Friday, August 28, 2009

Movement History Update

This morning, for the first time in far too long, I sent out an email update to the list I have of participants, supporters, and observers of my social movement history project. Take a look below at the update, and if you want to be added to the list, then email me at scott.neigh(AT) and let me know.


This email is one of a series of irregular (no more than several times per year, and much less lately!) emails updating progress on and the oral history project of long-time Canadian social movement activists to which it is attached. If you wish to have your name removed from the list please email me and let me know. Please see the bottom of the email for sample material from the interview with Muriel Duckworth, a long-time activist in Halifax and a wonderful person, who died recently at the age of 100.

It has been quite a long time since the last update -- in fact, much longer than I had remembered. The project has been moving slowly forward, but it is finally winding its way to a close.

Though the project began with 47 interviews that involved 50 participants, the long and difficult process of turning these stories and all of this wisdom into a book has involved making difficult choices.The current model for the book is that it will have twelve chapters featuring a total of seventeen of the participants that I talked to. Each chapter begins with material in my voice which introduces some relevant ideas and some historical context, and then features one or two interview participant voices (mixed in with other context) to present the balance of the chapter. At present, eleven of the twelve chapters have been written. That means that one remains, plus assorted work to clean up the text and plug various small holes.

The question of publication remains unresolved. The latest phase of the process began by sending queries to numerous independent Canadian publishers, and then a proposal plus sample chapters to those publishers which requested them. In some cases, some supplementary sample material was also sent at a later date. So far, none of the publishers has said yes. A number have said no, and there are still three that have not, after their expressions of initial interest and detailed evaluation of the submitted material, provided a definitive answer. The evidently serious consideration, including time- and labour-intensive editorial evaluation, that the proposal has received at a number of presses has been encouraging, even if "yes" has so far been elusive. The plan at the moment is to complete the writing and then reapproach the three that appear to have left the door open, providing them with new material and the assurance that the draft manuscript is done. After that, we'll see!

Below is the excerpt from the interview done with Muriel Duckworth of Halifax. Muriel died recently at the age of 100, after more than 80 years spent active in the service of social change. She was very active in the peace movement both locally and nationally, including playing an important role in Voice of Women (the oldest national progressive women's organization in Canada and an important part of the country's peace movement), as well as in many local peace and social justice activities in Halifax in the last half century. A much earlier verison of these updates included an excerpt from her interview talking about her earlier political life. The excerpt included here focuses more on her early involvement in Voice of Women.

Please forward this update email to anyone you know who might be interested, and encourage them to get in touch with me at to join the update email list.

Peace and solidarity,

Scott Neigh


SN: What kind of peace movement groups or organizations existed here
in Halifax when you first moved here?

MD: In ’47. No, nothing. Nothing. People here were still talking about the war. They were talking about accidents. I mean, German ships had been right outside the harbour, people had been killed. There were still war ships in Bedford Basin when we came in l947, still sitting there. They hadn’t – I don't know what they did with them, probably sold them to somebody else. It was the war that was occupying peoples’ minds. I don’t think any minister was preaching peace, I don’t think anybody was talking about peace when we first came here in 1947. And we weren’t either. People we met in Halifax – the war was then two years past – they had so many stories to tell about it.

SN: What do you remember about how the anti-nuclear movement got going here in Halifax?

MD: It was started by a small group of people. I remember the first couple of meetings. Gordon Kaplan was teaching science at Dal at that time. He knew the effect of a nuclear bomb. He could describe it in detail, including the deadly effects of fallout. And David Hope-Simpson, who now lives in Wolfville, was teaching at Saint Mary's University. And [my husband] Jack, who was local chairman of the Canadian Committee for Control of Radiation Hazards, and a member of the national executive. Jack didn’t know as much about it, but he was good at organizing. I remember Gordon was the first speaker that I heard speak about it. His wife became one of the first members of Voice of Women. That would have been either in ’59 or early ’60, because the Voice of Women was founded in '60.

I remember meeting in the school auditorium about the nuclear threat, and the dangers of the nuclear threat and nuclear testing. Then there was the first CBC national television broadcast originating in Halifax. They asked me to be on it. I was the only peace voice and the only woman. Topic: "Should Canada stop trying to be a world power?" What a subject! Too bad we still haven't said "Yes!" to that question. That was in 1962. There was a panel of nine people. I don’t think CBC trusted us to be able to discuss it, because they brought somebody down from Toronto to be the the guy who really knew what he was talking about. But I was the only one who took a peace position. I did get some correspondence about that afterwards and I think the whole discussion helped the peace movement.

That anti-nuclear group, which was largely men, was founded first. And there were "the wives." At some point David Hope-Simpson got a phone call or a letter from somebody in Toronto asking him, "Do you know anybody who would form a Voice of Women in Halifax?" So he discussed it with his wife, who had four small children at that time, not thinking that she would take it on. She said, "Well, why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t I?" She and I didn’t know each other very well then. She was in Dartmouth and I was in Halifax. She phoned me and we had the first meeting in my living room. More than twenty women came to the very first meeting. We planned our first public meeting, which was in opposition to the United States dumping nuclear waste off the coast of Nova Scotia, because the American Atlantic states wouldn’t let them do it. That got us off to a good start. We had a real issue to begin with. Then we began really studying the situation.

SN: What did the Voice of Women do in terms of action?

MD: We had a big public meeting. Everybody knew about the protest. Whether we sent a protest to the Canadian government, I don’t remember that. We just made a big loud fuss about it. CBC used to have a person in charge of "public affairs" in each station. It was Harold Hathaway, the man in that position at the CBC here at that time, who told us about the possible dumping. He cared about it, too, and saw to it that it got a lot of publicity. Television hadn't been in Halifax long but the meeting was covered. It was publicity that we got about it that was the important thing. We went on from there.

Thousands of women had joined VOW all across Canada. We had two main committees in Halifax. We were all in the same group, but we decided that we had to tackle human rights as well as peace. Now they call it "peace and justice." We decided that we would do something about the state of employment of Black people in Halifax. One group did that and the other group kept on doing educational things, having public meetings and educating people; and ourselves, because we needed a lot of education ourselves about war and peace. Also, from the very beginning nationally we did a lot of interviewing of politicians and sending delegations to Ottawa with very well prepared statements of what Ottawa should be doing and what it wasn’t doing. I remember a delegation going to Halifax city hall. I think that was to try to get the city declared a nuclear-free zone. And constantly pushing for some action to stop the nuclear threat and change government policies. We also learned to use the street; none of us had done that before.

SN: What was the significance of Voice of Women being a _women’s_ peace group? Why was that important?

MD: The groups of women I have belonged to over the years have always given me strength and community by sharing their wisdom and spirituality. At the beginning Lotta Dempsey, a columnist for the Toronto Star, responded in her column to the crisis of threatening nuclear war with a plea to women: "Where are you while the men are preparing to destroy the world? You aren’t going to have a say even in the peace movement if you just go in and leave the leadership to the men." That was how that was initiated. But it happened that, at the same time, a group of women in Toronto had begun to think about having a women’s peace movement, and there was already a women's peace group in Vancouver. I still think it was a very good idea. I think it was a very important idea because women have different ways of thinking about things, often quite different ways of thinking about things. And running their own show, which was very important, because any other group I’d ever been in, if it was a mixed group it was always the men in leadership.

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