On Canada Day I officially become a Canadian citizen. As the citizenship ceremony approached I began thinking about what exactly this means to me personally and why I waited 13 years since immigrating to take the citizenship oath.
My canned answer is that I was reluctant to swear allegiance to the Queen. But as I looked deeper I realized there was more going on. The looming ceremony pushed me to grapple with feelings about my past and future.
My reluctance to officially become a Canadian, surprised me for two reasons. One, because I am no fan of American Nationalism; and two because psychologically I made my choice to become Canadian over 14 years ago when I made my decision to build my life here in BC, to put down roots, and invest in building a community of friends and colleagues that would sustain me.
As I think back 13 years and remember what excited me about coming to Canada, the word that comes to mind is hope.
- Hope for a better life with my beautiful future wife Claudia;
- Hope about the prospect of living in a spectacularly beautiful place;
- Hope because I felt that the average Canadian regardless of their age, class, gender or sexual orientation still had the expectation that their lives and the lives of their children would improve.
As a political activist dedicated to helping people transform their relationships with each other, with their community and with the earth, this last type of hope is essential. People believing that through hard work and collaboration they can make a difference is the life blood of an activist. Hope is the essential underpinning of activist work-the ingredient without which activists cannot succeed.
And unfortunately it is slowly disappearing in the hyper individualistic, dog-eat-dog, culture south of the border. As the American empire fades, as the American Dream becomes a commodity merchandised for political gain, fewer and fewer people believe that they control their own destiny, that the lives of their children will improve if they work hard.
Instead of being hopeful, Americans are the antithesis. They are fearful, scared about the future and increasingly cynical about their lack of control over their lives. As an activist this made my work in the US difficult
In contrast, in Canada I felt Hope. I felt a desire from the average Canadian for a better life. People believed it was possible and were prepared to work for it. At first, while I was in school and articling, my feeling about this was just an untested impression, a feeling based on no direct experience.
Over the intervening years during my time at Sierra Legal Defence Fund, as a volunteer with many organizations, and with Dogwood Initiative, I have learned my instincts were correct.
Canadians-particularly British Columbians-are craving something better for themselves and their children. As an activist my role is to inspire them, to help them develop their leadership skills and cajole them into action.
Canada is a good place to do this work. Although some Canadians bask in the satisfying world-class quality of life many of us take for granted, Canadians at their core are a just, tolerant and fair people.
This is fertile ground for change, but it is going to take innovative types of organizing to engage these values-different than the environmental or labour movement or social justice movement are used to. That is what Dogwood Initiative is trying to do.
But the world is becoming an increasingly scary place, and we as Canadians and concerned citizens of the world must do something about that. It is perhaps not coincidental that Live8 was held the day after Canada Day. The idea for Live 8 are based on hope–eradicating poverty in the world. It is an ambitious goal-but it is worthy. Is there any thing more worthy?
And despite the cynicism of the press and the arrogance of our political leaders, I think they (we) have a shot at it. And is there anything to by lost by trying?
It may seem impossible, but is not the need for certainty a form of arrogance and sometimes oppression?
But new ways of confronting power, inequity and injustice are needed. Whether we find these new avenues of engagement or withdraw permanently to our private lives depends on the creativity vitality and vision of leading people of conscious. It depends on whether we can adopt the long view and develops the patience essential to continue when even when our actions bear few or no immediate fruits. It depends on whether we can learn to savour both the journey and the engagement itself. Whether we can find that everyday grace that nurtures us during our most difficult tasks.
Becoming part of the Canadian family, part of the network of friends and family that make up my Canada is helping me to learn these lessons.
This concept of hope is essential to our work and my life. Hope is not just a way of looking at the world; it is a way to live a life. Hope is not optimism that something will turn out well-or investing in something that is headed for obvious success. It is the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is what kept Nelson Mandela going despite 150 years of struggle. It is what ultimately made Vaclav Havel president, just a few short years after he was in prison. It is what drives First Nations in BC to not commit suicide, but to create change.
It is both imagining out loud the possibility of change and acting upon it. In some place just that act of imagining out loud is deemed criminal or madness and can lead to death or imprisonment. But not here in Canada (except perhaps for First Nations). That is something to be proud of.
In our darkest hour, when hope seems lost, we must remember that those who have power and seem invulnerable are in fact quiet vulnerable. Their power depends on the obedience of others, and when we begin withholding our obedience, begin defying authority that power at the top turns out to be very fragile. Remember the falling of the Berlin wall and the end of Apartheid and imagine what is happening with First Nations here in British Columbia.
Revolutionary change does not come as the result of one big cataclysmic event. (in fact Sept 11 should remind us to beware of such moments) it comes from an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society. It happens because people like you and I stand together and create change.
We need to remember-and remind all those around us-that we don’t have to engage in grand heroic acts to participate in the process of change. Small acts when multiplied by dozens, hundreds, and perhaps today millions of people, can transform the world.
History is not something that takes place elsewhere, it takes place here, and it takes place wherever we act with conscious – we all have a chance to make it by contributing everyday.
This is what Carole James and Gary Lunn and the other speakers at my citizenship ceremony referred to when they spoke of contribution and service.
It is what they and many others believe makes Canada a great country. It is wh
at made me want to become Canadian. It was what inspired me to cross my fingers and swear allegiance to a queen (while muttering a caustic phrase in honor of my Irish heritage).
Thanks for welcoming me to the Canadian family.
Together I hope we do much to be proud of.