THE KIDS WE PAY TO ROCK THE BOAT
They’re volunteers in the Company of Young Canadians, an organization dedicated to using the power structure’s money to right the power structure’s wrongs. Despite foul-ups, hang-ups, too much talk, the experiment is working
ARVEY STEVENS, a 22-year-old idealist who grew up in the comfortable Ontario town of Port Colborne, was sitting in his toiletless, three-room apartment in Winnipeg's rundown Logan Avenue district and wondering if he was wasting his time. Harvey is one of the 75-odd volunteers of the Company of Young Canadians and his job — for $35 a month plus room and board — is to encourage people to solve their own social problems.
But now, in one of those frequent assaults of self-doubt that are an occupational hazard for CYC volunteers, he was brooding. There was a drunk singing in the corridor outside his apartment, the sleeping bag he uses for bedding was getting gamy, and he'd just had an unhappy encounter with one of the neighborhood's teenage dropouts, a group he was especially interested in getting to know. Three of them had dropped into the apartment and one 19-year-old had started putting Harvey down in front of the others. “You know, Harvey,” the kid had said, “sometimes 1 think you're a real phony. Sometimes you act like a social worker or something.”
Harvey, recalling the incident, was depressed. “That’s the third time he’s done that to me,” he said, “and I don't really know why.
“I try to think of them as my friends, but sometimes it gets through that they're using me. just like they’d use any social worker. They come over here and they want me to do things for them. But that’s not why I'm here — I’m trying to get them to do things for themselves."
Harvey’s dilemma typifies the feelings ol unrealized potential, and failure, that have characterized the CYC in its first year of operation.
When the Pearson government announced its plans to launch the CYC in April 1965, expectations were grandiose: 1,000 volunteers in Canada by 1967, 1,000 overseas in the next two years. It would be an organization, the prime minister said, which would he “one step forward in the battle against poverty, disease, deprivation and inequality wherever these may exist in our country, as well as being a modest measure of assistance in meeting those problems in other countries.”
MPs on both sides of the House glowed with talk of Canada’s own brand of New Frontierism, of the spirit of John F. Kennedy and the Peace Corps. But when the oratory was over, what remained was an organization that only now is beginning to struggle out of a morass of confusion, internal dissension, structural snarls, bad communications. haphazard initial planning and — most tragic of all — intense frustrations experienced by the young volunteers who went into the field brimming with enthusiasm and idealism and not much else.
In Winnipeg, the CYC's project in the rundown Logan A venue area is a typical mixture of success and failure. Volunteer Harvey Stevens (above, rehearsing a talent show with volunteer Doreen Jarvis) has spent months trying to befriend the area's teenage dropouts. Most have come to trust him, but he still suffers rebuffs (“You know,
Harvey, sometimes / think you're a real phony”) that leave him lonely and depressed. Because he works quietly, and in co-operation with a neighborhood centre that’s been in the area for years, Winnipeg is one of the least controversial of the CYC's 35 projects. Results? They're hard to measure, but welfare workers feel it's been worthwhile.
In Victoria, the shaggy features of CYC volunteer Lynn Curtis have become a familiar, and usually distressing, sight to townspeople. Curtis, who started his project without Ottawa authorization but still collects his $35 monthly stipend, has succeeded in sparking several hundred drifting hippies
into organizing themselves into something approaching a self - supporting commune. They’ve set up co-op residences, an income-generating psychedelic shop — and reaped lots of unfavorable publicity. As love propaganda, Curtis sends flowers to Victoria’s chief of police every week.
By next April the CYC will have spent $3,250,000 of public money. By the yardstick of the Peace Corps' success, the CYC could be considered a failure. But the comparison is hardly fair, for the CYC — as it has finally emerged after two years of birth pangs — is something radically different, and much more daring, than its U.S. counterpart.
American Peace Corpsmen are dedicated to improving social conditions from within the context of whatever society they’re working in. They build schools, equip hospitals, and run youth programs — but always with the consent and co-operation of local authorities.
