Minsk Group,

 

Jill Carr-Harris

it’s the Minsk Group, OSCE Minsk Group… that was set up to find peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Now… they obviously over 20 years did not successfully find a way although there was… many meetings… and that was partly because in my view, Russia did not want to see (particularly when Putin came back into power, when Putin became the head of government in Russia)… they did not want to see it… this was part of my discussions in Armenia. Even though we tried to involve Azerbaijan, it was difficult. So it was mainly between Armenians and Georgians. But we spent a great deal of time talking to people and learning that, that after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the region did not create horizontal linkages. They did not create cross country trade agreements and greater understanding and peace process — like [in] this Nagorno-Karabakh situation… the vertical, the vertical linkage to Moscow remained strong, right. In spite of their independent governments, and this was a great shame. But this had to do with the status-quo, governing groups in the different regions… the governing group in the 1990s in Armenia, was pro-Moscow, they saw the advantage of leaving that vertical link to Moscow (because don’t forget, they had Azerbaijan on one side, and they had Turkey on the other side). And they saw it in their best security interest to keep that vertical link of trade, of commerce, to the Soviet Union. They did build up commerce and trade with Iran. They did have a good relationship with Georgia. They could not sort out this with Azerbaijan. And Turkey kept its same adamant stance about the Armenian genocide. So… there was a bit of, a few skirmishes, in 2016 there was a skirmish and so on, between Azerbaijan and Armenia, but it was basically a frozen conflict. Now, what I understood, — and I’d like to give a little personal narrative here — I went to Nagorno-Karabakh in advance of our march, to try to understand the situation. And this was in July of 2019, so about a year and a half ago. I went by getting a visa, from the people in Nagorno-Karabakh, I knew that the Azerbaijan government would not really like it. But I went through the legal channels of getting a visa, and going and we… I was with a group of three people. But we went only on a weekend — not to just to observe, like an observer group — we didn’t go to have any formal meetings. We met some government people, but our main interest was to see how to set up a Gandhi center in Nagorno-Karabakh that could help build peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia. So this was our intention. And we met people at the university there, and we discussed it and there was a lot of interest. And we were moving in that direction. When we returned to India, in preparation for the march, thinking that we could bring the march to Nagorno-Karabakh, and we… were interested to talk to the Azerbaijan government because we were hoping to send another group through Azerbaijan. So this was, there was no favoritism to Armenia. As far as we were concerned, we were only trying to understand how this march could reinforce peace and not reinforce division. But when we got back to Delhi, we were called by the Azerbaijan government to sit down and have a cup of tea with them. So we went… two out of the three people who I was with, came to this meeting, and after a few nice formalities, the Azerbaijan ambassador to India said to us, you have been blacklisted by our government because you entered our territories without our permission, and you must sign something saying you apologize to our government, and then we will consider your peace march, and we will consider not blacklisting you. And you know, we were so taken aback — we had no idea what we were dealing with. What we were dealing with was an ambassador who was speaking directly for the senior foreign policy people… back home… maybe even at the President’s wish. And so we were shaken and said, “Well, sir, excuse me, but we did not in any way try to go into Nagorno-Karabakh without the Azerbaijan permission. We only did it because we were invited. We got a visa by the the government who is now governing that area.

 

Metta Spencer

The government that was running Nagorno-Karabakh was part officially of Azerbaijan, but must have not been seen as such by Azerbaijan, or else they wouldn’t mind having that government issue you a visa —

 

Jill Carr-Harris

No, no. So after the war of 93, and there was frozen peace, the Nagorno Karabakh people set up their own self government. And this self-government got the tacit support of the Armenians, but not of the Azerbaijan government, of course, because after… what the war did, was it flushed out large numbers of Azeri people, people of Azeri background, as you mentioned, from this region, and it was now predominantly ethnic Armenian-dominated and they set up that —

 

Metta Spencer

but if you look at the map or a lot of official documents, it looks like Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan.

 

Jill Carr-Harris

Correct. And that’s what’s confusing. It’s, you know… may I clarify that, which is, the Azerbaijan government had gone to the United Nations, showed them Stalin’s declaration or whatever legitimacy they had, and the UN because of — whatever, I don’t, I haven’t studied the politics and who is behind it and who introduced it, but the UN agreed with Azerbaijan, the UN Security Council, or the General Assembly, I’m not sure which, I believe it was the Security Council, possibly, for whatever reason, maybe because (Azerbaijan) Baku had recently found oil, and that oil was controlled by Anglo- American interests. And so maybe that had a reason for them to make a deal. But this UN agreement was not accepted by either the people in Nagorno-Karabakh as they described it to me, nor to Armenia. It was a bilateral decision, as far as they were concerned. Okay.

 

Metta Spencer

bilateral meaning UN and Azerbaijan…

 

Jill Carr-Harris

Yeah. multilateral but negotiated bilaterally, possibly with Security Council country members. So that’s what was the situation as we were sitting in front of this ambassador in Delhi, being scolded for going into their territories. And we said frankly, “We never knew, because we just landed up in Armenia, and we applied for a visa to go to Nagorno-Karabakh to understand whether a Gandhi foundation could be set up, and we got our visas and went, so excuse me, sir, we didn’t know that that was not legitimate, from your point of view, excuse me, for that we regret our decision of not getting more information. But we cannot apologize for something where we got a visa and went, right? Because that would mean that we are guilty. Where when we cannot say we were guilty. We actually applied for a visa. Now, whether this had gone so far that, you know, visas were… the result of a frozen conflict….”

 

Metta Spencer

Well, had you applied to Azerbaijan for visa? Would you’ve been able to get it that way?

 

Jill Carr-Harris

No, because they didn’t allow people to go to —

 

Metta Spencer

Unable to go in at all, if you hadn’t got the visa from Nagorno-Karabakh itself.

 

Jill Carr-Harris

Correct. And we went and and I have to tell you, we had written… this was actually later but we wrote to both governments, you know, we never, we were not doing this to support Armenia. We we had written both governments, we were planning to put the peace tour through both countries… we had gone to the see the ambassador in good faith to figure out how we could… bring our peace people, our peace march through Azerbaijan. And he was the one who said, “If you apologize, then we’ll discuss your peace effort.” And so we said, “Excuse me, I don’t think we can apologize. But certainly we regret not understanding that we were hurting your sensibilities, and that, you know, this was a result of a frozen conflict” and blah, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, they… made us write a letter. We apologized and the letter was sent to the foreign minister in Baku, and it was rejected. And he said we needed to apologize — by that time we were on the march. And so we we couldn’t even communicate. So it it just got left —

 

Metta Spencer

1000s of people from who knows all over the world who, for one reason or another go into the Nagorno-Karabakh, without getting a reprimand from the Azerbaijan government. How did they do it in those days?

 

Jill Carr-Harris

Well, ours was a different situation, because we were bringing international attention through a peace arch. So maybe the Azerbaijan government are not as concerned with a few individuals or tourists or maybe that’s not, but in our case, they were concerned because we were taking the messages out to the media, to Geneva, and they wanted their rightful heritage to be properly reflected. And that’s understandable. Now, I must … add, that at the time that we went into Nagorno-Karabakh, there was no Indian ambassador in Armenia, to guide us. Normally, we would have checked with the Indian ambassador in Armenia and said, You know, we’re going to Nagorno-Karabakh and … had it been the present one, he would have said, Don’t you dare, because that’s Azerbaijan. The past one was not so strict, you know, so, but the present ambassador, because we talked to him later about it, he would have said, “Look, had I been here, I would have said don’t go,” but it was before his arrival. So … our efforts to bring peace was seen by the Azerbaijan government as pro-Armenian, which was very unfortunate, because they could have used it in another way. But actually, I think by the time our peace march was going, judging by the reactions of the Indian Embassy in Yerevan in Armenia, I think already they [Azerbaijan] were planning for some sort of —

 

Metta Spencer

invasion or

 

Jill Carr-Harris

— because by the time… there was a big difference between June 2019 and February 2020, there was a very big difference in attitudes that I could see. So I suspect that Azerbaijan was already gearing up. And maybe because people like us were confusing their territory with Armenia, but as far as the Armenians are concerned — when Nikol Pashinian became prime minister in 2018. He had been formerly a journalist, and he was very interested in peace. It was one of the driving things that drove him to politics was we need to solve this, even if we need to really compromise with the Azerbaijan government. And he sat down two or three times you can see it on the in the Youtube with… in American universities primarily, different places. They sat down and they negotiate and they talked. And basically, you saw this democratically elected Nikol Pashinian. Talking to you know, Aliev [of Azerbaijan]… who is more seen as an authoritarian leader, saying, look, we really want to get this peace process on the ground and Aliev basically said, “It’s all of Nagorno-Karabakh to us, or nothing.” So there was no ground — what you had during — when you saw the war start on the 27th of September, for the 16-17 days that it raged. What you saw is Turkey had really backed up Aliev’s government with the military capacity which they needed to win over Armenia. Had they had their own military capacity [only], against which is what Armenia was gauging, that they had enough military in case there was an Azerbaijan attack, they were about equal. But Turkey came along and gave it modern drones and gave it some mercenary fighters and gave Aliev what he needed to make a brutal attack… on the ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and that is what you saw. So as they were attacking, you could see the women and children of Nagorno-Karabakh receding back into Armenian territory, and the men stayed and fought, thousands died. You know, it’s a big part of their population. And Armenia… sent troops to help them, send military equipment to help them but they were, the Nagorno-Karabakh ethnic Armenians were leading because… there had been a recently elected new prime minister in Nagorno-Karabakh. So he was leading the fight. And, and with this Turkish military…, Pashinian either had to see complete massacre of the fighters (because they were not going to give up) of Nagorno-Karabakh, or he was going to step in and call for a ceasefire, if… I would have imagined that the Armenians would have thought that Russia was going to defend them at that point, precisely, because all these years they’ve had this… you have to see that Nikol Pashinian is a democrat, he pushed what, why he led a nonviolent revolution… the oligarchs were displaced by his mass movement and coming into power. And those oligarchs were Russian-backed oligarchs. Right? So suddenly, you see Russia is not so interested in jumping in, because they would like to see Nikol Pashinian out.

 

Metta Spencer

Okay, got it.

 

Jill Carr-Harris

So they delayed and delayed and delayed and delayed. And all of us were so surprised because they had agreements — from the perceptions of the people who I spoke with in Georgia and Armenia. So it may be biased, but their perception is that Putin did not come in on the basis of saying this is Nagorno-Karabakh… Only if Armenia is attacked, do we have any military responsibility. So that was the basis of their claim, which was a little stretched, I think… it’s not just about the the different political party, which they want to see back in power, but it’s also they want to see those vertical linkages. Back to Moscow. They didn’t want to see Nikol Pashinian , kind of wooing the West, the European Union, United States — that was not so comfortable. Yeah, they want that vertical, you know, Yerevan-Moscow, highway of trade, of commerce. They want the resources. So this democrat, of course, who came in in 2018, became a darling of the West, because he was a democrat — he was democratically elected, you know… that was another irritating part of this. And so now, Nikol Pashinian has called for elections next year. I mean, this coming January, February [2020], and he may well be pushed out of office. He says, I’m not holding on to power. but I want to see elections, I don’t want a coup. Yeah. So that’s the situation, as it stands now that Russia basically lined itself up with Turkey, very strange bedfellows because they had complementary interests in this region. Turkey wants to build a Turkic kind of, I wouldn’t say Empire, but a federation, across Azerbaijan to Central Asia, and right over to Indonesia, you know… and Russia wants the vertical link to Moscow, from Yervan. And also this way —

 

Metta Spencer

I’m trying to think of — because the Armenians are Christian. That would be a wart on the, on the skin of this new coalition or Turkic Empire, so to speak, that that would be a problem. Right? Is that the the main reason that?

 

Jill Carr-Harris

No, I don’t think so. You know, I have been to this region for many, many years. And there has never been a religious problem between Azerbaijan and Armenia. It’s not been religious. It’s been ethnic. Right. And that’s a bit different. So the religion can play into the ethnic, but it was not a religious issue. But Turkey, of course, wanted to make it a religious issue. So you have to see it’s kind of a Turkic Muslim. Yeah. And you realize that Central Asia are Turkic-related (historically) people. Now, Aliev in Azerbaijan has no interest in being under a Turkic Empire, that that is not really his interest. So he has to walk a very fine line, to keep everyone happy, but not to fall too deep into that trap. So that’s why he called on his Russian friends. And in fact, the way they tracked, they trapped Pashinian , it was Aliev who trapped Pashinian… during the war, went, sent a message to the Azerbaijan people and said: Let’s forget Turkey and Russia and sit down and talk piece, and we’ll sort out this ceasefire, and we don’t need Russia.

 

Metta Spencer

And he was rebuffed.

 

Jill Carr-Harris

And Aliev went to Putin and said, This guy is too close to the west, and is trying to go around Russia. Don’t forget Aliev trained in Russia. He’s a former — his father was the head of the Socialist Republic. He’s got good ties with Moscow. And it was because of that, that Moscow said, Okay, we’ll come in as a peace force.

 

Metta Spencer

Yeah. Irakli sounded quite alarmed about the possibility of genocide. I mean, that’s the word you used. Certainly. I hear he said that. There are atrocities going on now. I don’t know what’s what’s Russia’s position on that. What are these Russian peacekeepers there to do and and who’s doing what to whom know,

 

Jill Carr-Harris

The Georgians are at war with Russia over Abkhazia. So there’s another frozen conflict, in their country. Right. And they have kept Russia — because of their closeness to NATO and US, Europe — they’ve been able to keep Russia at bay. This [N-K] has given Russia entry into the Caucusus in a way they didn’t have before… they did have some troops on the border with Turkey in Armenia before, but this puts their troop levels up several thousands. And so they’re now in the region, and they can control a lot more. This makes the Georgians very afraid. So hints, some of the hype, Irakli does talk of genocide, I think it’s hyperbolic because genocide is a big word for what’s going on there now. Yeah. But with all with great respect to Irakli, what he’s trying to convey is a sentiment, which is that they’re losing — the South Caucasus is affected by this Russian, Russian entry, Russian peacekeepers — and it’s very dangerous for Georgia and the South Caucasus. And that is what he’s trying to say without saying that, I would say because you have to be careful in in that part of the world, how you say things. So now the genocide issue is the Armenians feel that what Azerbaijan with Turkey — mainly Turkey and mercenary support — did was to extend their genocide on Armenian people. So they see it in that in that regard, and that continues because… don’t forget, two thirds of the country… of Nagorno-Karabakh has now been taken over and now they’re trying to bring… Azerbaijan people there and flush out the Armenians there. So naturally, there’s human rights abuses. They’re all shifting around… and they’re giving up their houses in Nagorno-Karabakh. It’s not like the Azeri government, Azerbaijan government is saying, you stay in your houses, Armenians, we’ll look after you We just want — they’re pushing them out. So that is where the genocide idea comes. But I would say it’s it’s it doesn’t help to to see it as genocide just yet, I think but Armenians in their heart feel it is genocide. So —

 

Metta Spencer

What would you like to have happen?

