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Lion's Roar : Unpublished Writing

Conversation with Claire Culhane

Community's Not a Hobby

An Open Letter to Prime Minister Jean Chretien

Conversation with Claire Culhane

Tuesday, May 28, 1985.

Burger King, Ottawa

Transcribed by Derek Rasmussen

On the Vietnam War.... You know, I was in Vietnam during the war. I worked in a hospital, but it was turned into a military base... I had to make one of the toughest decisions of my life -- to stay or go.... I went to the Vietnamese embassy in France and I told a guy there my story. He said: 'The bombs are falling on our heads, and they will keep on falling even if you're here. Why don't you go home and stop the bombs from coming here.' For 8 years, I plowed up and down the country telling people what Canada was doing in Vietnam, and people only said 'What're the Americans doing?' I say it's more important for us to ask: What's Canada doing? You know, every B-52 has a ton of Canadian nickel in it?! Look up! If you see one of 'em, each one had a ton of Canadian nickel. Canada made $150 million off that war.

On solidarity vs. anti-intervention; books vs. action; and prison solidarity work: .... That priest working down in Latin America, whatshisname -- Ivan Illich! He said about sending doctors down there: 'Every doctor you send costs 100 lives' -- that's a good quote, eh? That's because that money could be used for cleaning up the water, building wells -- which would save more lives.

.... The burden of proof has to lie on the shoulders of those who won't reveal what's going on. But we can't just sit around, we have to make a situation so people can see that the government's hiding something....So I called for a public inquiry into what I saw Canada doing in Vietnam. When they don't do it, I ask: 'What've you got to hide?" (Do the same with East Timor, she suggests).

.... Books. Books have to lead to action. Never mind the theoretical, do actions, direct actions. And never mind the national focus--in this country it's a curse! What I learned in Vietnam was guerrilla tactics -- phhsst (stabs her finger at a spot on the table) -- regional focus; just stay regional.

.... So this interviewer (Peter Leo, Chez 106 Radio?) says to me, 'How come you're always on the losin' side -- Vietnam, prisons...?' I say, 'Hey, you forgot, the Vietnamese won the war! And prisoners will win too, when we have a decent society; when people stop ripping each other off.'.... People say: Why Prisoners--What about nuclear war? But I say, no matter if it's communist, socialist, or a democratic system, they have to control the army, the police, and the prisons. So if I can screw up prisons, I'm hitting 'em at one of their most vulnerable points. .... Guy asks: How can you keep going? -- that's not the question! It's: How can you stop? How can you stop when you know it's wrong? If you have to ask you're on the other side. If you stop you're on the other side. It's a good fight and it's the best way to live. Well, it's the only way to live! It's exciting. Besides, think of all the money you save on shrinks! You don't let some doctor tell you the world's fine and there's something wrong with you; you know the world's wrong. Spending all that money and the guy doesn't know what's going on in the world, why it's a mess--and he's supposed to help?! But usually I say this and it turns out the person I'm talking to is in therapy, or IS a shrink. Ha, ha

. .... This woman I used to work with in prison work, she became a parole officer. She said, 'I can't decide what to do.' I said, 'You've made your decision; you're not sitting on the fence any more. You're on the other side.'.... These prisoners took hostages...they asked for the citizen's committee to come in and stay during this. So a few of us went in... But the others left to sleep on their fancy beds. I slept on the floor. With the prisoners. I stayed 80 hours. .... I get check ups, I'm healthy. I write to guys inside, I tell 'em the doctor says I'm really healthy. At the bottom of the letter I put: 'IPSO eat your heart out!' IPSO is Internal Security Protections Officer (?) -- they read all the mail. .... When you're in this work you have to be squeaky clean. I insist on it. No drugs, no booze, no smoking. People's lives depend on us; we can't fool around with that..... I can't stand conferences. I can't stand meetings. I like action. I may be eccentric, but I'm 66 (65?) now--if I can't be eccentric now, I'll never be! I tell my experiences to younger people; they don't listen. Like these lawyers in the prison group: in one ear and out the other. It's reverse ageism; they ignore what I know.