Looking back at a national grassroots campaign
I try to wear a poppy on Remembrance Day.
However, they fall out so easily I always lose mine, usually within minutes of buying it.
So if you see me and I'm not wearing a poppy, that doesn't mean I don't remember.
Because I do.
And I have tried to do my part to remember our veterans; not just on Remembrance Day, but every day of the year. In 2005, I spearheaded the launch of a national campaign to bring back the Canadian Pledge.
You can be forgiven for having never heard of it. Our campaign was not successful!
The Pledge was legislated into the Canadian Bill of Rights by the Right Honourable John Diefenbaker on July 1, 1960. It was similar in some ways to the American Pledge of Allegiance, though more inclusive and, in my view, more progressive. Here it is:
I am a Canadian, a free Canadian,
Free to speak without fear,
Free to worship God in my own way,
Free to stand for what I think right,
Free to oppose what I believe wrong
Free to choose those who shall govern my country:
This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold
For myself and all mankind.
You may have picked up on the reference to worshipping God in the third line, and this caused me some discomfort too. But more on that shortly.
My parents, Ken and Jean Meeker, told me about an old friend of theirs named Ron Stewart, from their home province of Ontario. Stewart was the young principal honoured in 1961 by the Smiths Falls Board of Education to introduce the Pledge in his school, New Aberdeen. His staff and students recited the Pledge every day and in all assemblies during the remaining thirty-four years of his teaching career in Lanark County. When Stewart retired in 1995, he was the only principal in the country using the pledge. It has since disappeared from that school, and has fallen mute across the country. (Although I've heard the pledge is written on the gymnasium wall of a school in Diefenbaker's hometown of Neustadt, Ont.)
Fearful that the pledge might be silenced forever, Stewart maintained a personal quest to raise awareness of the Pledge across the country, through writing letters, sending emails and talking to whomever would listen. He wanted to see the Pledge reintroduced to schools not just in Smiths Falls, but clear across the country.
I liked Stewart's quixotic determination. I read the pledge, and thought it was poetic. I saw it as a wonderful way to remember our war veterans, long after the last soldier has passed away. It's also an effective reminder that this country, despite its flaws, is still one of the greatest on earth. I imagined war veterans coming to a school gymnasium for a Remembrance Day ceremony, during which the entire student body recites the pledge for them. The idea of it was so poignant, so perfect.
I decided to do something about it.
I wrote a detailed campaign strategy, utilizing public, media and government relations to raise awareness of the pledge. It had good strategy at the top, and, further down, comprehensive tactics on how to make things happen. In the first wave, we would work to create general public awareness, through media relations. In the second wave, we would focus on politicians, specifically the provincial ministries of education, and other third parties.
Stewart didn't know my proposal was coming, and was blown away by it. He was no longer a lone wolf. He had an organization working for him. We immediately recruited some friends of his across the country who could champion the cause on the ground' in their home provinces. Suddenly, I was the national communications chair for the Pledge Canada campaign.
We launched on July 1, which was fitting locally, given the pledge's relevance to both veterans and national pride. I paid $600 out of pocket to issue our release through Canada Newswire, which placed it in every newsroom in the country.
With that, I was enveloped for a week or two in a tornado of media calls and interviews. Working with another spokesperson, Patti Miller, an articulate and dedicated volunteer in Ontario, we talked with whoever was interested. The highlight, for me, was appearing as a guest on the afternoon drive talk radio show in Toronto, with a potential audience of more than two million. Ack!
Early feedback was good, and people were signing the online petition by the dozen, offering words of encouragement and interesting anecdotes (it turned out that the pledge was still alive, if on life support, and being recited in isolated necks of the Canadian goose). Governor General Adrienne Clarkson said the pledge was "inspiring and eloquent and deserves to be widely known."
We were getting some good publicity and had just started working on third party support when we hit our first roadblock. It was big, and one I had seen coming from the outset.
We were counting on the support of the Royal Canadian Legion, at the national level, and at the grass roots, through its many branches across the country. However, according to Stewart, the Legion refused to endorse the pledge because of its reference to "God," saying it would offend atheists and many multicultural groups.
I already had similar feedback from individuals, especially the talk radio callers, that the "God" reference was inappropriate. I felt the same way, and decided it was time to break the news to Ron that the line should be amended to read, "Free to worship in my own way," which is far more inclusive.
However, to my surprise and disappointment, Stewart held firm. To him, the "God" reference was critically important. It had to stay.
It was evident to me that our cause could not succeed without that amendment.
Patti Miller felt as I did, and we had no alternative but to resign from the project. With the communications team gone, things ground to a half and the campaign fizzled.
It was a crying shame.
I actually contemplated starting up a splinter project, advocating for adoption of the modified pledge, but didn't have the time and energy for it.
However, if anyone out there is interested in giving it another try, let me know
I still think it's the only way to really show our veterans how we feel.
And it would be splendid to implement the pledge while some of them are actually alive to hear it.