 

Jill Carr-Harris

— So remember, I talked about these vertical linkages, when we heard about all these vertical linkages from your event, and this new desire to have… Armenia, more independent, and Georgia more independent… within this Russian Federation just be more independent. We set up a meeting on an old idea, which has been in that region, which is to set up a peace zone in the South Caucasus. Now, this sounded very, sounds very crazy now, because there’s just been a war. But this was pre-war. And what we were trying to say is that there’s a whole history of people who’ve been pushing for a peace zone in this region, why don’t we reconsider it so we can build greater horizontal linkages and not demonize Armenia, Azerbaijan, you know, by each other’s populations, but to find areas of collaboration. And similarly, just as we have in Nagorno Karabakh, we have a similar problem in Georgia, so to try to bring together this region, so it’s not divided against each other, and that we talked about a lot and it would have been still being discussed, but for the consequences of the events that came up. And so how do we, again, reintroduce this it’s going to take some time to let the dust To settle, it will depend on to some extent on the elections in Armenia next year, it will depend on how many Armenians are flushed out of Nagorno-Karabakh. So we have to let the dust settle before we can really see things. But in the meantime, there is a bit of a sense of victory, not only to the Azerbaijan government, but to the Turks and to the Russians.

 

Metta Spencer

You know, what I’m gathering from this is that for the time being, the reality is that this peace agreement, as basically dictated by Russia, is is the name of the game that one lives… within the framework of that. There is no intention of challenging that at the moment, or maybe ever. Even though Armenia wouldn’t like it, is how much wiggle room is there within that framework? For some kind of change?

 

Jill Carr-Harris

I think you need to talk to people more knowledgeable than I but I would just suggest that if the OSCE Minsk Group got reactivated… they could have an influence. And that has France and the US. So we’ve been waiting for the US to stabilize, I think to see whether that could happen.

 

Metta Spencer

Okay, so it might change under under Biden’s influence. Although I don’t I don’t think the US has shown any interest in the region for so long that I don’t think they have much influence.

 

Jill Carr-Harris

It’s possible. It’s possible but it’s also possible that they may have more interest in the Trump government.

 

Metta Spencer

Thank you, my dear.

 

Jill Carr-Harris

Thank you so much. Happy New Year.

 

Metta Spencer

Happy New Year.

 

T176. Peacemakers in the Holy Land

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Project Save the World / Talk Show Episode Number: 176
Panelist:
Father Bob Holmes
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired: 1 February 2021
Date Transcribed:
16 February 2021
Transcription:
Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: David Millar

Metta Spencer

Okay, Hi, I’m Metta Spencer. And today I’m going to meet somebody that I’m supposed to have known for about 20 years. Father Bob Holmes, it’s okay for me to call you Bob, right? That’s great. Now, somehow, Father Bob, and I have been in the same network of friends for many, many years, and somehow as far as I know, we’ve never met. So we have many friends in common. And the reason is that a lot of my friends like to go on excursions to the Holy Land. And Father Bob takes groups of people I guess every year to Israel and Palestine. And he’s quite a peace activist. I suppose that’s the main, main reason that we know each other sort of, at least by reputation, and today, we’re going to get acquainted a little bit because he’s going to tell me about these trips that I wish I could have taken with him. But I’ve never been able to do. So hello, Father Bob Holmes.

Bob Holmes

Hello

Metta Spencer

hi. Now let’s, let’s get down to business because I am very keen to know a little bit about these wonderful excursions that you lead every year. I guess it’s every year, isn’t it to Israel and Palestine? How long have you been doing that?

Bob Holmes

Well, I belong with the Christian Peacemaker teams. And I’ve been working in our team in Hebron for over 20 years. And I’ve been taking some CPT delegations even right from the beginning. But these ones, the peace and justice pilgrimages have been started in 2006… every year… except 2020.

Metta Spencer

Oh, yes. Yeah, there have been some real changes in a lot of people’s lives. Because of the yes, well, good. So you really must know a lot of people. And let me inquire a little bit about your own work otherwise, because I think your, you’re a Basilian priest are you? priest, and and you what, what do you do when you’re not traveling?

Bob Holmes

Well, I was a Basilian priest teacher for 30 years, then then I got into peacemaking and join the Christian Peacemaker teams. And I was full time at that for three years, most of it in Palestine and Israel. And since then, I’ve been, for the Basilian fathers I’ve been their peace and justice person. And so we now I have a committee that is very active. And so that’s been, my work has been peacemaking.

Metta Spencer

So you do even when you’re not traveling, you’re a professional peacemaker.

Bob Holmes

It’s true.

Metta Spencer

I can’t think of a better calling. That’s wonderful. Okay, terrific. Now, so you’ve been taking these, these people on excursions? And how long do these things last? And where do you typically go? Is it the same itinerary every year? Or do you vary it greatly?

Bob Holmes

Well, we go for about 15 days. And we do have visited lots of various peacemakers. Some of them are Israeli, some were Palestinian, some are Jewish, Muslim, some Christian. And we just tried to really find out on the ground, what’s happening and to see, learn from the peacemakers over there. They’re kind of our instructors.

Metta Spencer

So it’s not the typical, go look at religious sites, kind of tour that most people take in when they go to Israel, and I guess the whole the whole district, but you’re you’re going to look at particular people and meet particular people who are, who are peace workers in their area. So there must be lots of people that we don’t hear about very much, right. Tell me about some of these folks who are some, some of them I think we’ve actually… in Peace magazine. So sometimes, some of the people who’ve gone with you on these trips, have come back full of stories about wonderful people. And, and I have printed a few of these, these reports, but none from you. So we will get a more direct set of anecdotes about some of the wonderful people working for peace in an area where it must be very, very hard to be a peace worker.

Bob Holmes

So I’d like to just show you some pictures and tell some stories. Is that okay?

Metta Spencer

Yeah!

Bob Holmes

I do take a lot of people over to see what’s happening there. And we do meet with a lot of various peacemakers. As we said, some are Israeli and some are Palestinian, some are Christian, some are Jewish, some Muslim. So I want to introduce you to 4 of them. Okay, the first one I want to use Rabbi Arik Ascherman. And he’s like the prophet Jeremiah. He’s a wonderful Israeli rabbi. And he’s been a peace activist since before I went there 20 years ago, and he’s still going strong. And he’s the one who started rabbis to human rights. And they’ve been very, very, very active. And so I love working with him. I’ve been with him on many of his actions, when I was with CPT there. And I always try to meet with him if we can. About two, four years ago, he started a new group of Jews and Arabs in defense of human rights. And I’m not quite sure how it evolved. But that’s the way it is. And now, I’ll just tell you one story. Every November, they help with the Palestinian farmers who are doing their olive harvest. And the reason they have to come he is he brings a group of people, excuse me, using Israelis and some internationals, and some Palestinian peacemakers, and they accompany the Palestinian farmers. And the reason I have to do it is because they often get attacked by settlers. And a lot of these orchards are close to Israeli settlements. And the settlers don’t want them there. And they want them to go away. And you can’t do much because they’re protected by Israeli soldiers, as you can see in the picture below. And they come on like that, when you can see in the forefront of that first picture.

Metta Spencer

Now this lower, excuse me, this lower photo is the settlers who are being aggressive. Is that right?

Bob Holmes

Yes, it was the soldiers who are protecting them,

Metta Spencer

and that the other guys up at the top? Are they also settlers? Or Who are they?

Bob Holmes

Those are all settlers. Yeah. They’re settlers coming down from the settlement to orchard. And they’re really just trying to chase the Palestinians out of the orchard to get, to stop them from harvesting.

Metta Spencer

If they belong to the Palestinians.

Bob Holmes

Yes, yes. But the thing is, the settlers are already on Palestinian land, but they want to expand their settlements. And to do that, they come down and they try to push the Palestinians out of their orchards. And so they can’t, if they can’t harvest their crops, they can’t make any money, and they’ll be enticed to leave, to go away. And sometimes it can be very dangerous. And as you can see here, that top picture is the rabbi himself being attacked by a settler. And he didn’t stand him. And I said, I asked Arik, I said, Why? How come you didn’t get stabbed? He says, I think God intervened. He touched the conscience of the settler. And I was saved. Wow. And the one below, one time I was working with him, and he said, I know that when the soldiers tell us that we have to leave, and we don’t leave, they’ll be arrested. So I’m gonna leave this time. And so he stood in, he was terrific in terms of being a prophet speaking to the soldiers and to the settlers. And when they was asked to leave, he started to walk away and the Israeli police went after him and dragged him back, as you can see. And he’s, I took this picture, and he’s saying to me, Bob, call my wife.

Metta Spencer

See that knife in the top cop type? guy with a knife is going to stab him in the back. Yeah, it’s amazing, he spoke to him, or how did he…

Bob Holmes

And he says, as he said to me, God must have protected me and touched the heart, the conscience of that settler, at the time. Well, it was amazing. Wow. So he’s, he’s a great peacemaker. He’s still going at it. Every week, he’s out there usually on a Friday. Because when —

Metta Spencer

You say he was ordered by the by the, the military or the police to leave and he left but they chased him or something.

Bob Holmes

They chased after him that day. Yeah. And then you can see them carrying him back.

Metta Spencer

What Why did they want to bring him back —

Bob Holmes

I think it’s because he spoke so strongly. And he really, you know, as, as a prophet, he said, you know, what you’re doing is unjust, it’s wrong, and you shouldn’t be defending these people. And then they decided they’re going to arrest him.

Metta Spencer

They wanted to arrest him, did they? Did they arrest him?

Bob Holmes

Yes, they did.

Metta Spencer

And what did they do with him? After they arrested him?

Bob Holmes

Well, they arrested him and several others, two of our CPTers were arrested. Also, they take them to the nearest… police station, actually. But then they just interview them, record what’s going on, and then they release them. Because they’re not, they weren’t doing anything that’s illegal, really, for an Israeli citizens. And the end, even with the CPTers that were arrested, they were released also.

Metta Spencer

you should tell us a little bit about the CPT. I know just a little bit, but I think our viewers don’t know anything most likely. As a Christian Peacemaker team, you have a number of Americans and Canadians and Europeans, I suppose, who,

Bob Holmes

and Australians and Europeans [I actually said Chinese meaning Taiwan], Taiwan, people from all over the world actually. And our, our way, our purpose is to build partnerships, to transform violence and oppression. That’s how we word it until we work with any group that’s suffering from oppression, and we try to extend with them and non-violently work for justice and peace. And that’s what we do.

Metta Spencer

And so, there’s a lot of presence of the CPT in the Middle East.

Bob Holmes

We were only been in Palestine since 95.

Metta Spencer

Now, what how often are there groups there? And what do they do? Well,

Bob Holmes

We use these… you can serve for three months, if you’re a foreigner, because the that’s the longest visa you can get. And as we enter, we can’t really say we’re going to do peacemaking work. So we have to come in as tourists, we get a tourist visa. And usually we have a team of five or six. But under this pandemic, we have not been able to get into the country. So we actually have Palestinian Muslim peacemakers on our team. And they’ve been carrying on the work without us for the last few months.

Metta Spencer

And there was an incident about, like 15 years ago, where some people were captured and held and someone died, right.

Bob Holmes

Yes, that was in Baghdad in when that happened. Jim Loney here in Toronto was one of the the captains. Okay, let me move on to another story.

Metta Spencer

Sure.

Bob Holmes

Can you see it?

Metta Spencer

Yes, I can Bashir and Eve.

Bob Holmes

Yes, Bashir and Eva are both Students University Students in Beersheva in the Negev. And Bashir is a Bedouin. He’s Palestinian Bedouin. And Eva is a Jewish Israeli. And they work together in a group called the Negev Coexistence Forum. And it’s using Arabs working together in a struggle for equality. And what’s happening there is the — the Bedouins after the after the formation of the State of Israel — they were declared nomads, which meant that they didn’t have any permanent cities or villages. And so all of their villages are unregistered, which means they’re not on the map. It means they don’t get electricity. It means they don’t get water. They don’t get any services, except education, which is demanded by the government. So took us to an unrecognized village called Al Araqib. And here we are. And that’s the shake who’s the head of the village and he’s showing us there. They’ve made a copy of the ownership of that land, because they say these villages around recognize, no, they’re recognized, even back in the time of the Ottomans. And however, he’s telling his story. And others said back in 2000, and they ordered them out of the city over the village, they’re gonna, because you’re unrecognized, your village doesn’t exist. So they came in, and they boasted every house, wow.

Bob Holmes

Oh, boy, right away, and they threw up to light bars and threw tarps over them. And the first time I visited was in a year later. And they told us that we’ve been destroyed, we’ve been bulldozed 26 times in one year, every two weeks. Oh, my God. The last time I was there, it was 170 times. A few. A few weeks ago, it was demolished for the 100 and 84th time. They will not go away. They come back every time. That’s why even Bashir took us there, they wanted us to see the resilience. Whoa, now I get arrested regularly, they get fined. They’ve been in courts trying to fight the fact that they own the land. And they have a right to be there. So it’s ongoing. So they’ve taken us to many other villages, too. But I wanted to show you this one especially

Metta Spencer

That is extraordinary. Where do they live?

Bob Holmes

They live in those shacks like that, they come right back up, set them up again. And it usually only about 10 or 15 people stay. They get support from the others who are elsewhere, because they just want to keep somebody on the land. So the

Metta Spencer

Buildings on the right photo, those structures are the buildings that they’re putting up, return.

Bob Holmes

And they get destroyed every couple of weeks. They come in, they get torn apart.

Metta Spencer

How does somebody support them n helping them do this? I mean, do they somebody must pay for the buildings that they put up? I

Bob Holmes

I think, I think they have a lot of support from the Palestinians, especially the Bedouin community. I know, the Negev Coexistence group are helping them the best they can. There are Israeli activists who are very supportive. And so… internationals are brought there quite often. And so they’re, you know, they’re getting a financial support, but they also need some political support. And that’s, that’s why… they keep going back.

Metta Spencer

Well, what would happen? What do what could happen at the best if they got support? Who would support them? And what? How, what’s the most effective way of giving them help?