The CYC's role is much tougher. Company volunteers see themselves as catalysts in a process of social change. If things are bad in a city neighborhood or on an Indian reservation, the CYC volunteer's role is to motivate the people who are affected into taking action. And if this means running up against slum landlords, donothing local councils or a hostile white community — well, that's the name of the game. "Of course we're rocking the boat.” says one volunteer. "That's what we're paid to do.”
The best-publicized example of CYC boatrocking occurred last January, when the Toronto press discovered two volunteers and 12 CYC staff members among a crowd of anti-Vietnam War demonstrators in front of the U.S. consulate. One of them was David DePoe. 22. bearded son of newscaster Norman DePoe. David mans a CYC outpost in Toronto's hippie-oriented Yorkville district. Much of the press, and of course John Diefenbaker, reacted with appropriate dismay. The Moncton Times and Transcript, for instance, called the Company a "dangerous and disgusting growth” gnawing at the vitals of Canadian society.
But there have been other blow-ups, less publicized but equally spectacular. A few days after the CYC's appearance in front of the consulate, Ottawa press-gallery reporters noticed that the first issue of the CYC's internal newsletter was sprinkled with four-letter words. Diefenbaker had a few questions to ask about that one. too. CYC officials, however, weren't unduly disturbed. "We debated whether or not to cut out the four-letter words,” one ex-staffer explains, “but we decided that we shouldn’t get hung up on artificial values.”
The same newsletter carried other fascinating insights into CYC activities. In Victoria, it reported. a teenage mob had broken into the CYC's Social Education Centre, stolen the volunteer's typewriter and tape recorder, ripped his coat and. equally tragic, "jumped on his guitar.”
But there was good news from Inuvik. The CYC volunteer there. Peter Mussallem (the same chap who had used all those dirty words in describing the plight of the Indians and Eskimos) had won his appeal against a conviction for supplying liquor to an 18-year-old Eskimo girl.
Collisions like these leave CYC leaders unruffled. Many of them are / continued on page 53 the spiritual beneficiaries of a decade of civil-rights agitation in the U. S. They've come to regard collisions with the Power Structure (that's a word CYCers use a lot) as a wholly predictable, almost mechanical process. One of their idols is Saul Alinsky. an American radical who moves from city to city, organizing Negro neighborhoods into bitterly effective pressure groups. The process is called “community action”; and there's no question of its effectiveness — provided the important catalyst is properly trained, and the people involved make their own decisions instead of having them imposed from above.
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In other words, the CYC — a Crown corporation, remember, supported by your tax dollars — is officially committed to making things tough for local Establishments whenever necessary. It’s a wildly novel concept — no other political system, after all, pays young people to battle its own inertia — and it wasn’t adopted without a fight.
The Company’s first organizing secretary. a bright young junior civilservice type named Duncan Edmonds (he was once Paul Martin's executive assistant), envisioned the CYC as a nationwide service organization that would not consider boat-rocking as one of its main duties. But Edmonds was outflanked by other members of CYC’s advisory council, one of the strongest of which is a bearded Toronto activist named Arthur Pape.
“Infiltration” by activists
Pape, now 25. is probably the country’s most effective exponent of New Left radicalism. The organization he led at the University of Toronto, the Student Union for Peace Action, has made the city a mccca for U. S. draft-dodgers.
It was Pape’s voice on the advisory council that prevailed. There was never any formal vote on the issue — CYCers prefer to grope slowly toward a consensus on such matters — but by late last year, “participatory democracy” (translation: involving people in the decisions that concern them) had become the stated aim of the CYC, and Edmonds had quit in a huff. Today, some CYCers still resent what they call “infiltration" by Pape’s activists. But most favor “community action” (another CYC euphemism for boat - rocking), at least on paper. Stewart Goodings, the Company’s politically ambitious associate director, explains, “Sure there's been SUPA influence on the company, but it’s been open and welcomed. SUPA people were the only ones who came up with constructive suggestions on where the Company should go.”
The first place the CYC went was Nova Scotia, for its initial training session last summer. It turned out to be one of the more bizarre experiments in the history of group dynamics. About 60 volunteers were cloistered in a group of university residences at Antigonish for five weeks, and subjected to a massive overdose of group therapy that strengthened some participants and broke others.
