Don’t underestimate the power of grassroots

Your columnist Tom Fletcher took a snide swipe at local politicians and municipal councils

Dear Editor:

Your columnist Tom Fletcher took a snide swipe at local politicians and municipal councils that, at one time, declared their jurisdictions to be nuclear weapons-free zones.  “Did they really think we’re that stupid?” asks Tom.

Well Tom, you should know better than to denigrate the power of grassroots democracy and nowhere is it more powerful than at the level of local government. This was unquestionably demonstrated in New Zealand where, in the early 1980s, a dictatorial conservative Prime Minister named Rob “Piggy” Muldoon ignored the overwhelming public opinion that New Zealand should not host nuclear-powered and/or nuclear-armed foreign warships. Ignoring the ever-louder public protest, Piggy Muldoon continued to invite U.S. warships to visit New Zealand harbours and used his majority National government to run rough-shod over the will of the people.

Kiwis turned to their local governments to give effect to their anti-nuclear principles. Municipality after municipality throughout New Zealand voted to become nuclear-free and they posted their nuclear-free signs on their municipal boundaries. Those signs were everywhere. The left wing Labour leader, David Lange, was no fool. He read the writing on the signs and promised that if his party became the government, he would ban all nuclear-powered and/or nuclear-armed warships from New Zealand waters.

In 1984, David Lange’s Labour Party swept into power in a landslide election and promptly followed through on Lange’s promise. New Zealand is a small peaceful country in the South-Pacific but Kiwis stood up against the super-power bully tactics of Ronald Reagan and the U.S. military and Stat Department. New Zealand took a beating economically but stood by its principle of opposing Cold War super-power nuclear alliances. To this day, Aotearoa (Editor’s note: Maori name for New Zealand) proudly remains nuclear-free and an example to the world. The strategy may have been less successful in B.C. but there is nothing stupid about the effort nor the intent of the passionate British Columbians who tried.

I was there in New Zealand when we threw out the U.S. nukes. I’m proud to say I was part of it. Together we changed the destiny of the nation and I learned a valuable lesson, which is that in a democracy, neither smug misinformed political pundits nor arrogant majority governments dictate the future of a nation or a province — the people do. If need be, there’s more than one way to make our voices heard and more than one way to bring down an arrogant majority government. So therefore, Tom, think twice before you denigrate the power of grassroots democracy and a unified cause whose time has come.

Kia Kaha,

Chris Conway