Bob Holmes

Well, one of the Palestinian — I should say, one of the Israeli activists — when he brought us there. He said to us, you know, when somebody invades your house, you call the police. This is what, here’s the police that are coming to tear your house down. He says, so, “You now are the protectors of this house. Go back and tell your people in Canada, the United States, tell your governments to put some pressure on the Israelis, to recognize that Bedouins are full citizens and have a right to their villages. They should not be… destroyed?”

Metta Spencer

What do the Israeli officials say in in, in defending their activities? How if some, if the police come and knock it down, and they and they’re asked, on what basis they’re knocking these things down? And who, and these Bedouins obviously are people who’ve lived there? For centuries? Yeah. Well, what do they say about who they are and why they don’t belong there?

Bob Holmes

Well, here’s what they’re doing. They’ve created towns, three or four towns in the northern part of the of the Negev. And they say that’s where you belong. And they try to evict them from their 36 villages, and force them to go to these towns. The trouble with the townships, the towns that they go to, is you can’t bring your sheep. You can’t go all of — in a city, in a town. And so they’re doing what happened here in Canada. When the European colonists came in, you know, they basically pushed the indigenous people off the land into reserves. And that’s what’s happening in the Negev. It’s also what’s happening in the West Bank.

Metta Spencer

Oh, okay. Well, maybe we better look at some pictures of other places.

Bob Holmes

Okay, let me introduce you to Sameehah. She’s a Palestinian, a young woman, teenager. And she’s part of the youth of sumud. And there are a group that gathered in the, in the West Bank, in what we call the South Hebron hills. And they’re very, very active. I’ve known her, believe it or not, since she was a child, because I’ve been going there for 20 years, and she’s probably about 18. Now, and the youth are sumud… means steadfastness. The youth of steadfastness, I would say the youth of persistent resistance, like the veterans, and here’s something they’ve done. This is how it began back in May of 2017. In the village of Sarura it was a small village, and a small number of people living there, maybe 30 or 40 people. And the Israeli army decided that they needed a firing zone. And so they evicted the people from this village and several other villages. And that was maybe 15 years ago. And so they were empty. So what the youth of sumud wanted to do is go back and reoccupy those villages, and live in them again. And on this particular day, all kinds of Palestinians from all over, but lots of Jewish Israelis who were peacemakers, and there was a whole contingent of American Jews who came over and… 200 people, you can see them and they repopulated this village, and they began to renovate it so that it could be relived in again, and as you can imagine, their active resistance had a military response. I love that top picture. There’s a Palestinian woman and a Jewish American woman sitting side by side. And her her banner says this “American Jew supports justice for Palestine, tear down the wall, free all the political prisoners return the stolen land.” And you can see below the response of the army was to come in and tear-gas and chase them out. And they confiscated anything they could find. But when they are, when they have to come back, in over a month’s time, it happened several times they’d be chased out and they’d come back. And I’ve been going there now for a couple years and it’s now a year ago 2019. That’s Sameehah you can see her behind the one of the people there, in another you have someone there leading us to the freedom camp. Now. If you look at that bottom left picture, it’s a cave. And actually the people in this town all lived in caves. And you say, well, that’s really primitive. But no, it isn’t… there. They’re cool in the summer, and they’re warm in the winter.

Metta Spencer

And these are natural caves.

Bob Holmes

They’re natural caves. But if you but the stone inside is soft, so you can go in and hollow it out. And you can create rooms and make the ceiling higher and things like that. So that’s what they did in this cave and look on the right when we visited. This was in 2019. And they really rehabilitated the cave, as you can see, and the original family who owned the cave, have actually come back and taken ownership.

Metta Spencer

Wow, lovely.

Bob Holmes

Yeah, and they don’t, they don’t all come back and live there. But they always try to keep some people there. And the youth is, some would try to always stay there too. And of course, they get raided regularly. A lot of the youths… have been arrested and fined, but they come back… it’s called sumud, it’s called persistent resistance. So this young woman and all the youth that are working with her, and I have to say I’ve known quite a few of them because I’ve we had a team in this town that she’s living in. For years. I was on that team quite often and it’s It’s a real nonviolent resistance to the stealing of the land. It’s power- really powerful.

Metta Spencer

How many caves are there

Bob Holmes

— in that particular village six or seven. And they’ve, they’ve already rehabilitated two of them and they’re working on a third right now I think —

Metta Spencer

And what needs to be done to rehabilitate them?

Bob Holmes

to go in and clean them up, expand them a little bit. With hammer and chisel and that sort of thing. And then put a good door and as you can see, there’s a good door, men put on there. And because they’ve been abandoned now for years, so… oh, it’s good. It’s powerful. Okay, one more story.

Metta Spencer

Okay.

Bob Holmes

Here’s this last story I’ll tell you. There’s so many I could tell but this is a good one. This is Sami Awad. He’s Palestinian. He’s Christian. He lives in Bethlehem. His uncle is Mubarak Awad, who was one of the leaders of the nonviolent first Intifada. And because he also had dual citizenship in the United States, they they deported him and banned them from ever coming back.

Metta Spencer

Sami?

Bob Holmes

no, Mubarak.

Metta Spencer

In the US now he’s a friend of mine. I mean… Mubarak does live in the US and has for years, what happened?

Bob Holmes

He was banned in 2001 or 19–. Oh, whenever the first Intifada was on, I can’t remember. It was probably 1980, 1990. Somewhere in there.

Metta Spencer

You know, I should remember that too, because I was at the United Nations. It was across the street from the United Nations. there’s a there’s a building there [Church House] for a lot of the organizations that are, you know, concerned, charitable organizations. And there was a may have been the Quakers, I’m not sure. And Mubarak had just arrived in, in the US from Israel having been expelled, I believe from Israel. That’s right. And he gave a talk and I went to the first talk that he gave.

Bob Holmes

I’ve met him once to the gathering where they were peacemakers we’re having a conference. He wouldn’t remember me. I don’t think so.

Metta Spencer

So somehow, I don’t remember the story of how he got back in. And, in fact, I didn’t remember that he’d been excluded from the US. But I know that his education, he was educated at a, I believe a Christian College someplace in the middle Midwest, in the US, and, and it brought his training in nonviolence. And he was a psychologist who was doing kind of therapy in with the Palestinians, until he realized what what they needed wasn’t therapy. It was political support, you know, he began to, he organized… that Intifada was largely his doing that very nonviolent intifada. It was one of the stories of the things they did the in, inventiveness of how to persist in and organize the community in the face of oppression. It was one of the inspiring stories that I remember hearing.

Bob Holmes

Yeah, beautiful. Well, I’m sure he inspired his nephew, Sami, because he founded Holy Land Trust. And I asked him, Sami, what, what do you call it? Holy Land Trust, he says, because that’s what’s missing. There’s no trust here, between the people. So that’s his work. So we worked with him, CPT worked with them all the time, we did a lot of nonviolence trainings at Bethlehem university with him and with other groups. And we did a lot of very — every Friday, he would take a group out and they would stand, trying to stop the wall being created in in round Bethlehem. But what I want to talk to you about today is this last thing he’s been doing recently, and he calls this “sharing victim narratives and then moving beyond”. And here he’s talking to a group here, I’m in the group and our group is also Jewish people in that group from the States in there, as well — explaining it to us. And he said that, you know, if we can get the Israelis and the Palestinians to, to recognize and acknowledge each other’s suffering and trauma, then we can move beyond it. So he himself Sami, went to Auschwitz for a week. He was there every day. And he saw the young people coming down from Israel. When you graduate from high school with a team, you’re immediately conscripted into the army. So they bring them down. And he’d watched them go in, and they were full of energy and lots of fun and things. And they came out in tears, and sad, and, and then he said, the leaders would sit them down. And he’d say, Now, you know. Now you know why. You have to be armed. Why do we have to have, every one of you has to be a soldier. Because never again must this happened to us. And so we began to realize how the Israelis are internalizing the trauma, and how it explained a lot of their reactions to what was going on. So he wanted to find an Israeli leader, not not one that he already knew who already was a peacemaker, but one who was kind of a rabid settler, but find a way to get someone who could then understand the same trauma that the Palestinians has suffered. And so he was recommended to talk to Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger. I’ve never met him, but he told us the story. And he’s a settler. And he’s rabid. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool settler believes everything about being a settler. So he agreed to meet with him in Jerusalem in a coffee shop. And, and Sammy said, no, I didn’t know how to start the conversation, he says, but it didn’t matter. Because as soon as Rabbi Hanan sat down, he says: “1948, the founding of Israel was a miracle. And 1967 when we took over the West Bank and Gaza, that was the completion of the miracle, in general, but the promise of the land to the Jewish people is eternal.” And Sami said, it’s hard to find peace, oh, my God, where are we going to go? But then he said, “We have a covenant with God, that we are to be a light to all the nations. And then he said, especially the Palestinians, because they’re our nearest neighbor. And he was quite willing to understand the trauma of the Palestinians, the nakba, being kicked out of Israel, three quarters of a million, and then taking in the military occupation of Gaza, and West Bank, which has gone over for 15 years now. And so the two of them were able to get together. And to realize that you have to let go of the trauma narratives, both groups, and come up with a new narrative of living together in peace. Wow. And so they began to talk and they began to get groups together. So I haven’t been able to get back there in the last year or two. I don’t know how it’s going but powerful, powerful peacemakers.

Metta Spencer

Wow, well nigh word. I immediately want to explore the thinking of this man, Hanan Schlesinger.

Bob Holmes

You could Google him and you might be able to find some things.

Metta Spencer

Well, how does he combine these various ideas? If if 1948 was a miracle for him? It wasn’t a miracle for the Palestinians, it wasn’t — nakba — was a disaster. Exactly. So, how does he put those two concepts together? If it was a miracle, why why in In what way? Is he to be a light to all nations? How What does he want to have happen to the Palestinians? I mean — it’s like a complete contradiction in terms. You know, the two ideas are totally contradictory, I would think.

Bob Holmes

I don’t know because I haven’t talked to Hanan and I’ve only talked to Sami Awad. So I don’t know the other side of the story. But the fact that Sami is able to keep meeting with him, and in the end to develop a new narrative and go from here, and you know, Jonathan Kuttab and Jeff Halper, have both written books on, you know, a one-state solution of coming together to live together where everybody is equal, equal rights and equal justice and peace. So I think something will happen. I don’t know if many of you and I will live to see it. But you know, I think that’s the future.

Metta Spencer

Wow, well, this is something that I’d like to explore further, maybe I will have a chance somewhere in one way or another to do that. Maybe I could even reach out to some of these people and talk to them by zoom…sure, let’s see if I could set something up. And that’s certainly something to look forward to. Beautiful. So maybe with your help, I can do that.

Bob Holmes

contact, contact with all of them. I’ve never, I’ve never been in contact with Rabbi Schlesinger, he’s the only one I’ve shown you today that I haven’t had contact with.

Metta Spencer

Well, I would go through somebody else anyway, wouldn’t immediately go to him and say, how can you hold those two ideas? When they’re coming — I would, I would do a little preparation before doing that. So this is a wonderful introduction to the region. I’ve never been to Israel or Palestine. Of course, I’ve traveled pretty widely, but frankly, I never wanted to go there. I just, you know, it was I don’t like to go to a place where I think I’m not going to like the people. You know, and I think I have such strong feelings that there’s that there’s a huge injustice going on there. And I don’t know how I could even you know, hold my tongue, I would have too many opinions. I’ve never gone. I’ve never gone because I know, I may make more trouble than I would solve.

Bob Holmes

Well, if you came on our pilgrimage, you discover that the people we meet with are peacemakers and who are nonviolent, there are lots of people who are not nonviolent. And like Sami Awad has told us that there are Palestinians who won’t talk to him because he’s a sellout [for] talking to the Israelis. And when you talk to them, I’m sure when you talk to Hanan Schlesinger, he’s got all kinds of settlers saying “Why are you talking to those terrorists?” You know, so I mean, it’s, they have hard work, hard work to do.

Metta Spencer

I want to thank you for this and have a chance to, to look at the new full screen. This has been fun. You know, you have to be careful about using that word fun, because there’s certainly, it’s fun talking with you. But it’s very sobering to see the kinds of situations that you’re dealing with. And I want to express my gratitude to you for being able to go into a place and entertain people and to expose people who aren’t familiar with that situation. So bless you. Thank you so much.

Bob Holmes

Thank you very much. And thanks for giving me a chance to speak.

Metta Spencer

Okay, it’s been wonderful and I hope we have more contact. Maybe when the pandemic is over, we will find ourselves in the same room. I would bet anything that we have been in the same room dozens of times, at least over the years without ever actually having anybody point to you and say that’s

Bob Holmes

probably true.

Metta Spencer

Okay, thank you and have a great day. You’re very welcome.

Bob Holmes

Thank you very much.

T174. Life in Rural China

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 174
Panelists: Ellen Judd
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired: 29 January 2021
Date Transcribed: 15 February 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: David Millar

Metta Spencer

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer, let’s go to China. So we go to China today, this is going to be easy, because I get to sit at my computer and have a wonderful excursion, led by a professor of anthropology at the University of Manitoba, a woman who has spent a good part of her life doing research in the rural areas of China. This is Ellen Judd. Hello, Ellen, how are you? I’m fine. How are you? Wonderful. All right. So we’re, I know that you can’t go to China these days. So but… you seem to be sending your graduate students abroad. Is that… something that’s working?

Ellen Judd

Well, and they’re coming here so that that’s just the way in which teaching is going these days? But yes, things have been closed down a little bit. So I hope to get back to China later this year.

Metta Spencer

Good. I’ve been to China, but I don’t know where I was. Where were you most of the time, or did you hop around?

Ellen Judd

I went to a fair number of different places. I started out as a graduate student in China and in Beijingand Shanghai. And then I did a lot of spend a lot of time in Shandong, and then later in Sichuan — Chongqing, in the southwest of China, looking at the places that had sent migrants to the cities, and then I went to the cities, where they’ve gone to Guangzhou and Chongqing. And I’ve been to other places, but those are probably the locations where I’ve spent most time.

Metta Spencer

Okay… I was there in 1980. That’s the only time I’ve ever been to China, for a couple of weeks. It was at a time when it was really — we were a novelty. I mean, I remember being in a bus and these people would come in, they put their noses up against the glass, and look at us, as if we were really quite remarkable things. But that must not have lasted very long. But I imagined you you sort of put roots down, right?

Ellen Judd

Yes, I sort of have friends. And it’s been a large part of my life from from my early 20s. Until now.