For volunteers, tough training, some tears, some breakdowns
The sessions were of two kinds. In one, a group of volunteers would sit for hours, mercilessly analyzing each other. “A girl would bring a package of peanuts into the session." one volunteer recalls, “and then we'd spend the next hour making her explain why. The technique was something like the ('hiñese use lor public
confession sessions, and it was brutal.” In the other session. 50 volunteers would sit down in a room and try to arrive at decisions by a process of consensus. There was no boss and everyone had a veto. And so they spent hours — days, even — arguing about such things as what to talk about, or how to arrange transporta-
tion for the group to and from town.
The group-criticism sessions were designed to harden volunteers against “culture shock.” something all volunteers experience when thrust into an alien environment. The groupthink sessions helped the volunteers to understand a basic ingredient of CYC methodology: you can’t just walk into
a community and start telling people how to run their affairs. Unless he can help create a consensus, the CYC volunteer is worthless.
For some, the techniques may have worked. Other volunteers simply weren’t tough enough to take it. One girl developed the delusion that she could give a man diarrhea just by looking at him. She left after the first week. Another girl, apparently unhinged by the stress, tried to swim out to sea one night. There were tears, bitter arguments, and at least four volunteers suffered temporary emotional breakdowns.
CYC planners may have hoped that the stress of the training session would weed out the weaklings as effectively as any formal screening process. They were wrong. When the first batch of 50-odd volunteers went into the field after the Antigonish sessions, CYC staffers found an alarming number of them were unable to cope with the frustrations and barriers they encountered. One girl, who tried to infiltrate a neighborhood by babysitting for families on welfare, was so disturbed by the household filth and undernourished children that she couldn’t go back. A male volunteer, who'd chosen duty in the far north, quit the Company to marry an Eskimo girl. A girl who couldn't stick it ended up as a go-go dancer in Vancouver. Such cases are uncomfortably common. The Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO), which employs rigorous screening techniques, claims a drop-out rate of about four percent. The U.S. Peace Corps says its rate is around eight percent. The CYC’s, after one year, is around 15 percent, with about two volunteer resignations coming in every month.
Firing — only by consensus
The Company, recognizing the disparity, has toughened up its entrance requirements and altered its training methods. One current batch of trainees, for instance, was set loose in Toronto without money and told to fend for themselves. Most of them wound up at a Salvation Army hostel. From the same training program, a girl was placed as a patient in a mental hospital with only one psychiatrist clued in as to who she was. “It makes sense to let them meet a few people who need help before putting them in the field,’’ a CYC official explains.
Personnel problems are compounded by the Company's obsession with doing things by consensus. As a result, CYC staffers in Ottawa on occasion have found themselves unable to fire fieldworkers whom they deemed incompetent. The volunteers who were threatened with “deselection” (the CYC euphemism for firing) simply appealed to their fellow fieldworkers across the country by writing letters, by hitchhiking around the country to drum up support for their case, or by defending themselves at regional meetings of CYC volunteers. In at least three cases, the consensus was that the volunteers should keep their jobs, despite the fact that the staffers who’d hired them considered them unfit. The consensus, of course, prevailed. This is one of the consequences of running what Company theorists call a “loosely struc-
tured, participatory organization."
The organizational structure is certainly loose enough to bemuse traditional management consultants. There are almost as many planners, administrators and clerical staff in the CYC's Ottawa headquarters and regional offices as there are volunteers in the field. And while the volunteers are expected to live somewhere around the bare-subsistence level, no such limitation is imposed on the administration staff. The Company's director. Alan Clarke, for instance, is paid $20.000 per year and has recently installed a seafoam-green rug in his office, to match his green telephone. Two associate directors arc paid $14.000 and $18.000 per year, three lesser administrators get $15.000 each, and the four regional directors get from $10.000 to $15.000. Altogether, there are 70 administrators in Ottawa and in the field, directing the activities of the 75 volunteers. This is a ratio of chiefs to Indians that equals, if not exceeds, that of the CBC. However, while volunteer numbers increase, CYC planners argue, the staff size will remain pretty well static.
In its first fiscal year the Company spent $850,000. By next April, when the next fiscal year ends, it expects to have spent another $2,455.000. most of it at headquarters, not in the field.
