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November 8, 2008 in Social Commentary | Tags: Activism, African American, Barack Obama, Brock University, California, celebration, Central High School, Chicago, civil disobedience, civil rights, Clintons, Costa Rica, diverse, diversity, Earlham Iowa, eco-psychology, election, environmental causes, Facebook, Gretchen Schultz, Guatemala, hatred, Jesse Jackson, Laurie Hollis-Walker, Little Rock Arkansas, Little Rock Nine, Minniejean Brown Trickey, Muir Forest, Oprah Winfrey, Ottawa, peace, Quakers, rascist, redwoods, Spirit Trickey, Temagami, Temagami blockade, Tomas Guindon, Walking with Wolf, wandering, Wendell the Wallaby, wilderness, Wolf Guindon | Leave a comment
What a week! It seems that everything possible has been said about the election of Barack Obama. I follow the celebrations of my friends in phone conversations, by the internet and on Facebook – particularly the Minniejean Brown Trickey family from Little Rock, Arkansas. After a lifetime devoted to civil rights, her work now being carried on by the next generation, Jean must still be whooping and hollering in Little Rock (when not crying for the sheer joy of it all – she’s actually crying below over finally receiving her high school diploma fifty years late in 2007.)
Jean was one of the nine teenagers who stood up to the taunts, jeers and physical abuse of the indignant and racist white crowd in 1957 and desegregated Central High School, a massive tomb of an institution in that otherwise smallish southern city of Little Rock Arkansas. Perhaps my heart explodes in festive fireworks for her more than anyone, she being the personal face I can picture amidst all the happy masses. I saw Jesse Jackson and Oprah Winfrey, tears in their eyes, in the crowd at Obama’s Chicago celebration – but I was thinking about Jean and her daughter Spirit and the rest of their clan in Little Rock and beyond and how they must be feeling.
I was at the 50th celebration of the Little Rock Nine in Arkansas last year and it was an incredible occasion – Obama’s former opponents, the Clintons, front and center – and how much more potent it would have been if they had known then that the next president was going to be an African-American. Jean was one of those who started paving this long road to change that Obama is now promising to continue to remove the barriers from.
Everyone I know personally is revelling in the results of the election, yet I know that there are many who are devastated by the election of Obama. If that is due to their extreme right-wing views, as life-long Republicans, well, fine…that is no different than any other win/lose situation in politics (and I’ve felt that kind of disappointment more times than not.) However, if their devastation is due to racism, that they have a problem with a black man, an African-American, being their leader, then I have no time for that mentality. Get over it. Open your minds. Open your hearts. Erase the hatred and widen your belief system.
Our world is small, beautifully diverse, and needs to be integrated in a peaceful and intelligent way. And equalized. Across races, cultures, genders, sexual orientations, abilities and class. We have no choice. How we can have such wide diversity in thought and desire as such a very real part of our human condition but not respect our differences is perhaps one of the biggest questions I grapple with. Yet sometimes we can’t even come to peaceful decisions with our family or neighbours, those who we know and love. Although I am not a Quaker, there is much of their wisdom that I adhere to naturally – pacifism, consensus, respect, community. Being alive and living communally is a constant challenge. If we proceed with open hearts and minds, and make positive steps forward, with love, in harmony, in health, in peace, we will get a little closer to justice and sanity bit by bit.
It is so refreshing to me to have a leader, anywhere in the world, that I can listen to for more than a minute without wanting to scream. Barack Obama is a magnetic man, a great orator, and wise person – who somehow managed to never lose his cool through the months of stressful politicking. As I continue to follow the analysis of the pundits, I listen to how his sturdiness and strength of mind is already part of his power. And the beauty of the man and his family is only icing on the visual cake that we will now be feasting on for the next four (hopefully eight) years.
On Wednesday, the morning after, I was the visiting activist at my friend Laurie Hollis-Walker’s Eco-Psychology class at Brock University in St. Catherines. Laurie and I became friends on the Temagami blockade in 1989, lost touch until she contacted me several years later to be part of her undergrad thesis she was preparing. She interviewed me, along with ten other participants from the blockade, investigating what had compelled us to be part of this civil disobedience – where we had come from, what had molded us, why we had taken part in the blockade, and what this experience had meant in our lives. It had uniformly been a very profound experience for each of us – as Laurie said, after overseeing all the interviews, we have much in common, mainly the deep belief that we had to take action when we saw injustice. It was a life-intensifying experience for most of us and also introduced me to some of the most committed, colorful, and interesting people I have ever met, many of whom I am still connected with. I believe we are going to have a twenty-year anniversary camp up in the bush of Temagami next September and look forward to reconnecting with those who I have lost contact with.