Metta Spencer

So you have a lot of friends in China and you speak — what do you speak? I mean, I have

Ellen Judd

I speak Mandarin Chinese. And that’s… Yes. That’s usually what we call it in Canada. In China, they just call it the standard language. It’s the language of the North China plain. So it’s widely spoken across northern China and, and down into Sichuan Chongqing too, with regional variations. And then it’s taught in schools everywhere. So one can go lots of places with it. And I can understand some of the local dialects, but it’s a bit as if, when one goes to Yorkshire, one listens to how people speak. But when someone speaks, whatever version of English they speak — so what I speak is Mandarin, but I can get around.

Metta Spencer

Well, I presume that everybody in China, all the students must learn what you call standard Chinese. Right? Yeah, it’s just even if they have a local language, they also would learn the basic Mandarin. Yes, yeah. Okay. Well, that makes sense. Right, I was just reading something today about the fact that the there’s more effort to standardize education in some of the peripheral regions of China. And I, I could sort of understand why that might be helpful. But, you know, there’s always a controversy about how much to do, even within Canada, how much one should do in local or ethnic languages and so on. I think in the years past, there were a lot more Saturday schools and things like Ukrainian and stuff in Canada than there is now. So I imagine that we’re becoming more standardized in French and English. Do you think or not? Yes, I think people like to speak their own language. And certainly there’s lots of pushback in China and certainly people who speak a very different language than the minority nationalities want to keep their own language.

Ellen Judd

So that happens and even in localities, there are lots of people just want to speak their own version of Chinese — it’s sort of, it’s what feels comfortable and anything else is uppity and and they don’t want to do it. But it is important in terms of their mobility and so on to also have that ability.

Metta Spencer

Right. Okay, now you I’m impressed with your green screen, which, by the way looks like the real thing. I mean, a lot of times when people use green screens, if they move the funny looking space behind them, but you have a remarkable green screen, obviously, of China, can you can you tell us what we’re seeing in the background?

Ellen Judd

Right, this is a school that’s under construction outside a township in Sichuan, where I was, where I spent a while. And I think it’s, I thought it was nice, and it’s one I use in my classes, because it shows a little bit of the countryside. And it also hints at all the transformations that are underway as people are going to school and preparing themselves for life anywhere. And also, especially in the cities, because there’s this huge movement of people from the countryside, to the cities, that’s fueling China’s rise in the world. So it’s sort of a an optimistic, an important part of what’s happening in China. Yeah, in fact, I, I would imagine that the Chinese modernization or I don’t know, industrialization, or whatever you want to call it. The development of China in the last 30 years, must be one of the most extraordinary rapid changes social changes in the world history. I mean, they have done something spectacular with their economic development. And I’ve yet to see, you know, any of China. But that’s what I hope you’ll tell us more about the move from I think, in most cases, it’s an urbanization move, right? A lot of people in the countryside, move to the cities and take jobs in industry, is that what the basic dynamic of the thing it’s part of what’s happening. So I think that one of the important things about the the Chinese economy and society is that it’s, in a sense bifurcated between the urban worlds and the rural worlds. And to some extent, people are having entitlements and are registered as living in one or the other. And there’s this incredibly modern, fast paced world of the major cities and urban China. That is amazing, the world. And it’s probably all — it’s been a huge cultural center, you know, for 1000s of years anyway. But it is amazing right now in the in these places. And then there is where most of the people in China live, which has been in the countryside, but is increasingly being urbanized. But one of the things that has been happening is that China has that modern industrial economy that’s been developing through the 20th century and into this century. But when it did this opening up since the 1990s, it also became a place to which countries like the United States put out some of their work. So there’s a sense in which China is also a very large Export Processing Zone. So we have these

Metta Spencer

I’m sorry, are you saying that even in the countryside, there’s there are… industrial cities going in for export, or just in the cities…

Ellen Judd

There had been a period in the 1980s, when some of it was in the countryside. But what’s happened since the 1990s, is that that’s been developing more in the cities and the coastal regions, but people who are still considered to be part of the rural population and have a foot in — largely their families in the countryside — in the cities. So something like 250 million rural people are in the cities working in temporarily, but still with ties to the countryside, but they’re in the cities, doing this, making all these things that we buy in all our shops, right. So in a sense that these rural people are one of the motors of Chinese development. And I think some of the time, when we look at what China’s doing, we don’t quite see all of the people who are doing the work. And it is people from the countryside who were going to the cities that are one of the engines of, of China’s economic miracle, they don’t do it by themselves. The secret is, you know, the hinge between the the urban and the rural economies, and the ability of them to work together to transform the Chinese economy.

Metta Spencer

So you specialize more in talking to villagers, right. And people live, rural people don’t live scattered around, they live in villages, mostly right?

Ellen Judd

It depends upon the the region of China, sometimes it’s in nucleated villages. And sometimes it’s a bit more spread out. It’s partly a geographical and regional difference. So you find both. Some of the reality right now is how mobile the rural population is, and how much of it is… partly in the cities. I went to to rural China, I’ve been a student in China, in the 1970s, and I wanted to be able to see the countryside. So when it became possible for international researchers to get to the countryside in the 1980s, that’s what I wanted to do, because it seemed not visible at that time to the outside world. And it’s where most people were, and and so the majority of the Chinese people have a rural designation. So it seemed to me that to understand what was going on in China, this is sort of key to life in China, and at present, you know, people don’t necessarily see it when they traveled to China, but it is… life for a very large portion of, of the Chinese people. So I wanted to see that. So that’s what I did, but it’s not I certainly spend time with colleagues in universities and spend time in the cities as well.

Metta Spencer

So you, you visit universities, what what is it? Do you teach there? Do you hang out in research institutes? Or what what do you do in universities?

Ellen Judd

My research in the countryside is sometimes done in collaboration with people in in universities. So I I’ve given some lectures there, but I haven’t gone to teach, [as] in Canada.

Metta Spencer

Mm hmm. Well, I have heard that and and maybe you can elaborate on whether it’s true that there’s a lot of democratization going on, but it’s it is locally, it is usually in a local sense, that that people in villages have quite a lot of opportunity to make decisions locally. Is that Is that a fair statement? Or would it or not?

Ellen Judd

There’s a tension in that sense in which there there is a strong central government, but there are also local structures, and they’re one of the standard sayings in China is, you know, there’s policy from above, and there’s opposition from below. So, you know, to some extent, what, what people do is they do have some structures for managing their own affairs in communities. But it’s not without paying attention to what national policy is. So there’s a dynamic there that is not structured the same as it is here. But but it is there. And compared with when I first went to China, I would say there’s probably more sphere for people to make individual decisions about where they will go. And it’s sort of a transformation from the situation in which it was more equal. And everybody got those full employment and everybody got a job, but they got assigned one, now it is not so equal. And people have to go out and find their own work, but they get a bit more choice about what they do. And that has an upside and a downside to it as well.

Metta Spencer

I don’t know any foreign language, even French. But I wish I could understand enough of a language to just sit in a coffee shop in you know, some, some little town and listen to what people talk about. So I you know, do you ever write papers about what people are interested in or what they talk about in in everyday life in their social gatherings or so on…? What is life like, from the perspective of people living in a, one of the villages that you’ve, that you’ve studied?

Ellen Judd

…very largely about family. And so what people are dealing with their relationships with other people and their obligations and how they’re caring for their children and their elders and the work that they are doing in order to make their community work. And this life in the countryside, to a large extent, outside the suburban areas is still very hard and demanding, people are tend to be working very hard. And they also have considerable care obligations for for both children and elders, the people of working age are going to the cities, and the countryside has become a place of giving and receiving care in some ways. So there’s a great deal of concern about… how one manages all of these conflicting needs to be working and to be caring for people at the same time.

Metta Spencer

Yeah, well, that’s another thing that I’ve heard a lot about. And maybe, maybe it’s an exaggerated story, I don’t know that so many of the urban people are, are married couples, or at any rate family people who leave their children behind with their parents in the, in the village while they go off and live in the city, and then come home when they can for vacation or to stay in touch. How that’s maybe a stereotype? I don’t know. Is that a predominant pattern? Or is it… does it mean that there’s not enough housing or childcare facilities or things like that for, for them to bring their their children with them?

Ellen Judd

It’s not what one would say was, is a preference. It’s something that people more or less have to do in for at least a portion of their their life, because they can’t very well — it’s difficult for many of the rural people to be able to have a sufficient income and to be able to support their children and work full time in the city– it’s just sort of not manageable. And to some extent, even in the countryside, young people would be working well, grandmothers, and to some extent, grandfathers were also caring for their children during the day. So young people are key to the workforce. The problem with this, this model that’s existed for a while, is that people sometimes have to be more separated from their elders and generationally than in the past, when you can work in in your own grow… community. So in order to care well, for their families, people sometimes have to be separated from from some of their, from their parents and their children for a while, and people have certainly tried very hard to take [children] to the cities when they can. That’s difficult, but one of the transitions that China is working on is to urbanize so that more people are absorbed permanently into the urban workforce, and they can bring their families and they can settle permanently in cities to a greater degree. So that kind of… disruption of family life in order to work can be reduced. And and that’sa process that’s going to take a little while to make work. But there, there’s a sense in which some people are able, then to settle in the cities in a more more settled way. And that will be an important transition. And it’s happened to many other parts of the world that people first of all move temporarily to the cities, and then they become urbanized.

Metta Spencer

But you kind of confirm the impression that I’ve got from general press that this is a very widespread thing now, but that they’re trying to get past it, right. What would they be building apartments or housing for people in, in the cities that would be adequate for family life? Is that the goal or…

Ellen Judd

Increasingly, but it’s for the temporary workers. It’s not great. But yes, there is that kind of transition to a better way of life. And I think that’s one of the things that I think we sometimes don’t necessarily see in terms of contemporary press coverage about China the extent to which China’s economic and political life is driven by an internal imperative to make all of this possible for hundreds of millions of people. So basically, you have to be able to establish all that infrastructure. it’s the product of incredibly hard work, and also trying to manage the economy in such a way that it can sustain that level of growth, and build that infrastructure for people.

Metta Spencer

Well, yeah, now you tell me what, what kinds of articles you’ve written?

Ellen Judd

Well, it’s been a long period with different kinds of research, I started out studying the Cultural Revolution. But then, and I’ve studied, popular performing arts and so on. But as in the countryside, I spent a lot of time looking at the transformation of the rural economy, and how family life and gender relations have been changed. Because some of the time from a distance everything seems about political economy, but as people live it on the ground, it often turns out to be about how they manage their their family life and their household relations. So I did quite a bit of that. And then I looked at how the women’s movement responded to that, and looked at sort of indigenous ideas of the transformation of women’s roles in the economy and, and recognition of, of women’s contributions. Later on, I looked more at… migration, and at the restoration of social programs, in particular, health care in the countryside. Some of that had been dismantled, as in the rural economic reform. That happened, we sometimes call it decollectivization — in China, it was a rural economic reform, and to some extent, social programs were lost when collectives were transformed into local government. And then there’s been a rebuilding of what we would call social programs in China, health care, and pensions and so on, for the last 15 years or so, in the countryside. And so I looked at the re-emergence of the Rural Health Care Program, and then patterns of helping

Metta Spencer

health care programs did you say

Ellen Judd

yes, yes. Okay, and looking at how people manage their health care needs in terms of accessing public… familial… and private resources. So from a from a problem-solving kind of approach, in the countryside and, and for migrants, what I’m trying to get at, is looking at it from the point of view of how it’s lived on the ground. So that’s what I do professionally.

Metta Spencer

Okay. I’m interested in two of the things that you’ve mentioned. One is, what have the changes been in gender relations? And have you been able to see it over a period of time? And can you can you make any sweeping generalizations about how that has gone? And then I’d be interested in more also, the changing healthcare system, if that you’ve mentioned, I remember hearing back in the day when, you know, they were talking about barefoot doctors. And I’ve also had friends who’ve studied Chinese traditional medicine here, as if this is a good way of amplifying what they do. And it’s made me wonder, in fact, I went to China, I’ve gone to three Chinese doctors just for fun more than anything else. But, you know, I’m I’m not sure how much traditional Chinese medicine is, is still a part of the everyday practice of healthcare, in village life. Those are big questions… you can pick either one, gender or health.

Ellen Judd

Okay. So I’ll talk a bit more about gender. But I would say certainly traditional Chinese medicine is still used and and promoted, and the two tracks, and then they’re both and sometimes they’re combined. So all of that sort of flourishing. gender relations has changed a great deal. I think it’s one of the things that’s been quite transformed. A great many more opportunities are open to women than there had been in the past, transformation and access to education in the countryside in particular, that happened earlier in the cities and somewhat later in the countryside. Women are a very active part of, a part of the economy. They’re certainly not, you know, I think we used to have ideas, that they’d been left behind in the countryside. And they’re certainly not, they’re also moving and the ability to move and work in the cities gives a degree of enhanced opportunity and freedom. But they nevertheless, you’ll have extraordinary demands and obligations on them as well that that are not equal —

Metta Spencer

Gender is no nowhere equal yet, may be Scandinavia. But you know, if you were doing a cross, international comparison of progress towards gender equality, how would you say China stacks up in terms of, for example, the role of women in industry or in leadership roles, or government and so on?

Ellen Judd

I think the striking thing in China is that the the pace of change is extraordinarily rapid. But we don’t find large numbers of women at the highest levels of the political system. But as you say, these are problems that exist everywhere. So I think that —

Metta Spencer

Does anybody know whether anybody’s done an international comparison of gender advancement or feminist advancement?

Ellen Judd

I’m not aware of it but then I don’t specialize in feminism. So I don’t know. I think that there are people who have looked at that. And at one point when the Chinese women are also particularly the Chinese women’s movement, I could see efforts being made particularly to put women into positions of greater responsibility. And it was a very interesting program that the Women’s Federations at that time were developing, that were very intentional about linking women who were more professionally placed and educated, and linking them with women with less advantage, to build patterns of mentorship and cooperation. And we find that more widely in the world now as well. So I think that the pace of change is very fast, there are people who’ve done those comparative studies of women moving into elite positions. It’s not what I’ve done in particular…Yeah, but but it does, it does exist. And I think the world is improving on this, but still has a long way to go.

Metta Spencer

Okay, now, let’s turn to health. Well, if you have a choice, would you have would you choose to go to a Chinese traditional doctor or a modern hospital for whatever you’re likely to come down with in in your travels in China? Where would you rather go —

Ellen Judd

I use both. Yes, I mean, a lot of the time what happens, what’s happening with traditional Chinese medicine is it’s the use of herbal treatments that later have been adopted in pharmaceutical treatments in the West. So it’s, it’s perfectly legitimate, you may have to take — It’s not as refined as it is in tablets, but it’s quite effective for colds and various other treatments. And that’s just fine. It depends on what ails you. But some of the time, I’ll admit that I have a lot of respect for biomedicine… when really sick to go for that. But what I’ve been looking at mainly is the effort to increase people’s access to any form of health care. And because that is so critical to people’s well being. And that I think has been something that’s been really important to see.