With this money, the CYC is currently running 35 projects, ranging from nursery schools on Indian reservations to a five-volunteer study of community needs in Ontario's depressed Lanark County. Sixty percent of the projects involve some form of community organizing: one in Winnipeg. two each in Montreal and Vancouver, five in Toronto.
Company volunteers run Everdalc. a radically free school outside Toronto, and play advisory roles in the Indian communities of Alert Bay. BC. and Eskasoni on Cape Breton Island. In Halifax they’re working with lowincome Negroes along old Barrington Street. In Calgary a volunteer is fighting beside the residents on urban renewal. One volunteer works in a correctional institute. Two are in a mental hospital. Two more are working with high-school drop-outs, and a third is with a Quebec student co-op.
Harvey Stevens’ project in Winnipeg—the one in the Logan Avenue area — is close to being typical: it's hard to sec tangible progress, but no one denies that the CYC volunteers have made a contribution.
Harvey spends his time working with teenagers around Logan House, a community centre that's neen in the area for 15 years. "Just by being here, the volunteers have had an effect on our agency.” says one of the centre's workers. "Maybe it's the difference in thinking. CYC people look at a community in terms of the people and their needs. Social workers too often get hung up on statistics and programs.”
There’s nothing very dramatic about Harvey's daily routine. His apartment is always open to teenagers in the area. Last June he helped organize a talent show at Logan House, but few of his activities arc so clearly defined. Mostly he just hangs around, listening to as many people as possible, trying to help
Trust comes because a CYCer is thej^
wherever he can. For a deeply religious young man (he once thought of becoming a United Church minister), it has been a lonely, trying experience.
“A lot of us resented Harvey at first,” says Boh Harris, 19, one of the few kids in the district who’s active around the neighborhood house. “We wanted him to go downtown and have a friendly beer with us, but he wouldn't — for a whole month. So some of the kids got to thinking that Harvey didn’t want to be seen in public with them. Do you think we're supposed to respect a guy who won’t go out and have a friendly beer with us?”
'The problem is that Harvey isn’t a drinker. After three beers, he starts playing leapfrog over the parking meters.
“The guys, though, they’re starting to trust him now. They go over to his place and talk about their problems and he doesn’t mind listening. It’s good. He helps them, he goes out with them to find jobs and things like that.”
Mostly, Harvey is respected simply because he’s there. “Look, for the social workers it’s a nine-to-five job,” says one of Harvey’s teenagers. “When they’re finished for the day they go to nice homes outside and they forget about us. Then they leave their nice homes the next morning and come back. But Harvey’s living right with us.”
Harvey is no boat-rocker. He was sponsored in Winnipeg by two agencies and he works — just as U.S. Peace Corpsmen do — within the context of local conditions. It’s a tribute to the CYC that a single organization could contain young men as diverse as Harvey and Lynn Curtis, the CYC volunteer in Victoria.
Curtis, a slouching, hirsute 25-yearold. gets S35 a month from the CYC, and takes orders from nobody. Despite Ottawa's frequent criticisms, he’s managed to catalyze Victoria’s teenage hippies into something remarkably close to a full-blown commune. With his encouragement, they’ve opened seven co-op houses and a “head shop”
that sells psychedelic posters and regalia, founded a brilliantly scurrilous magazine called Wine Press, and staged the usual assortment of demonstrations, happenings and love-ins.
Curtis’s communal hippies have also been discussing a project which, if implemented, will be a landmark in the history of federal subsidy: in tribute to the Beatles’ famous song, they want to march on the RCN base at Esquimalt and paint the navy’s submarine a bright daffodil yellow.
The townspeople, naturally, regard Curtis as something between a joke and a menace. His activities have been connected with a near riot, inspired several bandyings of the CYC’s name in juvenile and adult courts, denunciations by newspapers and radio hot-liners, a number of ambiguous encounters with local police — Curtis sends flowers to the chief of police every week — and various clashes with parents, local politicians, school officials and the provincial attorney-general’s department.
But he takes his work seriously. He estimates that three percent of the city's teenage population is homeless, drifting, alienated. He’s helped them form a community of their own. "If the CYC disappeared tomorrow,” he says, "I’d go on doing what I’m doing now. The Company has little meaning to my work here, except for the money.”
