Small gathering draws big inspiration from Martin Luther King

Social activists in Toronto met last night to discuss ways they can follow the example of American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to affect change at the local and global level.

The group of activists met on the evening of Martin Luther King Day at Friends House on Lowther Avenue and spoke in front of an audience of about 30 people.

The evening’s discussion brought out speakers from several organizations, including Conscience Canada and Christian Peacemaker Teams, who hope to use non-violence to support peace-building initiatives.

Bruna Nota of Conscience Canada offered a way for Canadians who object to the war (in Afghanistan) to voice their protest by refusing to allow their taxes to be used for war production.

“(The Peace Tax Return) … allow(s) for people who object to paying for others to do the dirty work of going to war for them to divert their taxes into a conscience objection peace fund,” she said.

Nota stressed that the Peace Tax Return is not a way for Canadians to avoid paying taxes. Rather, it offers them the opportunity to put the money that would normally go to military taxes into a Conscience Canada trust fund until the government can determine a non-violent way to spend it.

“(We offer) the ability for all Canadians to make the decision that the taxes go to peace rather than to war,” Nota said.

There were speakers who represented the global perspective and they proposed other options for Canadians.

Joel Gulledge from Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) spoke about his experience working with those affected by war. By supporting people in war-torn regions of the world in their daily lives, CPT volunteers attempt to ease the stress of war.

“We can’t underestimate the effect of encouragement,” he said. “Simply by being there we help people feel not so alone.”

Gulledge told a story of how he and his team helped replant olive trees that had been destroyed by insurgents in the West Bank. Their objective is to help people in small, yet meaningful ways.

“We have a long way to go … but we’ll get there,” Gulledge said.
Martin Luther King advocated the use of non-violence as a means of bring about social change.

The panelists used King’s ideas to illustrate how Canadians can put as much energy into peace-building as they do war.

“We need to change policy, we need to change legislation, we need to change opinions,” Nota said.