Metta Spencer

So that we’re emphasizing or, you know, I guess I’m interested in this comparison of if the average person in a village, do they care what kind of healthcare they get, modern or traditional. And, and how do they think about this? Is it Are they is there really a lot of improvement in access to treatment? And and are they blending the two, are they mixing them? Or do you find doctors that specialize in one and the other but but have no contact with people in the other branch of medicine.

Ellen Judd

There are somewhat separate streams for training people in one or the other. But a lot of practitioners are able to use both. And so that from an ordinary person’s point of view, you can choose one or the other in the countryside, where you may have a smaller number of practitioners available, sometimes they’re able to do both to some degree. But but they are separate specialized streams and people have access to, to both. I think the the big issue is being able to ensure that people do have access. And that has been, I think, really important, because I don’t think there’s a place where access to health care is not important. So basically, being able to recreate a structure that improves people’s access to health care, I think is one of the important things that China’s managed to recreate. So at present, there’s a structure for this that ideally reaches everybody. It’s still underfunded, which is one of the reasons why China’s pushes constantly for more economic development. So there’s a structure there, that still needs to be more fully funded. But there’s… efforts to to recreate that a bit, underway for… a time, when we’re trying to talk about post-neoliberalism which one hardly hears anymore, but there had been a moment before the economic crisis in 2008, where we were talking about that in the recreation of social programs throughout the world — and some places, it’s been hard to sustain. And it’s certainly been a struggle to create in China, but there’s been a determination also to go ahead with that, with the healthcare system, and with the creation of income support for elderly people in the countryside, to some health care, and pensions are being recreated. That this there’s still a lot of inequality, but there’s work on this…

Metta Spencer

you know, in in the world now, one of the things that interests me most because I’m a political sociologist, is, is the rise of course of populism, and, and the all of these movements such as Trump in the US and … in other countries, Bolsonaro you know, you name it. And even Modi in India and so on — cleavage between rural culture and urban culture. You know, we have a real war practically going on between educated elites, in cities … in the knowledge industries and so on. And the traditional people who want to stabilize life by going backward, I found in the US that the biggest gap in voting for Trump or Biden was the gap between rural and urban residents. So that we have all these people wanting, you know, everything, opposition to abortion, right to carry guns, opposition to gay, gay marriage, or gay partnerships, and so on. And, and, and so, I see a huge cultural split in, between rural and urban. And what I’m wondering is, how much of that is similar to the case in China?

Ellen Judd

There is a similar divide. But I don’t think it gets in, the sense of there’s a rural-urban distinction. But I don’t think it’s elaborated in quite the same way, the way in which a preoccupation in China is very largely in terms of inequality and/or disparity. So that there’s a sense that life is improving very much more in the cities — not for everybody in the cities. there’s also people who’ve been laid off from failing enterprises and so on that there, there are certainly problems for some people in cities. But there’s a sense in which there’s enormous inequality in China and there’s this sense on the part of many people even privileged people in the cities, to be rather uncomfortable about the disparity and the situation that they know exists in remote rural areas. So there’s a sense that it probably comes out of this… more the socialist past in in China, which I think is how a lot of people in China would also think of it except nobody should necessarily say so at present, but there’s a sense in which things have become — the disparities have widened during this period of rapid economic growth, and greater engagement with the global capitalist economy, so that some people are doing very well and other people aren’t. So it’s this huge disparity that is felt on both sides. And there’s a sense that this is somehow not right. But nevertheless, it is. It is part of the structure. And the overall thrust has been that if China is able to economically improve its situation rapidly enough, this can be shrunk, or conditions can be approved for a larger number of people. And to some extent, you know, from… 1996, to 2010, there was sustained 10% growth in GDP. And so people did experience an enormous increase in their standard of living. And it’s still one of the issues in China in the past year, for example, is China’s seen to be such a force in the global economy. At the same time, the Premier was saying that their goal, by the end of last year was to raise 600 million people out of poverty. And looking at the standard of 1000 renminbi a month income, which is about five US dollars per capita, per day, they were trying to get, they still had that as a challenge before [COVID]. And to some extent, they felt they were on track to meet it until the COVID thing happened, but they still felt they’d gotten somewhere by the end of last year to do to meet ths goal. So in many ways, the issue is the enormous inequality between these two worlds. So there’s this enormous wealth, and then there are still people who are having to go to the cities under difficult circumstances and increasingly informal economy, and people in the countryside who are dependent on somebody else making that kind of move in order to send funds home to them to sustain life.

Metta Spencer

That’s true. I’m glad you mentioned the fact that there’s a socialist background, because maybe that explains quite a bit. You know, I’m thinking of the people you know, the the basic value that leftism promotes is aegalitarianism, you know, that that is what leftism is all about, I would say, it isn’t necessarily achieved, but it certainly is considered a very high priority, and every kind of left wing government, socialist government, and so on. And and I think, in capitalist societies, and Canada and the US and Britain and so on, I don’t think there’s ever been the sense of what you say, shame or the feeling that there’s something really wrong with having a lot of economic inequality. I don’t think most American voters are convinced that greater equality is the most important thing to be pursued. But I do see I do remember seeing it so much in Russia when I was going to Russia quite quite a lot in the 80s. And, and it it was very important then, and I think it’s not even as much the case in Russia now, I think that equality is not something that is so much a highly prized value as it used to be. And but if people in formerly socialist societies, I just wonder it’d be interesting to see whether that value still has a strong appeal to, to I don’t even know whether to call… China, a communist society, would you call it a communist country? They call themselves communist, but they don’t look like any communist I ever saw. And they look like capitalists that are beating us hands down with, you know, playing a much better game of capitalism than we are. So is that reflected in a change in in the value system that it’s okay to make more money than your next door neighbor, and be competitive and all of that. I’m asking a lot of silly questions that are all piled in together. But there’s some common thread about this transition from… communism to capitalism, or maybe they don’t think that’s what they’re doing.

Ellen Judd

Those are a lot of really important big questions.

Metta Spencer

Sorry. I shouldn’t dump that on you, too, as we’re getting toward the end of our conversation, but, but those are the, to my mind the questions I’d like to explore if I were in your shoes.

Ellen Judd

And I certainly spend a lot of time thinking about them. If I do this other research, it’s because I’m wanting to make it on the ground and concrete with real people. And sort of the the summary statement probably about, you know, if we want the aspirational goal of, of the People’s Republic, would be that simple phrase from Mo Zedong, “serve the people”. And that, in a sense, would get past some some some of the finer ideological or political points, if you think of it in those in those terms. So certainly on the official position in the United States and China, interestingly, the governments of the two countries are sort of agreed that China’s a socialist county, but you know, for quite a long time, you know, Chinese people haven’t, you know, since the 80s, they sort of suggested that they didn’t think they quite had socialism anymore —

Metta Spencer

They would tell you that they don’t see it as a socialist country is that it?

Ellen Judd

Even in the countryside they would tell me that because they thought it was being dismantled in the new economic reform —

Metta Spencer

And does that bother them? Did it did did they say, oh, shoot, we’re losing socialism, or goody goody, we’re losing socialism.

Ellen Judd

I think they had mixed feelings about it. To some extent, there’s greater opportunity and well being, but then they lost some of their social supports. In any event, they would just sort of comment on it, because everybody in China has been through political study, right. So all these categories are available to people in in different ways. And they comment on them and think about them. What’s been distinctive in or one of the things that’s been distinctive in the recent period, is that Xi Jinping is very determined to put to make China into his idea of a socialist country. And and that has… certainly included a great strengthening of the role of the party and of state owned enterprises and of end of the role of the government. And and certainly claims that China is leading the way to socialism in the world at present. And there’s a strong argument that China is making to this effect, but nevertheless, it’s still quite involved in the global capitalist system. So this is a very difficult thing to analyze… and using labels like socialism and capitalism is really complicated, because sorting out just exactly how you want to think about China in that sense, in the view of, of many people studying China, I think you could look upon China as perhaps part of the capitalist world system, but having taken a different route to get there, where it’s been really important that it has been through what was more clearly a socialist experience in the in the 50s 60s, into the 70s. And then that consciousness is still there, and it’s alive and well in the thoughts of young people who are voluntarily going into the, the informal, the unofficial labor movement in China. So these are deas are alive and well in China, and they’re promoted in certain ways… by the government of China as well, but then it’s also part of the global economy. So and labor power is a commodity, and so on. So you’re basically there are, it’s it’s really complicated to, to conceptualize, but you have elements that we would recognize as both socialist and capitalist in China at present in a, in a complex way —

Metta Spencer

You know, comparing Xi with Putin, because from what you’ve said, it sounds as if Xi would claim that he’s aiming toward a better socialist society. I don’t think Putin would ever use the word socialist as an aspiration for his politics. I don’t know whether he’d like to call himself a capitalist either. I don’t know what they say. But certainly, I think the, the role of well, there’s no role for a communist, the Communist Party in Russia, but there certainly is a role for the Communist Party of China. And they must have an identity as to whether or not they’re more socialist or capitalist.

Ellen Judd

There was a time when I was looking comparatively at other post-socialist societies in the 1980s and 90s. And I looked at the Eastern Bloc a little bit more. So I can’t say that I know very much about Russia. In China, I would say that Xi Jinping, I think, is certainly trying to create his version of socialism. I think there’s a commitment to that. And he does, you know, his father was a leading figure in the Revolution as well. And he’s supported by that generation of the children of the people who were decisive in in that era. So he, he comes out of that background, but it isn’t quite the same. So I guess there’s a question of, you know, just how one’s going to conceptualize this other the path that China is on right now.

Metta Spencer

And when you take your next trip, I will get back in and have another conversation about what surprised you. Very nice to talk to you. All right, here, and we’ll be back in touch. Thank you. Bye.

T170. Farming in India

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 170
Panelists: Jill Carr-Harris and Doug Saunders
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired: 25 January 2021
Date Transcribed: 15 February 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: David Millar

Metta Spencer

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer, today we have something, we don’t know what’s going to happen in our conversation today. Because what’s on my mind is the fact that there are a lot of civil resistance activities going on around the world. And we haven’t really had a good conversation about it. So I invited some people in Moscow, who are sort of recovering from a weekend of Navalny demonstrations, and an expert who’s just written a book on the subject of successful civil resistance movements. And I never know who’s gonna show up, and they haven’t. But I do have two people here who are haven’t met yet until this moment, and are getting acquainted, but both of them certainly have much that they can share if I can help them find what they have in common. Jill Carr-Harris is a friend of mine who’s a Canadian who’s been living in India for the last 30 years or so is married to a Gandhian leader, and is a great Gandhian organizer herself. She has recently been involved with an effort to march from Gandhi’s grave and in Delhi to Geneva. But they got as far as Armenia and COVID hit. So she had to give that up. And Doug Saunders is a familiar face and a familiar name to everybody living in Canada, practically, at least those who once in a while look at the Globe and Mail. And Doug is a good friend — looks like a beautiful new orchid in your background. Hello, Doug. He’s, he’s international affairs, man. And he travels the globe, there are a number of issues in which Jill and Doug have the potential for conversation. One of them being the recent, or current demonstrations in India, about farmers, by farmer. Large numbers of farmers are demonstrating against the government. And I know that Doug wrote a column on that, and I want to do a show about it sometime soon. Maybe we can have a preliminary conversation here between Jill and Doug.

Jill Carr-Harris

But what I wanted to talk about a little bit in here is, you know, I work with a Gandhian movement. It’s, it’s a group of people, of course, many, many people — after the death of Gandhi, there was, you know, in fact, it affected all of mainstream Indian society for about 30 or 40 years before new political machinations came up and Gandhi got somewhat more marginalized. But we have still been feeling that the, the techniques that Gandhi used in the freedom struggle of nonviolent organizing in the particular way that he did, still has a lot of importance. And part of the reason, Doug, that we went on this March, as Metta knows, is to kind of share those techniques and strategies. I think they’re strategies that have been very effective for us, we’ve been organizing in the country for 30 years — very, very poor, marginalized communities, to stand up, to build leadership at the grassroots — to stand up, not only face resistance, since we’re talking about civil resistance, but to but to also understand their role in society and not being seen as poor and powerless, you know, that they do have a role. And to, at whatever level, that role is, to hook up with other people in order that their role is expanded. So we’ve had a lot of success with grassroots organizations standing up against landlords and, and land investors, and fighting for land reform. I think me too, what what we often forget in our civil disobedience is we look at the sparkly, sensational, newsworthy…

Metta Spencer

Well, I wonder if there is something special about India that makes it still a viable possibility to organize marches or demonstrations, etc. in a way that wouldn’t be the case in many other countries. Because you do have this long standing tradition of Gandhi’s leadership. And also you do things that your events look 100% different from anything that we would see in the West, when I mean, we ought to have a little clip from one of your marches, showing what you guys look like. I mean, here you are marching along with us. banners and each person has got, you know, the same color neck shirt color, neckerchief or something and, and you’re so disciplined and orderly and well planned and you manage to have these little subgroups of 10 people so that infiltrators can’t join in and cause trouble. And you know, everybody knows who, who’s supposed to be in their group and all of these extremely well organized and very orderly and and unthreatening kinds of movements. Whereas, you know, civil resistance movements in the rest of the world through the last decade or so have been not succeeding. They were highly successful. When Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth wrote their book, less than a decade ago, they had a — civil resistance movements were way more successful than violent movements. But that’s not the case anymore. I mean, it’s not that violent movements are more successful, it’s that nobody is successful anymore. And and I don’t know whether they’re even counting the things that go on in India, can maybe you can elaborate on what I think are the big differences between a nonviolent movement that you would organize, and one that might take place in Moscow with the, you know, the police coming out with their batons to beat you up.

Jill Carr-Harris

Right? The biggest, the biggest difference is that we prepare our movements, most movements are spontaneous. And we actually prepare because Ghandi gave us a playbook on preparation. And because during the freedom struggle lasted, what 70 years and Gandhi’s involvement, you might remember, in the 20s, in Chauri Chaura, when 22 policemen got killed, he stopped the movement, he stopped the non cooperation movement and said, Look, guys, you know, learn your nonviolence, and went around eight years to university students and talk to young people about what nonviolence is hoping they would imbibe some of the values and some of the principles of nonviolence before they got out on the streets again. So I think preparation is key. And that’s when we walked with 100,000 people in 2012, as you know,

Metta Spencer

I know, but I’m not sure that Doug does, or a viewer know. So that’s where the whole story [is] right there.