When CYC staffers think about the goings-on in Victoria, they sigh. Then, as an antidote, they think about Calgary, where Bernie Muzeen has managed one of the CYC's few tangible successes by helping home owners in the Victoria Park district protect their interests against threats of expropriation.
Muzeen’s undertaking has most of the ingredients for a successful project: strong community leaders and community organization (which admittedly were there before the Company arrived); a leverage issue — in this case, urban redevelopment — around which to generate community action, and a notably effective volunteer.
Bernie Muzeen is 30 years old, an
engineer, orphaned by the London blitz and raised by nuns. He remembers one nun kicking him down a flight of stairs. In Oshawa, where he used to live, there's an award named after him for service to youth. Physically. he's moosesized with a loud, shaggy voice. If he has self-doubts or inhibitions they don't show. A social worker who knows him well says he has two compulsions: the need for recognition and the need to get involved in people’s lives.
He began a year ago by walking up and down the street in front of Victoria School until he made friends with the students. He spent a lot of time in the Three-Star Restaurant where the teenagers hung out. He met mothers at the local laundromat and the family-centre’s nursery. He got to know' the wives of corner grocerystore proprietors by asking them for cooking instructions. He made 1.000 house calls in the neighborhood. He joined the Victoria Community Association and went to its bingo games. For recreation he spent one night a week with a teenage club he helped form.
Today, Bernie is doing what the Company of Young Canadians expects him to do. He’s a friend to half the neighborhood. He’s welcomed into people’s homes. He's consulted by the kids. He's invited to dances and parties. Most important, he's fighting along with the residents who want a fair price when their homes are expropriated next spring to make room for expansion of the Stampede.
Victoria Park is a 19-block area with 4.000 residents sandwiched between the downtown core and the Stampede grounds. It has 20 percent of the city's welfare families, four races and 11 language groups. City officials say 80 percent of the houses are structurally unsound and a few dwellings have been condemned. Most of the people arc prepared to give up their homes — but not without a guarantee from the city that expropriation prices will be high enough to enable them to relocate. The city has not heen lavish with information.
Last December the residents’ committee invited Bernie to become an adviser. “We’ve got jobs during the day and our families at night,” says committee chairman Lloyd Fairbrother. a CPR switchman. “There were facts we needed, a lot of complex stuff on expropriation and public housing and urban renewal.
“A lot of us didn't know where to go looking for it. Bernie did. He gave us ideas on what to do.”
CYC calls this the enabler’: role. Bernie suggested alternatives on what steps to take. The people made decisions. They appointed block chairmen. started their own newsletter, prepared information sheets, drew up briefs to city council demanding representation in any talks on the area's future and demanding information on the city's plans. They held strategy meetings, sent letters to the press, met with senior government officials. Mayor Jack Leslie labeled them a protest group. The agencies that had invited him to Calgary, suggested that Bernie should be replaced because he was getting too involved with the people of the community. But the people insisted that he stay, and the CYC
agreed. It's Bernie's job to get involved.
Well, what does it all add up to? The CYC has spent about one and a half million dollars so far. All that’s resulted, if you take the harsh view, is a whole lot of talk by about 150 young people.
But what, exactly, are “results”? How do you measure the "results" of a public swimming pool, cancer research. a neighborhood library, a sympathetic teacher — or a CYC volunteer who simply stands around and
listens to people with trouble on their minds?
The CYC's first year of operation has consisted mostly of setbacks. But there's plenty of evidence that the CYC has learned from its early experiments.
CYC Director Alan Clarke says he feels "pretty relaxed" about the Company's performance so far. “I think that historians will look back over our pilot year and what we have learned in that period." he says, “and conclude
that we have no need for shame.”
It's a fairly safe bet that they will. There are plenty of things wrong with this country, and there are young people who want to change them. It took boldness, idealism and a lot of vision for the government to allow some of them to attempt it in their own way.
The CYC is a gamble on the goodness of youth. Despite the foul-ups and the flare-ups, its first year of operation has proved that it was a gamble worth taking. ★