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It happened in the spring of 1973, forty years ago, during the bright days of my baptism into what passed for radical politics in Vancouver. I was still in high school then, and a frequenter of the original Spartacus Books on East Hastings Street, when it was still a hangout for genuine and seasoned revolutionaries who were familiar with jails and the blows of a cop’s baton: old Wobblies, Dirty Thirties labor organizers, and diehard Communists. That’s where I met Gerry. He was barely thirty but looked a lot older, maybe because of the way he stood apart from all the comfy politicos and professional talkers by the searing witness in his eyes that required no words. Gerry shunned the babble and bullshit, and kept mostly to himself. But he took to me right away.
Maybe the man saw something in me, perhaps even some of what I myself would endure one day. But for whatever reason, Gerry latched on to me like he was to be my personal tutor in the things that matter.
One evening at Spartacus Books, after an especially pointless round of acrimony at the Collective meeting, Gerry hauled me off to the White Lunch, a local greasy spoon that was home mostly to folks on the way down. And there over clam chowder, Gerry talked to me about his father.
“He never told me too much about what happened. I was still just a kid back then, in the fifties. But McCarthyism was all over Canada too, in those days. If you’d ever been a Red or even gone to a rally or protest meeting once, bang, you’d be out of your job, like that. Then nobody’d give you the time of day, starting with your friends and family.
“Well, Dad was a party leader; he’d been so ever since the thirties. So he got targeted big time. The Feds never let up on him, and not just ‘cause he was a communist. Dad knew some secret shit about the government, and they knew he knew. So he lost his job at McGill University lecturing in philosophy, even though he had tenure. After that, he couldn’t get any kind of work, anywhere.”
Gerry was a big guy who’d worked on the Vancouver waterfront, but I remember that just then his eyes moistened and he blinked back the tears. “We lost our home and had to move into a real dive. But even then they wouldn’t stop. All the neighbors treated us like criminals. They scrawled shit on our walls and spread garbage on the steps. Somebody even lit our place on fire one night. Even people we’d known for years dumped us. The Mounties were spreading lies about Dad everywhere, telling our landlords he was a Russian spy and a drug dealer. We’d always end up getting evicted. It got so bad that even the other kids at school took turns working me over, calling me a dirty Commie and a traitor.
“I was just ten years old, man, but even then I could see it was all being orchestrated to destroy us. They just never let up.” I ignored my soup and kept nodding, as if I understood. But Gerry didn’t seem to notice me, or anything, as he poured out his litany. “My Mom and Dad were strong together, but finally it got too much even for her. She took me and my brothers back to her folks’ place in Toronto when things got really bad and we had no food anymore. I think that’s what crushed Dad the most, losing us like that. His three kids, just gone. He sort of spiraled down after that. I tried writing to him but he never answered much. He got sick a lot. I heard he was reduced to delivering newspapers and working in a deli under a fake name, this aging guy with a Ph.D. and a brain like Einstein.”
Gerry paused and tried eating the soup. I didn’t say anything for a while, but then I asked him, “You said your dad knew stuff about government secrets...” Gerry nodded and set down his spoon, staring at me with his hard grey eyes. A shadow seemed to pass over him, and he said more quietly, “He found out some Nazi doctors were working at McGill in the medical labs, and he started probing into it. Turns out they were regular SS guys straight outta Auschwitz. Brazen bastards even showed him their SS tattoos. That was during the height of that CIA mind-control experimental shit, around 1955 or so. Dad was the first guy to write about that stuff going on at McGill and at the Cameron Institute, long before it ever came out. I heard him talking about it to Mom one night. Dad wrote to the University about it, and to some newspapers. And that’s when all the trouble started for us.” Gerry paused and glanced around before leaning closer to me and muttering, “I’ll tell you something. All that red-baiting shit they threw at him, that was just the cover story, you know, the excuse they needed to destroy Dad and discredit him so what he uncovered wouldn’t go anywhere. ‘Cause he knew their secrets.”
