Though I still feel young (most days anyway), I'm old enough to remember Pierre Trudeau. Not only remember, but respect him as one of the few true political leaders of the 20th century. My feeling about him was confirmed a few years ago when I attended my first and only men's gathering in southern Oregon, and a man there shared this story.
We were born the same month, graduated from high school the same year, and initially took a deferment to attend college and escape the draft and Vietnam. Up to that point, the United States was scooping up the hundreds of thousands of young men it was sending to 'Nam from the ranks of the poor and Black.
The next year, 1971, Nixon abolished the college deferment and we were all thrown into the life-or-death, kill or be killed lottery. If you drew a low number (the cutoff was about 100 as I recall), you either went to 'Nam, went to jail, or went to Canada. I made plans to emigrate to Canada from my native state of Michigan if I was unlucky in the draw.
Though I had great-grandparents from Quebec, and had been to Montreal and loved it, my plans were to drive the five hours to Toronto with my best friend, who was born on the same day. Our number was 279. It's not something you ever forget.
My conservative parents gave no support. In fact, the worst thing my father ever said to me was a few years after the war was over. "Your problem," he said, "is that you didn't go into the service." "If I had," I replied, "I would have gone to Vietnam, and come back either in a body bag, as a killer, or crazy.")
The scuttlebutt was that 'draft dodgers' (as young men who refused to have their lives destroyed in that 'war of choice' were labeled) wouldn't be turned back at the border. The Canadian policy came from the top, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
The fellow at the men's gathering, who was born and raised in Portland, drew a low number. When his time ran out, drove north to British Columbia.
At the crossing, the border guard asked him the usual question: "What is your purpose in coming to Canada?"
"To escape the draft and Vietnam," my friend said truthfully. The border agent held his gaze for some fateful seconds before replying, "Welcome to Canada." In Vancouver he was told that Trudeau had instructed border guards across the country to let Americans fleeing the war into Canada.
I recall this story not to wax nostalgic about my youth, or Pierre Trudeau, but because American women seeking an abortion in anti-abortion states now face the same cruel dilemma.
The Supreme Court has thrown the United States back into the dark ages by overturning a 50-year constitutional right to an abortion before viability of the fetus.
A female friend told me yesterday that Canada has opened its borders to women needing an abortion. Like during Vietnam however, that's fine for mostly white women with the money and time to travel. But what about the millions of poor, Black and Hispanic women who don't have the means to travel?
The half the states that are telling even rape and incest victims they must carry to term are trying to erect (pardon pun) legal and other barriers to prevent them from leaving anyway.
The zeitgeist in the United States is far worse now than when I was young, even during the chaotic, polarized days of the Vietnam War.
Not just because of the despicable abortion ruling, imperiling the lives of countless women and girls. Rather, because this nation lost its soul three decades ago, which is the real cause of the division, hatred, violence and fascism that are inescapable even along the West Coast.
If the hideous Supreme Court ruling on abortion isn't enough, then more rulings, such as the latest one, tying the Environmental Protection Agency's hands behind its back in dealing with climate change, attest to the direction the USA is taking.
Though it's been decades since I've thought in terms of countries, I'll continue to raise my voice and address the root causes of the malevolence and malignancy that have beset the land of my birth. In any case America, including California, can no longer lead in a true way.
I live at the southern terminus of the Cascade Range, within sight of Lassen Volcanic Peak. Mount Meager, three hours from Vancouver, forms the northernmost point of the Cascades.
California north of Redding is Trump country, but what people call Cascadia encompasses British Columbia, Washington and Oregon.
Inwardly alive human beings are facing the end of man, the old species and consciousness. Can something of profound significance to the future of humanity begin in British Columbia? I'm going to find out.
Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue. firstname.lastname@example.org
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