9/11

September  11th. 9/11. Every year the same feelings return.

All around are the clear signs of what it is I should be feeling; but for me it is never that simple, is always a disturbing mix of conflicting emotions.

It’s part flashback. The surreal movie-like scenes. Me sitting at my desk as the 2nd tower collapsed. People caught in that unimaginable dilemma and jumping from a burning building.

Part remembrance. The emergency workers running towards the disaster and not from it. People frantically looking for their loved ones. The candlelight vigils held around the world.

And part reflection. Not only on the specific act and its consequences, not only on the lost lives and terrible suffering, but on the greater issues surrounding that day and the days after it. What is to be the legacy of that day? What is the point of continuing to mark this event if we will not take the time to learn from it?

These questions are the sort of thoughts that get in the way of that indisputable feeling I know I should have. I feel the guilt creep in as the speeches begin to fall on my deaf ears and the questions come to the forefront instead. But I can’t help it.

Is it our responsibility only to remember? To give a moment of silence and play back the video footage and write heart-warming updates on Facebook?

How do we truly honour the dead? By waving a flag? By violence and strong words? By regressing instead of progressing?

I know that amidst our everyday lives we must find a practical way to pay respect to such monumental events. And I know that faced with radical people armed with violence that sometimes we must in turn be violent.

But I also know that our duties do not end there.

The true tragedy would be for such a horror to have happened and not to have built something greater from it. That is how we truly honour such a thing.

Yet we are not doing it. We allowed fear to blind us into an invasion of Iraq, costing trillions of dollars and thousands of lives and building a new generation of extreme hate. Cases of violence and abuse against innocent Muslims have increased, causing a new rift between “us” and “them”.  A war-drum now beating to the tune of Iran, that old song bringing us that much closer to more suffering. Our political discourse still mired in divisive and alienating dialogue, caring more about individual gains than the greater good of the nation.

What a shame for so many to have died and so little to have changed.

That is the thought that gets in the way on days like today.

What a shame.

Ohh Canada

Like most young Canadians I know little of our past.

Sure I remember the Plains of Abraham, and Sir John A. Macdonald, and some other random bits from grade 10 history. But to be honest, that’s about it. (and I had to Wikipedia those to refresh my memory).  I could give you a pretty decent summary of the major events of WWII, yet know next to nothing of the role our country played. I have spent countless hours watching and reading about America’s Revolutionary War but have no idea how our own nation was formed.

But I don’t feel bad; I know it’s not my fault. Tom Hanks has never played a quiet but strong Canadian soldier so I have never felt a burning need to learn much of our history. And there’s another reason that I don’t dwell too hard over my patriotic shortcomings – because the things that make me “Canadian” are not meant to be so simple to define.

When I travel the world I always show my passport with pride. Always utter the words “I’m Canadian” knowing it will be met with a pleasant reply. Have always waved our flag high during the Olympics. But why? Why identify myself positively with this country? Because I had a sense that this was a good place. That’s it. That’s all I ever needed to feel proud of where I came from. I did not need a glorious history of rockets red glare or bombs bursting in air. I felt this country had a good heart and that was enough for me.

In an increasingly globalized world, a traditional sense of national identity becomes less and less practical. Divisions based on name have only ever led to short-sightedness and conflict, so the fact that we Canadians do not cover ourselves wholly and blindly in the red and white maple leaf is a good thing. It keeps us open and ready to evolve with the rest of the world.

Yet as I turn on the television and read the paper and go about my life, I see things that trouble me, things that stir in me a desire to step up and defend this difficult-to-define nation of ours. Defend it not from traditional enemies attacking traditional notions of country – but from more elusive adversaries threatening that more subtle definition of our nation.

I see how Canada’s reputation on the world stage is being tarnished by an embarrassing devotion to fossil fuels and big money. How we are building more prisons than schools. How our political discourse has devolved into endless attack ads influenced by special interests. How our media is going the way of Fox News and our American neighbours, with increased partisanship trying divide our nation in two. And how we have allowed corporate advertising to take over public spaces without restraint, turning our cities into clones of suburban Texas strip malls.

Doesn’t this seem impossible? Not here. Not us. Never would we allow money to influence our national welfare. Never would we want the Canadian landscape to become an amorphous replica of a shopping mall. But it’s happening. And it’s happening because we are losing track of the very thing that made us who we are, the only thing that gave Canadians any sort of deep national identity. That this is a good place. That good things happen here. As the world eats at itself over petty disagreements and greed and distorted senses of value – we Canadians could always sit up here, supposedly cold and backwards and living in igloos, and chuckle at how ridiculous they all are. We could recognize the subtle difference that made us special.

So with Canada Day approaching, perhaps this is the one thing about being Canadian that we should remember. Not General Montcalm or the Battle of 1812 or powdered wigs; not making the most money or beating the other side at any cost – but that definition of ourselves as people with some common sense living in a good place we want to keep good. If we keep that in mind as we go forward and drop some of these bad new habits, things just might straighten themselves out.

 

I used to love her, but I had to kill her (lament for American politics)

For a long time I was addicted.

It started with CNN. Was sorta like training wheels, an “Intro to Cable News” 100-level beginner’s course that covered all the basics without getting too specific. The major subjects were there, always with the right graphics and flashing lights, but after a few years the Best Political Team On Television just wouldn’t cut it anymore. The waving flags and constant Breaking News exaggerations began to lose their luster. I kept going back for more and kept leaving disappointed, unfulfilled. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, well…well…you know how the joke goes. (ode to W.)