Jill Carr-Harris

Yeah. So Doug, we prepared several big national movements after building at the local level. So it’s sort of a ground-up process, you know, you teach people how to organize marches in villages, and then regions or sub-regions, and regions. And by 2007, we did our first national March. And the reason that we prepared so hard is because we were working on land reform, which is like a, an axiomatic you know, it’s the the bottom of development, it’s, it’s so fundamental for asset-creation in rural areas, and there’s apparently a zero-sum game all around land between landlord and and, and small landholder, and landless and land investor, and so on. So we prepared very hard and we walked in 2007, from Gwalior to Delhi, which is about 350 kilometers, and nobody believed we could do it. And we actually trained up, I think, it was about 2500 activists, who in fact, control the 25,000 people and this was not done with social media, which is more common in the, in the case of Yugoslavia and some of the, you know, other movements that were going on at the same time, we we did it completely with training beforehand, people were, had built a certain kind of leadership and then they led these marches and we led a march of 25,000 people 350 kilometers one month, to the city of Delhi, sleeping on the road, eating on the road once a day. So, we created a methodology of moving you know, a mass of people to make them visible. So these are people barefoot, these are very obviously poor people, adivasi, indigenous communities, walking on the road to Delhi to find out why the government under the the, the laws, which were supposed to transfer lend to the poor in certain, in certain ways, why they hadn’t done it, and so making themselves visible making themselves loud, getting the middle class aware, oh, we have all these people who don’t have land walking, you know, up the National Highway to New Delhi. And we did that over a month. And it was an absolutely incredible experience to because we got the government, Manmohan Singh government, at that time to say, okay, so we will, we will actually look at the land issue, which they did seriously, but because of the vested interests, it only allocated forest land to indigenous people. But we did get 333 and a half million families land plots, following that. But then, it started to slow down, the wheels started to slow down. So we had a second march in 2012, with 100,000 people. And because this was around the time of the occupation movement, Arab Spring and Occupy movement, the government was very afraid that we would make it to Delhi with 100,000 people. So they sent all their emissaries to Agra, which was, you know, little less than halfway, and they met us, and we negotiated a land reform settlement. And this is quite unusual, because it was extra-parliamentary. But they were very, within the law, within the legal mandate that they had, they negotiated something, then we went back to try to see how all of this would roll out, we had about a year and a half, things were moving in a very positive direction. And then the Modi government came in, in 2014, and completely decided they had no interest in this, you know, they’re not a big negotiating group, because the Modi government, you know, it has a grassroots base, like the RSS, which, you know, they don’t really need, you know, this movement to consult with, so they didn’t have, find this at all interesting. Plus, they were very much interested in bringing in big land investors and big money. And so it really didn’t fit into their larger macro agenda. So we still had more marches in 2018, and so on. But when we realized how things were moving in the country, we decided that we would take one internationally on Gandhi’s birthday to show the Indian government that it was because of their Gandhi, you know, because of their founding fathers, that we were taking these great values out to other countries on Gandhi’s end, so the Government of India kind of had to support us, because it was we were taking their good, you know, history out to other countries. And, and so it was a very interesting way of kind of getting their support, to too. And we really did get all party support. We got some even a small fund, from the Ministry of Culture to do some of the work, I did some of the walk. So we, you know, we’re going to walk all the way to Geneva, and it stopped in Armenia. But and of course, the Indian government didn’t want us to walk through Pakistan. So we had to, at the last minute figure out how to manage that which is a story in itself. But otherwise they support it, you know, are going to to UAE and ran and, and Armenia and so on. I think the this the the the thing that I wanted to raise at the beginning is all of this is a kind of preparation of, preparation before a march. But also a March itself is a training on the road, a training, how to run a March, how to be part of it, how do you interact with local people? How do you take micro issues? How do you build your policy asks, because we were moving in the case of the international one to Geneva, to bring some policy asks. So this is a really interesting process, obviously very, very different from the civil resistance of what’s going on in many other places. But we would like to share it. So we’re now in a position where we’ve set up an international association to do training and marches around the world to share this technology, if you will, of marches to help other people see that it is possible to use certain strategic math mechanism methods to actually bring people together and to try to make change in that process. So I’ll just conclude by saying we are planning to have one. If all goes well in Canada, in, starting in Sault Sainte Marie on the 6th of August, which happens to be Hiroshima Day or, you know, a day of violence, and ending it 60 days later on the day of international, the International Day of non violence October 2, to say, to show metaphorically moving from violence to non violence, and we’re going to be doing that in six or eight different countries simultaneously. I don’t know whether it’s going to happen in the US, possibly. But I think this is really the time to do education and training on nonviolence and give people as you say, Metta, Erica, Erica Chenoweth gave us this great academic work. And now people are wondering whether it’s, it’s, you know, you can get a response — but I think you can get a response. And even under the most resistant Modi government, we have still got a response from our marches. So I’m of the I’m somewhat of an optimist, but I feel that these would be very useful strategies going on in going forward in future.

Metta Spencer

Well, you’re not the only one doing marches. I’ve already organized a talk show for a couple of weeks from now with an indigenous woman who has marched across I know, a few 100 miles anyway, in Northern Ontario, I think, and is going to be doing another one. So maybe you and and she will meet someplace on the road. Who knows?

Jill Carr-Harris

Remember, the 2012. March is always in India shortly after them, I think, and and what was striking, was that they weren’t just sort of identity marches. They were, they were, they were oriented around very specific policy requests. And I think, as you say, achieved them under the same government anyway. In a way that that, wouldn’t the BJP government, as you say, probably would not have recognized as being their constituency.

Metta Spencer

Yeah, I’m so glad you were there.

Jill Carr-Harris

And, you know, it was a very euphoric kind of moment for poor people, you know, where policy makers, you know, leaders of their central government are standing up and saying, Yes, we want to hear about these land issues, and we take this land reform very seriously. Because otherwise, you’re always, you know, you’re seen such a disconnect between policymaking and people’s real needs for livelihood at the bottom level.

Metta Spencer

I would like to explore further and I will be exploring further, the disconnect between the concerns of, say, people working on climate change, and the need for a change in agricultural technology, as a way of sequestering carbon and making an excellent extending the life of the soil, because our, our land is being depleted of all the nutrients that we need for food. And in another few generations, we’re not going to even have decent enough soil to produce food. So the the need for improving the quality of agriculture, both for the sake of producing better food and for the sake of producing, you know, better climate. That that range of concerns is not completely hooked into the discourse about the need of small farmers to have a little piece of land in which to raise enough food for their own families. So, you know, I hear conversations about each of these topics, but I, I hear nobody so far, trying to bring those two concerns together.

Doug Saunders

They often contradict each other in some ways. Canada’s — one of one of Canada’s unheralded exports, all three of us are speaking from Canada here, is the what’s often called no-till agriculture, which is that which is which is a technique for growing where, where you don’t till up the soil, where you leave the tillage there. On top. Home gardeners probably recognize this the sort of techniques to grow and it preserves soil and renews soil much better than so called organic farming techniques, or or or older conventional techniques in the crops that it works on. It’s been a big export I mean Brazil has really picked up on it. I wish India picked up on it more. But a lot of the smart agriculture techniques that preserve soil and so on require A. a certain amount of capitalization on each farm, and B. holdings large enough that you can maintain soil and rotate crops and have fallow crops and so on. And my my knowledge of agriculture in India is limited to two projects, I think done one where I spent a month in right along the spine of India in central Maharashtra, looking at the farmer suicides in the 2000s and another, which resulted in some book chapters where I spent time with families in slums in Mumbai, and then went back with them to their subsistence farming villages in Maharashtra and Gujarat and Goa. So I’m I’m limited to the number of states of India where I’ve witnessed agriculture being carried out. And agriculture varies highly in its productivity and its methods and its size and scale and its crops between different states of India, and often not in ways that you would predict some of the wealthier states have the most poor subsistence agriculture. But a unifying factor I found, and I think I think this is part of what Jill’s talking about in land reform, is that their holdings were extremely small. There were too many people involved in subsistence agriculture, who should have been able to move up into actual productive agriculture. And the holdings got smaller and smaller every year because systems of primogeniture where where each generation would subdivide the family’s holdings as they inherited land, dowry systems were not helping with this because people couldn’t afford to move out of agriculture. And on top of this, there was a politics coming from both Congress people and from nationalist parties such as BJP, that really maintained starvation-level subsistence agriculture, encouraged people to stay on the land and keep subdividing the land, the family holding, and, and there seems there seem to be a belief — and when in Delhi, you’d hear this from everybody and both parties — that ‘farmer’ is an ontological status, rather than something that families pass through on the way to a more secure and stable life. And so many policies were oriented toward maintaining that ontological status, keeping people being farmers as an identity, rather than an economic activity that you do for a certain part of a family’s life. Even though what I found is that almost everywhere in rural India that I’ve been, the main source of income for farm families, comes not from anything they grow — the one thing that saves them from starvation, comes not from anything they grow — but from the one member of the family who’s moved to the city, and is living in what looks like absolute poverty in the city. But it’s 20 times the income they make in the village and the little bit of money they send back to the family farm far exceeds anything they get either from government, in support, or from income. And a lot of the policies that came out of movements and so on over the years, were basically supports designed to keep people on the land. And that’s an aspect of land reform. So you have you have as Jill points out exploitative landlords who are part of the problem, because the forms of tenure are often usurious. And on the other hand, you have a government system designed to avoid the type of land reform that’s also needed, which is to consolidate holdings. So that and it caught, means that first of all, India has a much higher absolute poverty rate than it should at this point in its development — and almost all of that absolute poverty is farmers. It’s subsistence farmers, people who starve to death in the world today are farmers. And there’s some urban poverty as well. But the second consequence is that India doesn’t produce much food. Because the holdings are so small, because they can’t rotate, because this ontological status of being a farmer is important to people, in many crops the statistics show that Indian farms produce about a third of what they could that they could have made many crops… because of India’s excellent weather, they could have three harvests a year, they only have one harvest a year. And because of a lack of investment in soil depletion, and resulting from that lack of investment, and some nasty corporate stuff, I mean, there were incentives to go into cotton farming in parts of central India, exactly as cotton farming became economically not a very good, I mean, the world world suffered a lot of cotton and, and that wasn’t good for people. And those cotton farmers were especially subject to, to land subdivision and oil depletion and all that sort of stuff. So there’s a bunch of things going on. But but the consequence is both India should be feeding the world, and it’s producing a third of the food it should, and Indians shouldn’t be starving. Yet they are to agree they shouldn’t be. All, both of which are because of this, of this lack of a form of land reform that allows consolidation of holdings and families to make the transition from subsistence farming to market farming.

Jill Carr-Harris

Yeah, I think, yeah, I think there, Doug, there’s a few things that I would see some somewhat differently, which is that, you know, at the time of independence, in the first five year plan all the way up, at least until the new economic reform, you know, process of 91, I think the idea was to really strengthen agriculture, and to redistribute land. Those were the twin priorities. And unlike many other countries, whether it was Taiwan or China, or, you know, where there was a certain amount of land reform — Korea, South Korea — India was not able to make to really do a land reform that shifted assets to the poor. And this was very, very unfortunate, because it was the the time and there was a lot of large landlords and large land holdings, there was a land ceiling act, it was possible, but you got these landlords to divide their assets in a way that their cow and their wife and their child all, you know, had the land ceiling amount. But as a family, they were way above the land ceiling, those same landlords who had a lot of the land were the ones who were the parliamentarian, making the, you know, implementing the land reform laws. So there was a bit of a conflict of interest, right. So very unfortunately, that asset shift did not take place in a way that was somewhat equitable, and therefore, it then always became a thorn in their side. And, yes, there is no doubt that the largest number of farmers are small and medium farmers with very small plots of land, and some of them in the warmer parts, mostly, mostly, it’s two crop [a year]: kharif and rabi. But one of the things that you’re missing with the small farmers, which is really important, is that land is the asset, land is the culture, land is my identity, but it’s also my asset. And it means that whether, you know, it gives people the confidence to have the land, it doesn’t really matter as much how much money they have in the sock, under their pillow. You know, it’s the land, which is really important. And people eat off that land. So it may be that the productivity is less, but what we haven’t calculated in that is how much it’s feeding. The people who are on that land, it’s feeding the families, it’s feeding their communities, when the COVID happened, and people have lost their jobs, where did they go? They went home to eat, you know, because that’s where the food was, right on the land. So I think we tend to, you know, because we tend to monetize, of course, we live in that kind of a farming economy where everything is monetized. But it doesn’t really work. absolutely the same in India, in rural India — there’s a lot of benefits that come from land that are not just measured in monetary terms, in terms of food supply, in terms of identity, as examples, and and security, and, and so on. But as you say, because of this situation that I described, we have a situation, that there is a huge population on the land, and there is very poor soils, in part because of a lot of bad decision making. Also, by government, you know, decisions like subsidizing chemical fertilizer, you know, decisions like building large dams that have bad consequences. decisions like, you know, the Green Revolution, which may work in one place in Punjab But maybe did not work so well in western U.P., you know. So I think one has to see that it’s really a much more complex situation than land consolidation. And, and I think today, if you go to this, if you live in the cities it’s — I’ve lived in Delhi for many, many years. The the size of that city is so large — it’s almost unworkable to live there with any quality of life, particularly if you’re not in the upper echelons, you know, where you’re living in these small tenement houses with 12-14 people. So it’s, it’s in Bombay, you must have seen, when you talked about urban slums, that kind of crowding, the kind of difficulty when COVID comes along, that’s extra problematic in those very congested chawls — as they call them in Bombay. So, so what the thought of policymakers was, well, let’s have smart cities, let’s have a lot more cities, let’s, you know, make many more urban… But really, the kind of building the infrastructure for multiple cities to take this flow of migrants, migration out of rural areas is very difficult. We’re talking big numbers, right? So it’s not so simple. I think in terms of allowing just the greater flow, I think the flow of migration into cities is huge, I would say the push-pull factors, let alone calling farmers the ontological unit, as you refer to, I think the push-pull factors is pulling a lot of people into the cities, you know, if not into the cities into peri-urban, peri-urban areas, or having huge labor migrations out of one area like Orissa, to Gujarat or to Punjab, to do farm labor work. Yeah. So these are the kinds of issues that we’re dealing with, when you talk about the suicides. The suicides had a lot to do with the fact that farmers also only know farming, and when the bank comes to take their land, you know, they really don’t have anything else to do, you know, if they lose their their sense of dignity and integrity in the society, their status, and suicide looks like a better option for them. You know, we had 250,000 suicides in that period of 2002 to 2012, or whatever it was. So I think it’s the case that we see with the farm protests in Delhi today. The reason those Punjabi farmers are prepared to sit two months in the city streets, telling the Government of India that they have to repeal their three laws, is because they are under threat to lose their land, in their understanding. They’re not many of them are medium farmers, they’re not poor farmers… you know, from what we’ve seen, in fact, we’ve tried to link [them] with the farmers movement, poor farmers, but they’re much stronger farmers, they’re middle, more middle class farmers, or, you know, of course, in our terms that’s still small pieces of land, and they’re under threat. Their reason for being there, as they stated, not in my words, as they stated, is because they’re afraid that their land is going to be taken by big industrialists, and they’ll be industrial farming, and they would like to keep those structures. However, those structures were set up during the Green Revolution, and they’re all filled with chemical farming and so on. But those structures still — give them a security in terms of knowing their AP, the particular Monday market where they go, their wholesale market to sell their products, is still there. And so if if you were right about the consolidation, it’s it’s strange that so many farmers from Punjab and Haryana, who are really some of the best farms in India, would be standing up against consolidation, which is what I think they’re doing today. So, yeah, theoretically, I understand your point. But I think the practice is much more complex.

