We wish to thank you, our members, and the thousands of people who voted for our candidates in the election. We are proud of our candidates and our campaign, and despite having decreased elected representation we will continue to advocate for a “vancouver for everyone” as outlined in our platform that was developed our membership.
Our campaign team worked extraordinarily hard on this election for the past three months and deserve a special thanks. Special thanks should also go to the candidates and their family and friends. Campaigns are never easy, but they are especially hard on those close to the candidates who don’t get to spend the same amount of quality time with them. Finally, to all the volunteers and donors that contributed their money, time, or both, we thank you. This campaign was a small one, but being connected by so many amazing people from all across the city made it seem very big indeed.
We wish you all a restful holiday season with your family and look forward in the new year to working with you all to develop COPE’s plan for the coming years. Stay tuned for news about a general meeting early in the new year that will give us all a chance to come together and chart a new course forward.
COPE would also like to take this chance to acknowledge two great losses in the COPE Family. The days since the election campaign closed were made especially hard by the passing of these two amazing people.
Ben Swankey was born on September 17, 1913, and was raised in Herbert, Saskatchewan in an era where the main means of transportation were horse drawn wagons and sleighs. When Ben was 17, he hitchhiked to Vancouver where he saw police brutally attack a demonstration of unemployed workers. In his autobiography, “What’s New?”, he recalled that that incident was a turning point in his life, a life devoted to social justice and socialism.
The Depression caused deep suffering in the lives of most Canadians. Ben found himself swept into the nation wide protests against poverty and hardship triggered by the Depression. When he was just 18, he joined the Young Communist League in Edmonton where he was involved in helping to organize the 1932 Hunger March when over 12,000 people demonstrated for immediate social reforms. The demands of the marchers included unemployment insurance, equal pay for equal work for women, free education and medicare. The police attacked the marchers and Ben was arrested and jailed for his participation in organizing the march. At his subsequent trial, charges were dropped. Ben continued his political work through the Depression including organizing and enlisting public support in Calgary for the On To Ottawa Trek.
Ben’s political activities resulted in his spending the first half of the Second World War imprisoned by the Canadian government in an internment camp in Kananiskis along with hundreds of trade unionists and political activists. On his release, Ben enlisted in the Canadian Army as a gunner, sergeant and lecturer, and was shipped to Europe near the end of the war.
In the decade after the war, Ben was the leader of the Alberta Labour Progressive Party. At the height of the Cold War, support for the Party dwindled and the political struggle became more difficult. In the year after Nikita Kruschev’s revelations about the crimes of Stalin, Ben resigned as leader of the Alberta LPP and moved to Vancouver.
In Vancouver, he became a close friend and colleague of Harry Rankin managing his political campaigns and helping him establish a new electoral organization to contest council, school board and park board. Ben was a key organizer of the new Committee of Progressive Electors (COPE) in 1968 and was on the Executive for the first 10 years preparing briefs, leaflets, press releases newspaper ads and working full time during elections. His political activism resulted in him becoming, without a formal education, a labour movement intellectual, educator and first class researcher. He was an inspiration to, and had great influence on, countless numbers of young people.
Ben embarked on a prolific writing and speaking career in the mid 1950s. He produced hundreds of articles, policy papers and briefs and spoke to thousands of people. His books included a history of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU), a semi-documentary account of the life and times of Arthur H. (Slim) Evans co-written with Jean Shiels, the story of Gabriel Dumont, an expose of the Fraser Institute and ,of course, he was a co-author of the 1968-1993 COPE History, “Working For Vancouver”. When he was 94, Ben completed his autobiography “What’s New? Memoirs of a Socialist Idealist”.
When he was well into his 70’s, Ben became increasingly disillusioned with the Communist Party and resigned “after a painful re-examination of my life and beliefs”. His strong belief in socialism and his commitment to social justice continued for the rest of his life. Over the next decade he worked with the BC Old Age Pensioners Association, the BC Health Coalition and Veterans Against Nuclear War. He was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Council of Canadians in 1998 and on September 13, 2003 was honoured when the City of Vancouver declared Ben Swankey Day.
Ben Swankey was, above all, a gentle, loving family man. His autobiography concludes with a summary of the activities and achievements of his wife Hantzi, his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. His pride in his family was profound.
These words, written by Ben in his autobiography, are words of wisdom for all of us:
“We have an important role to play in the global struggle for social justice. But we must remember that all our struggles for social gains will have no meaning if we fail to save our planet from global warming and environmental degradation. It will take our combined intelligence, creativity and commitment to meet this supreme challenge. I have no doubt that we will succeed.”
Bob Rosen, a long-time COPE supporter and volunteer, died suddenly on November 22. Bob came to Vancouver in the late 1960s – one of tens of thousands of young men who refused to serve in the American war on Vietnam.
For many years Bob was a union activist. He served as President of the Surrey Teachers’ Association, and his was an articulate and respected voice in his provincial union, the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. Bob was committed to international solidarity work and sat on the executive of Co-Development Canada. He was a principled and fierce advocate for the human and political rights of the Palestinian people.
Bob will be remembered most of all for his music. He was a stalwart member of the Solidarity Notes Labour Choir and of the Gram Partisans. No BCTF Annual General Meeting was complete unless Bob was there to lead and sing together with hundreds of teachers from across the province – rock and roll, folk tunes, gospel hymns, union songs, country standards – late into the night. Those hours of joyous singing helped fortify and nourish the many struggles that BC teachers fought over more than three decades.
Bob was committed to COPE and participated in building and strengthening our organization for many years. He volunteered for COPE in the recent election, just a couple of days before his tragic passing at the age of 64. We at COPE send our condolences and best wishes to Bob’s partner Eva and his son Michael, and to his many, many friends.
Bob Rosen’s dedication to progressive politics and to building a better world were an inspiration. We will all miss him.