A Change of Heart Warms a Cold Evening
Toronto, Tuesday, October 29 -- The evening of Tuesday, October 29 was unseasonably cold in downtown Toronto. In front of the Moss Park War Training Camp at Jarvis and Queen, members of Homes not Bombs gathered for their weekly vigil, with a food not bombs contingent that served over 50 meals.
This was not good weather for standing around for an extended period of time, much less sleeping outside, the fate of many hundreds once again this night.
The crisis in Toronto continues to grow. The shelters (certainly no solution to the crisis) have been filled over capacity all summer; abandoned buildings in Toronto are not opened for community renovation; and a spineless city council had voted just hours earlier to sell off three row houses on Parliament Street which could have provided housing for numerous families.
Three days earlier, hundreds of riot police had tried to prevent members of various anti-poverty groups from opening up and squatting abandoned buildings. Those who crow the racist notion that in Canada we have a more precious regard for human life than in some of those "other countries," perhaps might rethink that assumption.
At Moss Park on such evenings, we marvel at the huge, heated, open space that the armoury represents, and wonder why, almost six months after City Council called for the opening of the armouries as permanent, 24/7 emergency shelters, no action has been taken.
On nights like this, there is usually a small group of cadets who parade around, children learning the obedience that's required to wage war. Anyone watching from the windows of the armoury -- - and watch they do whenever we're there, spending extra funds on guarding the place against us - -- would have seen how cold it was because every time the cover was lifted from a huge vat of barley soup, a big plume of steam rose into the night sky, visible from a block away.
Thanks to donations from such local businesses as Alchemy Bakery and Eternal Abundance, we had plenty of fresh fruit and veggies to serve.
It's a small gesture of solidarity and community, putting together a food not bombs serving in front of a symbol of Canada's horrific economic priorities, spending 700% more on war than on affordable housing. Earlier in the day, members of Parliament released a call to spend an extra $2 billion for the "cash-strapped" military, a big lie which is taken more for granted with each repetition. There is no similar call for the 1% solution, which also represents $2 billion, for the truly cash-strapped affordable housing program in this country.
Across town this evening, members of the New Democratic Party are holding a leadership debate. We wonder whether any of the candidates will address the fact that the NDP has endorsed the idea of increasing the military budget an additional 50% (an extra $6-7 billion). If this is the face of the "alternative," then permanent war remains the platform of every political party in Parliament.
Given such a torrent of pessimistic news, which comes in greater amounts each month, it remains a challenge to reach out with love in our hearts to those who disagree with us, who scorn us, who spy on us, who arrest us, who jail us, who try to ban us from public property when we speak up with the vulnerable and voiceless.
Yet that reaching out to opponents in a spirit of good faith, in an effort to start a dialogue, is one of the core values at the heart of the Moss Park Transformation Project. We know that this approach will not necessarily get the kind of instant gratification we want (folks see the error of their ways, lay down their guns, and build housing on the site!), and the beginning of last night's vigil didn't seem to bode well for the changes of heart that come about through our relentless persistence.
Before the vigil even got underway, we were approached by a full-time member of the Canadian military who demanded to know our purpose for being there. When we explained that we had been here every Tuesday since May, he refused to believe us. He demanded we move our stuff from the entrance to the armoury, because, as a likely cold warrior who still has visions of domino theory and rampaging Reds, he proclaimed, "If we let you guys do this, the next thing you know the entrance will be blocked by people with picket signs."
We refused to move, and assured the soldier that we always give our opponents advance notices of blockades. We also noted that the military had reached a kind of detente with us, even taking down their "security zone in effect" sign and giving up on their threats of arrest when it appeared we were not going to leave. He runs inside to verify this with the officer in charge, and we don;t see him for the rest of the evening. We are not sure if he makes a call that brings out police from 51 division.,
But the night was not a series of falling, pessimistic dominoes. Since one of our goals from the start has been to find common ground with our opponents, even members of the military police have been offered food when we serve (a large number of regular Canadian Forces members are so poor that they have to rely on food banks).
As we served food, a young man approached us slowly, shyly, and asked how we were doing. We shared some small talk for a bit, and then he asked if he could have a piece of cake. As he enjoyed this treat, he explained that he was a cadet here for training, and wondered if he could stand with us for a while. Sure we said, serving him up a bowl of warm soup.
It turns out the young man is a student at a local high school. He has seen us every Tuesday but never stopped to talk. We explain that we are trying to have the site declared surplus, turned over to the city, and then into housing for the homeless. He thinks it over, then says, "That's a great idea. We could do our parade in my high school gym, we don't need to be at the armoury."
We discuss nonviolence, our approach to the violence of our world, and he says, "Canada does not need a military. Killing people doesn't solve anything." He imitates George Bush's threat against Iraq, then asks rhetorically, "who's the terrorist?"
We offer him flyers which he is more than happy to take inside, share with fellow cadets, and with students at his school.
Perhaps he has not been warned to stay away from us, the way other cadets have. Or maybe he has, and had the strength of character to reach out to us and see us reaching out to folks like him.
Other cadets run away when it appears we might be slowly walking in their direction, and their squad leader has come out and yelled at the cadets when it appears they might be talking with us. But for one wonderful moment on a cold night, we are warmed by a change of heart.
Our new friend says he might join us for part of the all-day vigil Tuesday, November 5 at Moss Park, 12 noon-8:30 pm, with another food not bombs serving at 6 pm. On November 11, from 11 am-1 pm, Homes not Bombs is also organizing a women's strike for peace event to remember all victims of war and military spending.
For more info: Homes not Bombs, PO Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto, ON M6C 1C0 (416) 651-5800.
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