Doug Saunders

I do wish that these reforms had not waited until the BJP was in power, for a very long time. I think, the many decades of Congress rule, the one bit of unfinished business was was that the great 1940s land reforms or however you want to call them, the the, you know, confrontations with the the property Raj, and, and so on, became the template for everything that happened. Really, right up into the early 2010s. Even as, even as India changed, even as agriculture changed, even as the demand for agriculture products changed. And I think if if the agricultural reforms that Modi has done, had been done by Congress, they could have been done in a way that was, that was communicated well to farmers. That was understand, that was understandable to farmers, that did not seem to threaten them, that recognized that, that bringing agricultural markets into farming doesn’t have to be big corporations from outside, but it can be your family is a corporation if you’re a farm, you know, and that’s your role in the world. And that that would help give people a foot in something in something other than the subsistence-level farming. I mean, one of the most telling things I mean, I always ask people, I mean, yes, I talked to people in chawls, in, in, in Bombay, but chawls with a better form of living to move up to you know, and, and nobody’s happy living like that. But one of the most memorable things anyone told me, one of the things I would often ask families who are living in bad situations with terrible, you know, sewage-filled rivers behind them and and a lot of people packed into it place with often not even a corrugated tin roof with it with a UNHCR blue plastic tarp roof. And say, “Why do you live here” because and I had visited these people’s villages, which were physically beautiful places, which seemed to have this very tranquil, and happy life. And I would, one question I would often ask was, “Why are you here? You go back to your village, your agricultural village once a year for a month? And it seems so much better life? Why on earth are you here?” And one, one mother said to me, “Well, you know, here in this slum, if things go badly for me, if my source of income, I think clean, caring for somebody’s house fell apart, falls apart, I might have to send my children to sell individual cigarettes on the street or something humiliating like that. And that’s terrible. That’s just humiliating for me as it would be for any mother. But back in the village, if things went wrong for me, which usually made a crop failure, one of my children would die.” And that was that was the mathematics behind it. It’s It’s It’s It’s a matter of much higher level of vulnerability in subsistence agriculture. And it shouldn’t have to be an either/or between, between an exploitative slum existence and or or subsistence farming which which which carries a high infant mortality rate and a high family size and things like that and lead leaves to lead to those forms of vulnerability. And I don’t think it’s quite like that in Gujarat either. The farming is much more stable and well established in in Gujarat and and and it’s not starvation level subsistence farming. And I think as a consequence the farmers of sorry that the farmers of Punjab are are much more politically organized around it. But I think Modi, I think Modi, Modi is the is the wrong delivery vehicle for any form of agricultural reform, he’s not going to be trusted. He’s, he’s seen as the party of urban merchants. And he’s seen as a party that will exploit farmers. I think, regardless what the reforms are. And I think it’s an unfortunate state of affairs,

Jill Carr-Harris

You know, we’ve had a lot of success. What, because we’ve got a large number of people land plots. Yeah. And some of that land was very rocky and very difficult, because as you know, there’s less and less land available in India. And yet, what we did is we helped with inputs to help to create some above subsistence farming, you know, by creating common facilities. So I think what I’ve seen is it’s not an either/or, Doug, whether it’s, you know, subsistence farming in the village or being a slum dweller in the city, I think, people are very inventive, as long as you give them an enabling environment, you know, I mean, if if you can’t move this way, that way, then it’s, it’s, it’s, then you may migrate out. Because it’s forced migration. But if people have the, what I have always found, because I really have worked in a lot of villages in India. And so I’ve, I’ve, like you, I’ve had your experience with the some slum these friends in the jugghis, in Bombay, going back to their villages, you know, I really lived with people in villages and seen that, that they are, if they can, they would be most happy to stay. And, of course, they don’t want their child to die. And so if you can provide certain kinds of opportunities, which is what we have been working on for a long time, as have millions of civil society organizations across the country, as have, you know, small businesses also, I think there’s, there’s a, you know, there’s even greater potential to to, to increase the economic you know, the livelihood of people. And, but as you say, the the Modi government, it’s not just his image. It’s his background, because we traveled in Gujarat when he was Chief Minister, often. And the same issues arose with people who were small farmers in Gujarat. So he, he understands an urban based approach, which is why he came up with smart cities and not smart villages, right? He is an urban, he’s come from that background. That’s what he knows. And unfortunately, he wields too much power without sufficient ability to consult with people, our biggest problem with the whole farmers protest is that they rushed these laws through, it was the process that was completely wrong, you know, you don’t rush them through with an opposition who has walked out without consulting adequately with people. I mean, it’s these are huge, these are huge laws. And had Congress, as you said, done it some years before. I mean, the Green Revolution was not really, I mean, was also similar in that it was helping consolidation. And that got through because it was sold well, you know, lab to land, and, and all of the kind of… bells and whistles that Mrs. Gandhi brought to that and, and so on. But yeah, I think it’s not just the way he looks. I think it’s it’s also highly centralized without sufficient consultation with people and ramming through policies without taking steps. You know, like it’s it’s more complicated, obviously, and then it became politicized then that that was very unfortunate, because there may be something in those laws that could have been reworked. With consultation that would have been accepted. Yeah, in my view,

Metta Spencer

I see it as a debate between people who think that small land, plots of land held by subsistence farmers are, that’s the necessary ingredient that you need to take care of farmers that way, by making available the land that sufficient for them to do that. And that that is in, in contrast to, or incompatible with what is seen as a very benign movement toward industrialized agriculture on consolidated large plots of land. Now, maybe I’m exaggerating the difference between those, but I had

Doug Saunders

missing the middle ground? I think it depends on your definition of small. Yeah, I think I think sustainable… small farming is a family business farm with between 20 and 200 employees, that is able to have enough land to do crop rotation, and have fallow crops and, and maintain the soil and enough investment to produce as much as many calories out of that soil as you can. In very few crops. Is there a humanitarian or economic benefit to having very large enterprises with 1000s of employees?

Metta Spencer

Well, maybe that’s where I want to get some clarification in another conversation. That is the people I talked to who are into reforming agriculture, are not worried about having small plots of land, that’s okay. And in fact, they worry much more about monoculture being done by big, big machines and large tracts of land and all the things that we’re familiar with in North America, where yeah, you can get a lot of productivity for a period of time, and then you’re running your soil and you’re gonna all starve to death. In the long run 50 years or 100 years from now, we will, we will have ruined the land. So the point is, some of the people that I know who are working on regenerative agriculture are very much in favor of small plots of land. But the question is, how you handle it, what you do with it, and how you use it, how to maintain it. And my, so this leaves me with a question, could smallholders that exist now in India, simply improve the quality of their farming so that the results are better than Douglas described, when you say they’re only producing a third as much food as they could and should, well could improve methodology, change the outcome, there could be could better methods be introduced, which would actually enable them to produce the amount of food that is needed and save the carbon in the soil or increase the carbon in the soil, which is a part of the equation that nobody is talking about, as far as I know. Anyway, I put my oar in with the idea that I’ve got to wind this conversation up. But But I do want to say let’s come back to this with some more people. Jill has put me in touch with a couple of people in India who are who are engaged with this farmers result revolt or demonstration that’s going on now. And either of you or both of you. I would love to have that come back and and pick this conversation up and carry it forward. If you’re willing.

Jill Carr-Harris

I just want to thank Doug for his his insights, really amazing that you’re sitting in the Globe and Mail here and know so much. So thank you very much for that. And Metta. Thank you for such a, an opportunity. I hope we were able to help the viewers at least see some of these issues. And welcome more of this discussion.

Metta Spencer

I think we’ve scratched the surface, frankly.

Doug Saunders

Thank you, Jill. I want to hear more from you. Because I’ve learned an awful lot. And I want to hear more firsthand about about what what you were doing until the pandemic came along. Yeah, I think if if people want to read a very new paper that I think it supports what Jill was saying to a great degree, and a little bit of what I was saying. There’s a new paper by Sanjay Ruparelia, from from Ryerson, on the farmers’ protest movement in the conversation.ca, which is a sort of popular academic online journal in Open Canada. And I highly recommend it. It’s a good review of a lot of the things behind it and it certainly it certainly does. Watch what Joe is observing about. The injustices from the Modi government that the farmers are marching against.

Metta Spencer

Thank you both

T168. Nuclear Waste and Indigenous Land

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number: 168
Panelists: Lorraine Rekmans
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired: 21 January 2021
Date Transcribed: 15 February 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits: David Millar

Metta Spencer

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer, what do you think we ought to do with all that nuclear waste that’s being generated by nuclear power plants. If you live in Ontario and some other parts of Canada, you’re, you’re probably aware of the fact that Canadians have more than our share of nuclear power plants. And these things generate a huge amount of radioactive material, which is harmful, to put it mildly. So today, we’re going to talk about that with a lady from the indigenous community. Lorraine Rekmans, and she and I have just met, although I’ve heard of her before, and she’s going to bring me up to date, because I haven’t followed all the details of the negotiations and things that are going on about the disposal of nuclear waste. Good morning, Lorraine.

Lorraine Rekmans

Good morning, Metta. Thank you for inviting me,

Metta Spencer

it’s going to be an important conversation, because whether or not we know about nuclear waste, we’re all in danger of being exposed to some of it. And the question is what to do with it. So I know that you are part of at least one of the organizations that have been meeting to address the question, or maybe the right word is to fight the issue. Yeah.

Lorraine Rekmans

Well, let me talk a little bit about where I come from. I mean, I’m a band member of Serpent River First Nation. And I grew up in Elliott, Lake Ontario, which was home to the, you know, one of the world’s largest uranium mines. So they operated from the mid 1950s. Until the 1990s. And my background is working… as a journalist in the late 80s, early 90s. And I covered a lot of the environmental issues. So the mine, there were a number of mines that were licensed to operate in Elliott Lake, and they closed in the 90s. And when they closed, the federal government ordered environmental assessment, to decommission the mine, because there was 150 million tons of radioactive waste that had been dumped into nearby lakes. So they were called, they were called waste management areas. But the practice is to mine the uranium, extract the ore from the rock with sulfuric acid, and then dump the tailings into nearby lakes.

Metta Spencer

Is that still being done?

Lorraine Rekmans

That was that’s the practice. That’s how tailings are, Metta.

Metta Spencer

Right now still.

Lorraine Rekmans

Well the mines are closed now — not mines that are operating in Saskatchewan. I’m really not familiar with their operation, but mine. That’s how mine tailings are treated. So they’re contained. They call them natural containment areas. There’s all kinds of fancy names for them. But primarily in the beginning, they were lakes. So Elliott Lake,

Metta Spencer

totally immediate, I assume it would completely contaminate the water in the lakes. So you can never use the water.

Lorraine Rekmans

Well, it actually displaced it. I mean, those lakes were filled. So you can imagine, I’ll show you I have an image from the book…This is My Homeland. Uh huh. So I was a co-editor of… this book with Anabel Dwyer, who works for I think the International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear [Arms]… B

Metta Spencer

I’m interested. What I’m seeing, this… yellow, it’s the lake that’s been filled in?

Lorraine Rekmans

That’s right. That’s the lake that’s been filled in with nuclear waste. So those It looks like a fine powder, it almost looks like desert sand. So anyway, the solution at Elliott Lake to contain those tailings was basically to flood it and keep it under a water cover. And that was sanctioned by the federal government in the environmental assessment. So you can see the effluent, you see the picture here with the effluent running out.

Metta Spencer

Is that the orange stuff…?

Lorraine Rekmans

Yeah, so it’s oxidizing. That’s why it’s orange because of the sulfuric acid… Elliott Lake is home to the largest nuclear mine tailings dump in the country. And the stuff is contained by, I think there are 76 dams holding this stuff back and it’s just north of Lake Huron. So if you go to a map and you look for Elliott Lake, you’ll see where the you know where the area is, and it dumps into the Serpent River watershed and makes its way into Lake Huron. So in the 1980s, the International Joint Commission on Great Lakes water quality, noted that Elliott lake was a primary source of nuclear contamination in the Great Lakes area. And they were monitoring it in the 80s. They were monitoring for radioactive material in Lake Huron, but but this impacts all… So the issue, of course, is an environmental concern. But it also impacts on the treaty territory of the indigenous people at Serpent River… we are covered by the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850. And that is our traditional territory. And in our traditional territory, ten lakes have been sacrificed to nuclear waste, so it’s affected the wildlife and the vegetation around the area. And we’ve been notified in the past not to consume… large quantities, of blueberries or, you know, wild game from the area because they were feeding near the tailings.

Metta Spencer

How radioactive are the tailings… when they’re when they’ve taken all the ore out that they can, the residue is just dirt with a lot of…?

Lorraine Rekmans

No, it’s radioactive. And so, when you… think about the decay chain of radioactive material, and I’m not an expert like Dr. Gordon Edwards, you might know Gordon…

Metta Spencer

Yeah, I turn to Gordon every time I have a question.

Lorraine Rekmans

Gord explains how through the decay chain, the material actually becomes more radioactive.

Metta Spencer

Oh, really? Yeah. So it starts out as low level radioactive waste, but as it decays and breaks down, it changes. So you end up with stuff like polonium… the issue when they when they dealt with the environmental assessment, I always thought the environmental assessment at Elliott lake was deficient in so many ways, you know, one they never accounted… for climate change. So to say we’re going to maintain a water cover on top of these ten lakes in perpetuity is impossible, because you have to draw water from other sources to maintain that water. And the only thing they were monitoring for in terms of runoff was looking at how acidic the runoff from the tailings was, you know, they would add lime to neutralize the acid. But the the water cover was really only to stop… oxidization… of the tailings to keep them away from the air. Because otherwise you end up with that orange gunky stuff, Now what, what does happen, you end up with what… if it’s exposed to air?

