When I retired several years ago from the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto, I wanted to do different things than I’d done in the past 40 years. But not too different. I cherish intellectual life as much today as in the 1970s. Yet I was not inclined any longer to write books for university publishers or articles for refereed journals. I’d had enough of footnotes. And I felt I now had time to engage in advocacy on important issues of the day.
Science for Peace was the ideal vehicle. Formed in 1981 during the last decade of the Cold War, it is a registered charity dedicated to popular education and research on broadly defined peace issues. This organization, run wholly by volunteers, aspires to be a think-tank for grassroots movements and the informed public. It organizes positions on current issues, public lectures, seminar series, forums, social-media sites and a resource-rich website (scienceforpeace.ca), including a blog. I feel I’ve been able to bring the accumulated knowledge and teaching skills of 40 years to bear in Science for Peace.
This voluntary association has a venerable history. Its initial focus was on nuclear disarmament. In the early days, when the demands of a university career were less stringent, most members were prominent natural and social scientists on faculties in the Toronto area. When Pierre Trudeau was prime minster, he occasionally consulted Science for Peace, aware of its expertise. Other governments were less open to our advice.
Today, members (numbering about 150) tend to be retired professors, though a campaign to bring in younger members and those from outside the universities has had some success. We have members from coast to coast. Many are not scientists and come from all walks of life. Perhaps the most effective advocacy and executive work is done by an admirable member who runs a cardboard factory outside Toronto. University credentials do not necessarily confer the wisdom and leadership skills to work within the confines of a voluntary organization.
As president and vice-president, I’ve had several priorities. One was to redesign the website and ensure the social media, including now Instagram, were operating effectively. A second was to propose narrowing the focus of SfP to four themes; nuclear weapons, NATO and security issues, climate change, and non-violent action as the most effective means of bringing positive change. A third was to mount an annual forum on a major issue of the day, directed mainly at university undergraduates. The last one, in January, on “The Climate Emergency; What Is to Be Done?” was a great success. Professor Danny Harvey from Geography was a superb keynote speaker.
During my four years at Science for Peace, I’ve had to learn many new things. These include: how to design a website; how to use new technologies; how to organize a large-scale public forum; how to get people to do things without alienating them; how to be the administrator of a Facebook page; and how to talk and write about complex issues in simple terms. It’s taken a lot of time and has often been frustrating.
And yet, all in all, the constant striving has made me feel young and vibrant. The camaraderie among the executive officers and the members more generally is highly rewarding. Above all, these simple words from our vision statement light up the world for me:
“As intelligent living beings gifted with a moral sense, humans share responsibility to help humans, animals and Earth itself – its air, water, plants, trees – to flourish. Science, as the instrument of reason, should be dedicated to creating peace and justice, and therefor nurturing life in human societies, among nations, and in nature.”
Richard Sandbrook Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of Toronto Vice-President, Science for Peace