Thursday, January 22, 2009

A New Dawn for America?

We live in a beautiful part of the world. Our community of Cobble Hill is near the South end of Vancouver Island. From the top of the actual Cobble Hill ( a small mountain in it’s own right), we get excellent views of Washington state - ranging from the San Juan Islands (about 10 miles West across the Georgia Strait or Puget Sound - depending on whether you're Canadian or not) to Mount Baker and the other peaks of the Cascade range. In fact, Seattle is considerably less than 100 miles to the SE.

Yesterday morning Kailee and I hiked up Cobble Hill to watch the sunrise. As we beheld this wonderful ritual of nature, I realized that this particular sunrise marked the first full day of Obama’s term as president. A brand-new day for America - and perhaps for the world.

I still have a difficult time believing that this man with the funny name is now the “Leader of the Free World”. Obama is African - not even Irish. Barack is even more intriguing. In Hebrew and Arabic the triliteral B-R-K means blessing. Is this just a coincidence - or is there a message here? On the other hand, the triliteral B-R-Q, also pronounced Barack - can mean lightning, or a flash of light.

Will Barack truly be a blessing - or just another flash in the pan?

I suspect that the answer to this question will depend more on the average American than it will on Obama. To his credit, he has been in office for less than 48 hours and he has already signed an order to close Guantanamo, taken steps to give Iraq to the Iraqis, restricted lobbyists, redirected the economic bail-out and blocked all of Bush’s last minute loopholes. These actions alone seem quite incredible.

Over the long haul it will take the will power and cooperation of a big majority of the American people before Obama can actually make progress on issues of entitlement, health care, energy consumption and foreign diplomacy. And this same majority of Americans will suffering through the life style adjustments brought on by a major recession.

Personally, I believe there is hope on the horizon. For example, the Sumter for Change group - Obama’s campaign volunteers in Americus - were the first major racially integrated advocacy group in the area. Rather than disbanding after the election, they are continuing to promote positive changes in education, health care and social services. The black churches are also preaching the message that Obama needs everyone to stay engaged in the remodelling of America. They can’t leave everything to him alone.

Nevertheless, Obama is only one man - and a politician at that. Is he sincere? Will his presidency result in any real positive change?

I certainly don’t know the answer - but isn’t that an outstanding view from Cobble Hill? The sun is just cresting over the ridge of the Saanich peninsula. To the left you can clearly see the volcanic cone of Mount Baker. Look closer along the horizon and you can see several peaks of the other Cascade mountains. As for the San Juan Islands and the lower coastal elevations of Washington, they are completely obscured by the fog.

It will take considerably more time before the fog clears and we can see what is underneath.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Barack Hussein Obama

Tuesday undoubtedly marked an historic day for the United States of America - and for all the other citizens of this planet. Barack H. Obama was sworn in as the 44th - and first non-white - president of the USA. I must confess that we were riveted to the television for most of the day as we watched the spectacle unfold.

While we sat comfortably in our home on the socially progressive West Coast of Canada, our appreciation of this unlikely inauguration was heightened by our recent internship at Koinonia Farm in Southern Georgia. Koinonia had been established in 1942 as a Christian statement against the racial exploitation of the deep South. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Koinonians had to survive bombings, gunshots, beatings and economic boycotts for standing up against socially-sanctioned and religiously -sanctified apartheid policies. While things have certainly improved, and this black mark on the gleaming history of America seems a part of the distant past, we were constantly reminded of its lingering effects.

During our time in Georgia, we became close friends with men and women who grew up in a world where it wasn’t safe to be seen in public with Whites - especially of the opposite sex. They couldn’t eat at the same table, drink from the same water fountain or even use the same public toilets. They remembered friends who simply disappeared and were never seen again - except for the rumors of unidentified remains found in the woods along the highway. As children, they would lay awake in their beds at night, terrified that the KKK would break down their door and take them - or their parents - away. As teen-agers they faced the angry mob when the national guard enforced the integration of public schools and as young adults they marched in protests. In spite of all the progress, shadows of this dark time still linger today. A clear example of this is the case of Troy Anthony Davis, who was convicted of murder in 1991. In spite of the fact that there was no physical evidence and the eyewitnesses later recanted their testimonies, Troy has spent the past 19 years on death row in Georgia. He came within hours of execution this past October - and a majority of Georgia supreme court judges still feels justified in executing him - as opposed to hearing the evidence that will prove his innocence. Could this ever happen to a White guy?

