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Our first two days on the road to the Peoples' Social Forum

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Chief Judy Wilson

Last night, the "On to Ottawa" Caravan finished its second day by reaching Calgary. Along the road, we've joined gatherings and protests on our way to Ottawa.

On the way out of Metro Vancouver, we had an important first stop to make at Langley's Walnut Grove Lutheran Church. Jose Figueroa lives within the church, relying on sanctuary as he fights for the right to stay in Canada with his wife and his three Canadian-born children. A 17-year resident of Langley, Jose has been a pillar of the community. He's a hard-working, generous family man who always seems to be in good spirits. But, for the last several years, Jose has lived under the threat of deportation thanks to Canada's anti-terrorism laws.

Group shot of Jose, his family, and some of the Caravaners

More than twenty years ago, Jose was a young student in his native El Salvador. At the time, his home was ruled by a brutal military dictatorship, who resorted to torture and murderour death squads in an effort to maintain control. Despite the risks, many young Salvadorans stood tall in opposition to the regime. It was reminiscent of the World War 2 French Resistance movement. During this struggle, the Frente Farabundo Martí de Liberación Nacional (FMLN) was formed as an umbrella group, uniting a wide variety of people against the dictator. Jose's only crime was bravery; he helped the FMLN by organising his fellow students.

Jose and his banner.

Ultimately, the FMLN's struggle was successful. The regime was kicked out of power and a parliamentary democracy was established. The FMLN now sits as the country's elected government. Despite this, western governments who supported the dictator have wrongly classified the FMLN as a terrorist group. Therefore, anybody who had a past association with the FMLN is considered to have terrorist links and is subject to deportation. I suppose that the Axis governments must have considered the French Resistance a terrorist group as well. Harper, yet again, has proven that he cares about his conservative ideology more than the hardships imposed on Canadian families.

Our next two stops were at protests outside the constituency offices of Conservative members of parliament. The first of these was at the office of Mark Strahl, Conservative MP for Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon. There, we joined with members of the Pipe Up Network, who have been raising awareness about the Kinder Morgan Pipeline and other environmental causes. These protests have been a major theme of the trip so far. Every community seems to have a different reason to get rid of Harper, and each reason is important.

Protest outside Mark Strahl's office

We then paid a visit to Cathy McLeod's constituency office in the Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo riding. Residents of the area are trying to prevent the opening of an Ajax mine on the hillside immediately above the city. The proposed mine would require a larger tailings pond than the one at Mount Polley, which recently burst its bank causing an environmental disaster. Governments at every level have weakened the regulations that once ensured the safety of heavy industry, and gutted the budgets of enforcement agencies. Yet another reason to kick Harper out of office is to prevent more environmental disasters like Mount Polley.

Outside Cathy McLeod's office.

The most exciting stop of the day came last. While driving towards our rest stop at Shuswap Lake, we stumbled across the Secwepemc Summer Gathering: a feast and powwow hosted at the Neskonlith Band Hall. The Neskonlith Band recently set an important precedent by evicting the company responsible for the Mount Polley disaster, Imperial Metals, from their territory. Ever since Europeans first arrived in the "new" world, governments have been evicting indigenous populations from any land that could be exploited by big business. It's well past time that we recognise who truly owns this land: the people who have inhabited it for more than 10,000 years.

Secwepemc Powwow

We hadn't expected to stop for more than a few minutes, but instead found ourselves enjoying the hospitality of the Secwepemc people (also known in the English tongue as the Shuswap). Each person we met welcomed us with open arms, offering delicious food and requesting nothing in return. Such hospitality has become far too rare in this capitalist world, where greed is rewarded and basic human generosity has been left behind. While at the powwow, we had an opportunity to discuss the evection with Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson. She kindly agreed to an interview, so we were able to record her thoughts and will bring them with us to Ottawa. Along with Chief Wilson, we also discussed the situation with Mike Arnouse and Steve Basile, two knowledgable elders who shared their insights about a wide variety of issues facing their people, both present and historical, with a focus on efforts to protect their environment. An eventful first day was in the books.

Chief Judy Wilson

The following morning, we set off for Calgary. As we crossed Kicking Horse Pass in the Rockies, I was again reminded of the original trekkers. A sign on the side of the road pointed out the spiral tunnels. In these two 900-meter-long railroad tunnels, the trekkers were forced to breathe through handkerchiefs and rags, trying to filter the thick coal smoke. Two days may seem like a leisurely pace, but it took the trek several weeks to reach the same point. They made stops at each town along the way, building solidarity with local residents, and scraping together enough food so they could sustain themselves for the next leg of their journey.

Upon arrival in Calgary, we paid a visit to Steven Harper’s constituency office, bringing news of Jose's struggle as well as his banner, which made the trip all the way from Langley.

Jose's banner outside Harper's office

Before leaving Harper’s office, Jen Castro gave him the gift of a magnet based upon the "Witness" project, slipping it under the door to his office. Hopefully, it'll help Harper to see the common bonds between all the people and animals of this land, and to stop disregarding the needs of every living creature that is not wealthy. Words of wisdom and respect surround the eyes, so maybe Harper will use those words to help change his vocabulary. On second thought, maybe not. Disrespect and intolerance toward the people of Canada seem to be a firmly rooted part his character, balanced by his deep respect and support for the interests of big business, regardless of whether those businesses work in the interests of the nation.

Jen Castro gives a "Witness" magnet to Harper

These magnets will be available for purchase by donation (starting at $10) at each stop we make along the road. They'll also be available at the Peoples' Social Forum. Proceeds go towards our continued efforts to fund travel to Ottawa for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend the Forum, as well as gas money for those of us already on the road. 

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