Life of Carmen, Politics & Activism, Uncategorized

My life in Surrey

I remember when I first heard about the massive highway-expansion project called Gateway, five years back. My immediate reaction was physical, a hot blush of outrage, like in the cartoons when the red flag is waved in front of the bull. I sputtered – “that’s…not…happening!” And i knew then and there that i could not live with myself unless i did everything in my power to oppose it. But I had no idea that it would go on for so long. Or that I would end up spending so much of my life…in Surrey.

At first, it was all about me. My neighbourhood, my streets, my parks, my people. I focused here in East Van, and I talked to my friends, and we threw some great parties and started trying to spin alliances. After a couple of years I did some campaign work around Gateway with The Wilderness Committee, and people like Joy Foy cheered me on (and even paid me!) – and they told me the very last thing I wanted to hear: that this fight would ultimately go down in Delta and Surrey, and that’s where I had to be.

Good god.


At the time I had only been to Surrey once, and all I knew about it were the jokes. And now I know that it’s true — there are some godawful malls and developments within that enormous municipality. Of course. But there is much more than that. There are also wetlands larger than Stanley Park, with rare red-legged frogs and birds and shrews in them. And there is farmland and forests, and fishing wharves, and tight little communities.

And all those little communities are full of amazing warriors, who are thinking way beyond “property values” – they are thinking about the trees and the local schoolkids and the marshland and the salmon. They are thinking about the frikin planet. And they are tired of being told it is “not their issue” and its a “done deal,” and that this will improve their drive time so they should just shut up and swallow it. Right about now, they are mad as hell and not gonna take it any more.

For me, Gateway is all about borders and false borders. Its about the illusion of separation. Its about how “we” are led to believe that it is really only about “them” on the other side of the river, whoever “they” happen to be – hypnotized, complacent trailer-trash suburbanites or overprivileged latte-sipping East Van hippie/yuppies. It’s about how we are sold those stereotypes so that we can use them to prop up our pathetic little inadequacies, so that we can be further exploited and sold more stereotypes – more cars, more flat-screen tv’s, more…alienation. It is about the manufacture of alienation, the divide-and-conquer by corporate/political forces – the deliberate creation of the illusion of separation. It is evil and it pisses me off. We breathe the same air and we live in the same world. We are all one and the wilderness is everywhere, and we will rise or fall together.

So now, after all these years of remarking on how much Gateway SUCKS, I feel a mounting sense excitement about this struggle. It is epic in every sense. Every day now I meet new superheroes, and they are students and faith leaders, first nations folk and engineers and academics, some (very brave) elected officials, longtime enviros and complete newbies, urbanites and suburbanites and farmers and artists and business people and general all-purpose freaks. I am humbled and inspired and very amused. They all get it, and some of them want to lie down in front of bulldozers.

And it doesn’t matter to me really, what “happens” in the end – I can visualize victory, but I won’t waste my time in speculation. I don’t know what will happen, but I do know what is happening. I know that all the false borders are dissolving, as we begin to see that what we have in common, and what we stand to lose. It is thrilling to see the differences finally put aside when the big picture looms into view. I know that the matrix – the crippling illusion of separation – is eroding. And when that dissolves, finally and inevitably – we win.

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