This backdrop of unbelievable racial injustice made Barack Obama’s presidency all the more unlikely. During the election campaign, we volunteered with Sumter for Change - the Democratic campaign organization in Sumter county - and helped voters get to the polls. We had the privilege of door-knocking along side black civil rights veterans who shared their stories of the bad, old days. Apparently the most dangerous thing you could do was to help other blacks register for the vote. Even in the the enlightened 21st Century, we found that fraudulent voter information cards had been regularly given to blacks - and these cards directed them all the way across town to the wrong polling station. Or “official” phone calls were made to remind them that only Whites voted on Tuesday (election day) - Blacks couldn’t vote until Wednesday!

Amazingly, and in spite of these odds, Barack Obama not only received enough votes to win the Presidency of the United States, he also carried Sumter County, Georgia!

The picture on the right shows the scene that occurred in the backroom of Wood’s Swinging Wings - also known as Sumter County Democratic campaign HQ - the very moment that Obama was declared president.

Now you can see why I still believe in miracles.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Where are we now - Part II

Ok - sorry to leave things so unsettled and uncertain. The trip to Vancouver Island went very well. There was plenty of snow in the mountains - and much of it was very unstable. Nevertheless, we made the drive from Calgary to Salmon Arm (or Salmon Fin, as Jan correctly observes) without much problem. Only a short delay near Revelstoke where the park rangers used artillery cannons to fire shells at the mountain and force a premature avalanche. Once the snow was cleared, we could proceed with our journey.

From Salmon Arm, we had to traverse the high elevations of the Coquihalla pass on our way to the Pacific Coast. Fortunately we had good weather, and we arrived in the city of Vancouver on the afternoon of January 2. Vancouver was another story, as the city was struggling under the effects of a record snow fall. Fortunately, our 4X4 truck was able to navigate the narrow, snow drifted streets until we were able to drop Trevor at his apartment near the University. Then we made our way to the ferry terminal and arrived about 830 PM to catch the final crossing at 9:00.We arrived on Vancouver Island about 10:30 PM and drove to our friend’s home in Shawnigan Lake - arriving around 11:30. By midnight we were fast asleep.

On Saturday morning, January 3, we arrived at our new house on Chapman Road in Cobble Hill. We couldn’t have imagined the scene that greeted us - the Island had experienced nearly record amounts of snowfall. Once inside the house, we found that our shipment had arrived and it took a great deal of effort and imagination to extract everything from the back bedrooms and move it to a more appropriate location in the house.

After several days of effort, we are beginning to feel like we are finally home!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Go West, old man

I guess it is an appropriate way to celebrate the New Year. We are packing up and getting ready for the final leg of our road trip to the West Coast. Being back in the Calgary area for the past week has given lots of time and opportunity for reflection on the past year. It has truly been a time of transformation and contrast. Two weeks ago we were at Koinonia - a relatively short drive from the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts - enjoying 70 degree (+20 degree for us Canucks) weather. Within the first 2 days we were trying to survive -30 degree temperatures and timing our progress between two major blizzards.

Today we are preparing for the final stage of the journey. First we track down our 3 children - which are all staying at different places scattered across two cities (I suppose this is foreshadowing of the near future) - then we point the truck West towards the Pacific Coast. We hope to arrive at our new house on Vancouver Island by Saturday, January 3.

There is a lot of uncertainty. First we have to cross the mountains in the middle of Winter. Never a fun proposition and to add to the entertainment value, the BC highway reports are virtually useless compared to the high quality of the Alberta information. We know that Vancouver and the Island are experiencing heavy snowfalls and extremely severe Winter conditions (which is highly unusual), but we have very little information of what lies between here and there. Our new house is empty and waiting for us, and the remaining contents of our household are stored in 2 bedrooms and storage sheds, but we really don't remember much about what we packed and shipped and what we gave away. O.U.R. ecovillage, one of the main reasons we chose to relocate to the Victoria area, is in financial crisis and may not be able continue past mid February. We have never spent any real time in the new house, or on the Island and Krista is facing an entirely new school system.

Yet, in spite of all this, we feel a growing hope and optimism.

Perhaps Uncertainty and the Unkown are Under-rated.

At least we are hopeful.