It was following that profound experience deep in the Temagami wilderness that I went to Costa Rica and, very quickly, met Wolf and started recording his stories. Although I had been involved in environmental and peace causes for years, it was the blockade that really empowered me and, I have to believe, led me to Wolf and the eventual completion of our book.
A year ago, Laurie and I reconnected in cyberspace and she took on the huge task of doing the layout of Walking with Wolf. We have now stayed in much closer contact which has included me being part of her Eco-Psych class. This is her third semester teaching this class that she developed – and my second time sitting in as specimen activist. This time I also did a presentation on the book. I am so proud of Laurie, her hard work and perseverance in following a path that helps others understand what is behind social activism. We are not deviants. We are believers. We are not criminals. We take risks according to what we believe is important and absolutely necessary for the future and well-being of our society and planet. Our power comes from our collective spirit and our firm desire for positive change with a vision, not from material wealth or social status. Laurie is now working on her PhD and studying the activists who have been protecting the redwoods in California for years, a much more aggressive and dangerous activism than what we experienced in Temagami so many years ago.
I also spoke with Wolf and Lucky today. They are at the end of their American sojourn – from Connecticut through Ohio (see Not Only Olney post), Iowa and now they are in California with their son Tomas, his wife Gretchen and their grandson Julian. They head back to Costa Rica on Monday, happy to have been present in the US at the time of this historical election. They were out yesterday in the Muir Forest, those redwoods that Laurie has been visiting. Wolf presented Walking with Wolf to Lucky’s family and their friends in Earlham, Iowa and didn’t have enough books for the demand! Hopefully those who want the book will contact me or Kathryn as is explained in the Buy this Book page of this blog and we will send them. I will be heading to Costa RIca at the end of December (after a couple weeks with friends in Guatemala) and we will work away at getting the book out in Costa Rica. We had a new plan, a renewed sense of hope and lotsa vigor! I know, it’s a tough job but someone has to do it – and that someone would be me – and the Wolf. He’s been selling so well that I have to ship more boxes down. Watch out Ticolandia! Wolf is coming home.
There is no comparison between anything I have ever done to what people like Barack Obama, Jean Trickey, Laurie Hollis-Walker or Wolf Guindon have accomplished against all odds, but I inherently understand and respect how sincere and correct their commitment has been for a better world and a more just society. I am honored and blessed to have known these people (well, not Barack of course, but maybe one day…) who have made big differences in the world and influenced so many others by the constance of their actions and the strength of their beliefs and the rightness of their vision. Perhaps, in the wake of this incredible election, the rugged path followed by some will widen into a wide boulevard filled with strong loving souls, leading us toward a more just and inclusive world.
And just an update on Wendell the Wallaby, the marsupial who walked up a fallen tree trunk and out of his enclosure in a small animal park near Ottawa, Ontario. Before the snow falls, this poor creature better get home to his woolies cause it’s a dangerous world for a wallaby out there. It has actually been a very mild week here in central Canada and I’m sure that is helping his survival. He has hopped his way across the fields far from Ottawa – almost to where my pals live in Westport – uh? remember the coyote gang? - but the most recent sightings have been back near Ottawa. He has wandered across hundreds of miles, kilometers, whatever you want to measure in. A long long way. For some reason, in this week of global elation and history-making politics, I remain highly concerned with the well-being of Wendell. Perhaps I see some symbolism in this innocent creature out there in the world, lost, no doubt scared, but obviously determined to get somewhere. Maybe he is representative of all those folks who have found themselves wandering in a strange world, trying to survive on their natural instincts and with their own strengths, only to be more lost and less powerful with each mile they travel but always with the possibility that they will make it home. Or maybe I’m just a wannabe-wallaby who has spent the last week worried over the fate of our world and who would be the next American president, and Wendell has provided a distraction from the bigger issues as well as titulated my gypsy blood. Now that the president is taken care of, and the Lucky Wolf is almost back in Monteverde, come on, Wendell, get on home.