By Doug Draper
What a difference a decade can make in the lives of two great neighbouring nations.
It was 10 years ago this Canada Day that my family and I crossed the Peace Bridge from our home in Niagara, Ontario for a trip to a suburb around Washington D.C. We were on our way down to visit some fellow Canadian friends of ours who have been living and working down there to this day, and whose two daughters were born in and are therefore citizens of the United States.
When we arrived, the front of our friends’ home was decorated with Canadian and American flags, and we settled in for a few days of celebrating both countries that, by mere chance, included a visit to the floor of the U.S. Senate on the Fourth of July.
That’s right. There my friend Peter and I were, dripping with water after running through sprinklers on the lawns of the Capitol building on a day so hot, dozens of people were collapsing from exhaustion. We walked up the flights of white marble steps to the main doors of the Capitol building where we asked the only two security guards we could see if there was still time, before closing, to take a little tour of the inside.
They said ‘sure’ and while tens-of-thousands of people were gathering on the mall outside for Fourth of July concerts and fireworks, here we were wandering the halls of this iconic government building all by ourselves where we found our ways to the empty floor of the Senate chambers, sat at the desks of some of our favourite senators (I picked Ted Kennedy’s) where we shouted out some of their best-known lines. “The cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die,” were among the words I stole from Senator Kennedy before also stealing away with a half-used pencil from his desk.
I thought about that romp through the Capitol building on my way back home to Canada, wondering if I could ever imagine (as free and as open as our country was at the time) having the same exclusive access to our Parliament building. I thought about it again, 14 months later, in the hours following the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001, when I was finally able to get through, by phone, to Peter in his Washington news office. I said to him at the time; ‘Remember when we wandered through those ‘halls of congress’ all by ourselves? We’ll never be able to do that again.” And to this day, at least, it is so unfortunately true.
No more stealing pencils off my favourite senator’s desks, not that poor old Teddy is around any more to care.
We often hear the line; “Everything changed after 9/11,” and to the extent it has, it has mostly been for the worse. Check out almost any poll in Canada and the United States and see, compared to a decade ago, how much respect people have lost for our politicians and institutions, and the corporations that are now, more or less, running the world.
Then there is the fear – the constant fear of another terrorist attack, the fear that the economy will be hit by yet another meltdown and we will lose our jobs and homes, the relentless reports of violence and scandals we are bombarded with through the news, and on and on.
Here in Ontario, late this past June, there were the surreal images of hooligans clad in black, torching police cruisers and smashing windows through the streets of Toronto, while police dressed in riot gear moved in on crowds of rowdies and people gathering peacefully too, to raise concerns about world hunger, health care, climate change and other issues during the G20 summit.
Meanwhile, the G20 leaders, including Canada’s prime minister and the U.S. president, were inside a fenced off convention centre security forces called “the cage,” rubberstamping deals that had been drafted by thousands of faceless, non-elected bureaucrats in their countries before the summit even began, which should make us all wonder who is really running our countries and where the democracy part comes in.
While my friend Peter and I were hiking around Washington a decade ago, we also visited what was then the relatively new memorial site for the late U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On one wall at this site where inscribed the words from an inaugural address Roosevelt delivered on “four freedom,” including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and last but not least, freedom from fear.
Will the day ever come again when we can live in freedom from the level of fear that has dragged us down so far since 9/11? Let’s hope so.
To our American neighbours, here is wishing you all a peaceful Fourth of July, free from fear.
(Click on Niagara At Large at www.niagaraatlarge.com for more news and commentary of matters of interest and concern to our binational Niagara region.)