The political fix I was getting from CNN was no longer going to be enough. My cravings had become too strong and I was now too advanced for what this increasingly fluffy network could provide. So I moved onto MSNBC and FOX News, looking for something deeper, a more intense buzz. And it worked. The issues were discussed in finer detail, the opinions more passionate, and there seemed to be an atmosphere of not merely presenting fabricated political theater, but actually caring about the big issues enough to roll up their sleeves and get dirty with it.

And that’s what I needed. That’s why I was devoting so much of myself to the subject of American politics – because it was important. It mattered. The US was the “leader of the free world” so what happened in their political world was worth paying attention to. My appetite for big issues, my desire to be a part of the larger debates affecting our world, all pointed me in the direction of the American political spectrum.

Honestly, who cared what happened in my local city politics? Even my national elections didn’t have any substantial consequences. Things up here would be OK, no matter which way things went. But what happened in the US…now that was big, that mattered.

So I stayed committed. Listened to Air America and watched Keith Olbermann and went to bed with the Daily Show. When I needed my raged stroked, I would watch clips of Bill O’Reilly and Hannity and the other archaic hardliners.

I was fully involved, ready to keep on fighting. And at the peak of my addiction, after the New Hampshire democratic primary, as Barrack Obama gave a roaring piece of poetry dressed as speech, I felt goosebumps over my body and tears swelling in my eyes. It was worth it. My energies had not been wasted. My love had been given to the right place.

And, like millions around the world, I did celebrate. Felt part of history.

But like any buzz, it wears off. Quicker and quicker the more artificial the substance.

The longer I watched and the more I learned, the more I began to see. Soon I began to notice that the talking heads all sounded the same. The pundits brought on as experts all delivered identical talking points. It was always Left vs. Right and us vs. them. As I developed a deeper understanding of the issues, and as I became more immune to the flashy presentation and pumped up rhetoric, a sick and deepening realization came to me…

This is disgusting.

Poverty, war, healthcare, income inequality – issues that are literally life and death for millions of people – being used as taglines for a rehearsed and never-ending cycle of posturing and ulterior motives.

I became and am still horrified.

I realize now that most of you don’t actually care about any of the issues you pretend to represent. You care only about your side. You’re a glorified, self-centered cheerleader. Nothing more.  You bicker like 12 year old siblings and keep vital conversation running in circles while people suffer and die waiting for you to fulfill your obligations of public service.

The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.                                                           –Martin Luther King, Jr.

What may be worse, and who may deserve an even hotter place in eternity, are those who are in a position to help and instead look to their own selfish self-interests.

So I am weaning myself off of your glamour. Yes, I still check-in to Morning Joe, and Rachel Maddow, and Bill Maher, because every addict still longs for a fix and these folks seem to have their heart and heads in the right place.

But I am outgrowing you, US politics. The world is moving forward and you are still running in the same old spot. I still believe you can be great. I still hold on to that hope. But until you shape up, throw out the money, and stop being so goddamn focused on your own petty little bubbles…I have to step away. I just can’t let you do this to me anymore. I will not be a part of it.

Quebec student protests – take the detour and be thankful

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Tolerate the road closures and delays to your schedule. Endure the demonstrations and banging of pots. See past the muddled message and unfocused anger.

Because there is something very important behind these never-ending protests, something that is getting lost in all this right or wrong, us vs them.

The same thing happened during the Occupy protests. Hundreds of thousands in cities around the globe committing themselves to weeks out in the cold in order to say, out loud and to the world, that things are not Ok and this will not do. In light of the recent economic collapse caused by an obviously dysfunctional global system, we should have supported these camping vanguards wholeheartedly, should have given their fight for change our full backing.

But we did not. Instead the minority who welcomed their courage were drowned out by the majority who dismissed them as hippies in tents who should get a job.

Why?

Why so resistant to those giving themselves for a greater good? Why so quick to simplify and categorize?

If we were in the middle of a 20-year run of healthy economy, fair wages, and social justice – then dismissing protesters might be understandable. But clearly we are not. Things are messed up. Structurally, systematically messed up. So supporting those who hit the streets and demand something different should be a given.

Disagree with some of their arguments? Ok that’s cool. But given how glaringly wrong the situation is (growing income inequality; high taxes yet huge debt) and how outdated the solutions are (drilling and fracking in search of oil money; billions for new prisons while cutting education and social programs), the protesters refusal to backdown from “practical” solutions should inspire, not annoy.

The same old ways do not work. And finally somebody is saying so.

Ironically, many of the same people who automatically dislike the protests and who complain that the students are “spoiled” – are probably the same people who comment on the materialism of today’s youth, who shake their heads at kid’s walking around with headphones, texting their lives away. Kid’s today have got it all wrong. It’s not like it used to be.

So what is it that you want?

A detached and apathetic youth too materialistic to care about anything?  Or a passionate, if somewhat irrational, generation willing to take to the streets in defence of what they believe is a greater good?

Which would you prefer? What kind of culture do you want for your children?

We send our kids to school in ever-increasing numbers. We ask them to be well-rounded and learn of the world. Yet when they finally decide to speak up and use this education and broader perspective, why do we so quickly label and dismiss them?

Their youth and immaturity may indeed cause them to occasionally act out of line, but maybe these highly educated young adults can see something that you don’t. Maybe they have a fresh perspective. Maybe they resist seemingly rational solutions because they can see outside of this old bubble we are living in. Maybe, because of just that immaturity that makes them seem so irrational, they can still imagine a system that is different, that does not automatically return to the status quo.

Disagree with some of their opinions? Fine. Condemn some their more aggressive actions? Definitely.

But welcome their passion. Learn from their fresh perspective. And above all else, appreciate their willingness to got out and give a shit.

Because one day an issue may arise that you do care about, one that hits you very close to home and that you are powerless to fight…and when that day comes you will be very glad that you are a part of a culture that cares, that is willing to go out hit the streets.