Lorraine Rekmans

Well, if it’s exposed… the weird thing is it had been exposed to air for decades before the 1990s and it was blowing, that’s how fine it was, it was you know, migrating all over the place. So they’re keeping the water cover on it to stop it from oxidizing, which is, I guess the process where the sulfuric acid interacts and turns everything orange.

Metta Spencer

You know, this is all new thinking to me, would it be possible to cover this stuff with something else besides water? Could you put concrete or something over it? Would that be better?

Lorraine Rekmans

Well, I don’t know. Like the nuclear waste management organization right now is talking about a facility to dispose of nuclear fuel rods from the reactors and they talked about cement casing, you know, building huge cement boxes in the earth. However, one of the problems with cement is that it erodes because water, you know, water will break down cement. That’s just a fact of life. So, it will never, you know, it’ll never be safe inside of cement casing. But the issue with Elliott Lake is (I think the way my dad used to say) the horse is already out of the barn. So here we are stuck with these ten lakes. And they’re contained, you know, they’re contained with these dams holding them back from you know, migrating… further into the surface, of the watershed. So, one of the one of the concerns I had was especially after the Mount Polley mine disaster in British Columbia. You may be familiar with that accident. Mount Polley was a mine that was mining gold, silver and copper. And they had huge tailings ponds that were held back by dams. And those dams collapsed. And released, you know, tons of hazardous chemicals into the local environment. And the British Columbia government at the time, ordered a review, they said, We must have a review of all existing tailings dams in the province to make sure this doesn’t happen again. And I’ve been… asking that the province of Ontario, take the same action. Especially given that these dams at Elliott Lake are decades old. And we have… crumbling infrastructure, we know that if we don’t maintain it and keep it up. I mean, we’re just at risk. So in the environmental assessment at the time, the federal government, scientists said it’s not it’s not a matter of if these dams will collapse, it’s only a question of when…

Metta Spencer

Yes… it was federal government inspectors who said that?

Lorraine Rekmans

That’s right… it’s in the federal Environmental Assessment Report. So I… followed that process all along, from my early days as a journalist to… this time… I’ve always been concerned with how… that waste is treated, who pays for it? How do we keep future generations safe? That’s the question. We created this huge radioactive mess. And we have to maintain it, and manage it, and protect future generations from any further… disaster, further threat to their water quality. And I think one of the big things that struck me through this whole process is that there is no rationale for nuclear energy at the end of the day, because it is too water-consumptive. And, you know, the big talk that’s, you know, going on right now about climate change is that nuclear energy is not carbon intensive, and there’s no emissions, you know, and all this other brand stuff about nuclear energy. However, we’re not factoring in the true cost. We’re not doing a full cost accounting of nuclear energy, if we don’t take into account the lakes that we have sacrificed, the water that we have wasted, and sacrificed. And at the other end of… the nuclear chain, is the question of disposal of the long term, long term waste, which is the nuclear fuel rods. So they, you know, they call them, I don’t know, the spent fuel rods, and they have all kinds of names like low-level radioactive waste, and it’s radioactive. At the end of the day — Sister, Rosalie Bertell always said, “No dose is a safe dose”. There’s no such thing as a safe dose, whether it’s low or high or intermediary — it’s still radioactive at the end of the day. So, you know, I think indigenous — and I’ve said this before — indigenous people have always been disproportionately impacted by resource development.

Metta Spencer

I love that. That much I do hear about… if anything, the indigenous communities are doing the most to publicize the risks. Seems to me, I see references to that a lot. For example, the Navajo in the US, they’re really apparently greatly affected by the accumulation of of radioactivity risk in their in their territory.

Lorraine Rekmans

…I mean, the cost of the thing is — I mean, no one talks about this, it’s probably an aside … but it’s a violation of the treaty.

Metta Spencer

Okay. All right. Well, tell me about your..

Lorraine Rekmans

treaty. I mean, we have rights to hunt, fish and trap in that territory.

Metta Spencer

Tell me about your group and and your role within it.

Lorraine Rekmans

Well, I don’t… have a group… I’m a band member of Serpent River First Nation…. I’ve worked with friends… to put that book together — This is My Homeland is just a collection of the stories of indigenous people, and how they were impacted specifically by those mines at Elliott lake. So it’s a case in environmental study.

Metta Spencer

This is my land: it’s really talking about indigenous land…

Lorraine Rekmans

My homeland, yeah… there’s a number of groups, I think, in Thunder Bay, indigenous people that are organized around, I think the, I guess the quest. So the nuclear waste management organization has a quest to find a site to dispose of the spent fuel rods, Indigenous people are resisting that effort because they don’t want. They don’t want to be holding the bag on this nuclear waste… with no benefit to their community whatsoever from the production of uranium and from the nuclear fuel or nuclear energy industry.

Metta Spencer

Now, where have they been proposing or considering putting these sites of waste disposal? In the ground, right? And there have been I knew five years ago, some of the names of…

Lorraine Rekmans

Saugeen. I think Saugeen First Nation was one of the sites that had been identified, which is right next to Lake Huron. There were I know, they were looking, I think they traveled through like, they looked at Elliott lake at one time, they were near Hearst. So Northern Ontario primarily. And it I think they were looking for granite rock formations. So they were talking about deep geological disposal. The idea, I think, what the idea initially was to dispose of it in containment facilities, looking at future retrieval, you know, as science progresses, like… could they go back there and dig this stuff up and do something else with it? Right. So I think the issue, you know, our history with — indigenous people, I’m saying our history with nuclear industry has been a tragedy. I’m certainly don’t want — it’s not fair. It just isn’t fair to ask someone else to bear the cost.

Metta Spencer

These places where they’re, they’re proposing or considering burying the stuff, how much of that is on indigenous territory?

Well, Saugeen First Nation is, it’s all treaty territory too also right. So this is one of the –and I’m going to get into sort of the politics of it a little bit, because that’s, you know, my background is really political. So if you look at the Robinson Huron Treaty of 1850, what it did was set up reserves, it set up Indian reserves, and then identified the territory of those people. So Robinson Huron treaty was signed by 17 different First Nations. And that would stretch from… Sault Sainte Marie to Penetanguishene. So it covers the north shore of Lake Huron on… down to the south. If there was an arrangement with anyone in that treaty territory, it would have to be agreed to by all 17 signatories to that treaty. You can’t just deal with one band. And under Canadian law, currently, if the federal government wants to impact — if they want to impact on indigenous land, there is a duty of consultation. So the Supreme Court has directed the Government of Canada to consult with indigenous people when it might take on an activity that’s going to impact their territory. So the nuclear waste management organization is not the Government of Canada. It’s an organization of industrial interests. So… it was enacted… by an Order in Council, by the Canadian government. But it’s really important to figure out who it is — like it’s not Minister of Environment that’s talking to indigenous people. It’s the waste management organization, so there’s a lot of weird things going on.

Metta Spencer

When… they had put people with different status, with different conflicting interests into the same body, what you’re suggesting, if I’m hearing you, is that all the people who who are doing this planning are all people who have got a vested interest in finding a place to dump it. And it might be very well on the place where you live.

Lorraine Rekmans

Right. It’s important to understand who the players are — like, I worked on this another side. So my… background really is in resource development. I’m a journalist, you know, by trade, I’ve worked for native organizations like tribal councils, and worked for an aboriginal newspaper for a while, worked for the National Aboriginal Forestry Association. And most recently, I was the critic for Indigenous Affairs for the Green Party.

Metta Spencer

And good credentials, I hereby approve of you.

Thank you… so I’ve worked a lot in politics and resource development and indigenous rights issues. And you get a little dabble of, you know, Canadian law in there, by, you know, just by tracking all the legal decisions that come out. And that’s why it’s important to look at how this — you know, it’s not only what’s going on, but it’s how it’s going on. I have said I take issue with that if the federal government is interested in, you know, taking on responsibility to manage nuclear waste, then the indigenous — the indigenous community has to be consulted. And under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, they call for free prior and informed consent. So free prior and informed consent would mean, as an indigenous community, you would have the resources that you need to assess what’s being proposed, fairly.

Metta Spencer

it certainly sounds right to me. If I’m trying to think of any argument for the other… point of view might be, well, this stuff exists, where are we going to put it? If you don’t want it in your land? What do you want to have done with it? Because it’s not going to go away? No, it definitely, what is — what is your notion

Lorraine Rekmans

about what do I think? First of all, I would say stop producing the stuff?

Metta Spencer

Well, yes. But we know that’s not going to happen immediately… the most optimistic thing you could say is we’ll wait till the power plant sort of run down and just don’t refurbish them, because you’re not going to have them shut it down tomorrow and have my apartment here go into a blackout because there ain’t no power.

Lorraine Rekmans

Well, the discussion right now is evolving. And the industry is making proposals for these small modular reactors, which are basically nuclear reactors that you buy in pieces and put together — so they’re already forecasting into the future. And they’re going to be producing small modular nuclear reactors. I know that we… Let’s stop this. We’re not going to build any more, let’s say… But what are we going to do with what’s already here? That’s what I’m worried about… where do you put it? I worked on the National Forest strategy. And within the National Forest Strategy for Canada, we had multi multiple stakeholders. So a variety of, you know, civil society, indigenous people. We had people that worked in the forest, people that ran meals to anybody, basically, could be part of that strategy. And we need that strategy. That’s the thing, the Canadian government of Canada does not have a nuclear waste strategy. That’s the first thing we need is to force our government to come up with a strategy, collect those stakeholders, get all of those voices at the table. You know, I really think that many, you know, many hands, you know, will make good work, because they will bring all these perspectives to the issue.

Metta Spencer

I don’t want to argue with you… I absolutely, I’m on your side, but I don’t know. I’m still stuck with it. Even if you get the best people in the world together. You got this damn stuff. And where are you going to put it? Right? I mean, I don’t know. I don’t, you know, you ask if somebody were to ask me what I would do with it I haven’t a clue. Do you bury it?

Lorraine Rekmans

It definitely has to be managed. I agree it has to be managed, it has to be contained. But the thing is that industry has come up with this idea. Right? It is the scientists that are industry based who have come up with this idea. And they’re telling us it’s the best proposal, and it’s the best option. We don’t even have the resources to assess that proposal properly. So how — it becomes a question of trust again — how do we trust given what’s happened in the past? So I do think that we need a strategy that the federal government needs to step up and and take this on. And because it is it’s in the national interest, how do we protect our environment, and responsibly store nuclear waste? This process is going on, you know, they’re already looking, you know, they’ve dug holes, and they’ve done site assessments in different territories across Northern Ontario. There’s been, you know, thousands of meetings. And, you know, I’m saying, Let’s pull this back a little bit. Let’s get the framework, let’s set a legal framework for how this thing is going to be done.

Metta Spencer

Okay, well, sure. I can’t see why any body would oppose what you’re saying. But we’re getting to the end of our conversation, and I still am. stumped, you know, because it’s, you know, the procedure, the process certainly needs attention. But there must be some alternative proposals out there floating around. Some people must have some — some ideas.

Lorraine Rekmans

Yeah, there are I mean, the there’s a Southwest I think the Southwest Research Station in Arizona, has done some work with Navajo people, and they’re, and they’re looking at multiple types of containment facilities. So there’s, there’s work going on around the world.

Metta Spencer

You know, it’s happening. I’ve heard people say, Well leave it above ground at where it is. Now. They keep it in containers, someplace near the power plants, if not really on, on site of power plants, and just leave it there. Don’t bury it? Well, you know, I’m not sure I’m happy with that. Because, you know, you take an airplane and crash it into one of those facilities and what you’re going to have — not fun. So I really don’t — I mean, there must be other people who have good ideas that are circulating, because if they — If nobody has a better idea, then you can have all of the get-togethers you want. Unless somebody’s got a better idea, what are you gonna do?

Lorraine Rekmans

Well.. they say… it’s not… the destination, but it’s the journey… how we get to the to the solution is just as important as the solution. Because nothing is going to be effective if there’s no relationship, if there’s no trust, you can’t just walk into an indigenous territory and dump off a bunch of nuclear garbage and expect it to be okay. Because the scientists said, “Hey, you know what, it’s safe. And we did all the, you know, the calculations…” I don’t like having it underground, either. Because it puts groundwater at risk. Okay. It puts groundwater at risk. And my experience over time has been that infrastructure is left to crumble, decades and decades down the road because there is not somebody there. One thing about indigenous people is they are there on the land for centuries, in the same place, watching, watching what’s happening and seeing what’s happening. And that is the traditional ecological knowledge. Like myself as an indigenous woman, tracking the nuclear waste at Elliot Lake for decades, and saying, you know what, those dams are really old, somebody needs to look after them. My experience has has led me to believe that people put something in the ground, forget about it and walk away. Yeah. And in 100 years, we’re talking… the half life… of radioactive particulate… is 500 years or

Metta Spencer

1000 years? 1000s of years? in many cases?

Lorraine Rekmans

… and that’s why the process is important, Metta. That’s why

Metta Spencer

Well, I know — you’re right — they made this sarcophagus at Chernobyl and so on. And the same in, in the Marshall Islands, there’s a dome there where they put all of the waste from the nuclear tests (not all of the waste, but what they could collect) and they put it in this hole and covered it with cement. And that is crumbling and apparently it is vulnerable underneath too because now this stuff is seeping out into the ocean and, and, and a tsunami or something can come along and knock the whole thing over. It would be stupendously dangerous. It is. And people you know, think, “Well, we’ve handled that, goodbye, we’ll go away, leave it.” So it is certainly — number one message is don’t generate the stuff. Leave it there in the ground where it’s all safer, dispersed.

Lorraine Rekmans

That’s for sure.

Metta Spencer

And then the question is now we’ve already got so much of it up. Yeah, well, bless your heart. Thank you so much, Lorraine. It’s a pleasure to get to know you. And

Lorraine Rekmans

Metta. Thank you.

Metta Spencer

If I ask some hard questions, it’s because it troubles me and I bet it troubles you too, that you know, got to find answers and doesn’t sound like anybody’s got any good ones. But it’s good to get hard questions.

Lorraine Rekmans

Thank you.

Metta Spencer

Okay, bless your heart and let’s be in touch occasionally I want to follow what you’re doing. And I really appreciate your your input and your… , you know, the fact that I count on — I just have the impression that the most responsible environment environmentalists today in the world, are indigenous groups and you can save us all. Okay, thank you.