“So what happened to your father?” I asked. Gerry didn’t answer me at first. The forlorn, down and out east Hastings crowd shuffled around us as if to illustrate Gerry’s tale. I was going to let it lie when he spoke again, with a voice from the grave. “They say he killed himself. I never believed it. Dad was strong, like a bull. More guts than you can imagine. But who knows? The thing is, we couldn’t piece together anything after he was gone. All of his notes and journals, they all vanished. Not a trace. And nobody at the university would ever talk about him. He was just erased.”
Gerry and I sat in the White Lunch over our soup as the sounds from the street and the bustling cafe rose and fell. Finally, he said as an afterthought, or maybe a benediction, “You know something? I lost my dad even before he died. The bastards took him right out, and everybody stood by and let it happen. But that doesn’t matter now, you know? ‘Cause with all that shit he went through, he gave me something priceless. Something I couldn’t understand, until later. Until now.”
Years ago, I was officially erased from Canadian society. But somehow, I’m still here—at least the part of me that wasn’t killed off. People know to avoid me; Canadians have a special knack for maneuvering around controversy, forgetting that it is the source of civic life, and themselves. But still, it’s odd to be seen as a cardboard character, molded from the fears of the crowd, and never really heard, or seen.
I’ve learned to live in such isolation, exactly as if I were a prisoner in solitary. But one day—and here’s the magic—despite the murderous plan aimed at me, I learned that I was not in isolation at all; in truth, I had simply been set apart from the madness I once knew in order to learn my real purpose.
I can’t know whether Gerry’s father ever learned the secret that I have acquired. If I could, I’d summon the old rebel from his grave to share the truth that perhaps the long nights taught him, too: that only from our consecrated lifeblood do we unhinge the doors to a new world that would have stayed forever closed without our suffering. And I would show Gerry that it is our very unanswered hopes, and all of the torture, that becomes, in the end, our victory—and the downfall of the liars and the lie. We become changed, and become a doorway for others to pass through, to something more than the life less than life in which we all wallow. Eventually, that secret is all that is left to those like Gerry’s dad and me, when every intimacy and helping arm is burned away. And after every betrayal and desertion, the world loses all of its answers so that the real gods can arrive.
“How powerless and stupid are those men who have to kill us!”
Shortly before she was killed by a political assassin in 1991, my Colombian friend Anna Maria wrote to me with the words, “How powerless and stupid are those men who have to kill us! By such desperate deeds, they are saying that they have lost, and that we have won!”
The real victory happens as a mystery, when we become the truth that we have revealed at the apparent cost of everything. From treading that empty road, we finally become the path by which our remnant people endure. A new pulse enters the cosmos just then, and the miracle appears: the criminals in high places become powerless, regardless of their apparent might, and they collapse in front of us. It’s happening as you read this, in as mighty and unlikely a crumbling fortress as the Vatican. And then as the mighty topple from their thrones, they and their servants can only flog at us in their rage, and thereby announce their defeat.
To learn this secret from our own lived sacrifice, which is the only way we can learn it, is to gain a great power in this world that nothing and no one can hinder. Something like immortality sprouts in us. But only those who have gone through the fire can ever learn this power, and have it become their own fiber and substance. Some people call that a resurrection. Maybe. But I see it mostly as being tenacious and resilient beyond explanation.
As for most of the rest of you: well, long experience has taught Gerry’s father and me that after all your words and sentiments, you’ll still remain immobilized, confused, and afraid, since you haven’t undergone our death. Consciously or not, you’re hoping to hitch a ride out of this madness on the backs of somebody or other, who will have blazed the path for you. I wish I could tell you that it works that way, but it doesn’t. I would carry you all into the Promised Land if I could, but that would mean that I could also carry you out again.
I only saw Gerry one more time after that day in the White Lunch, at some protest rally beyond memory. I think he sensed that it would be our final time together, since he was heading back to Montreal, maybe to face his ghosts. For after people were dispersing, he gazed at all the banners and placards, and at the tall and cold office towers, and then he turned to me and said with a genuine smile, “None of this shit ever gets any better, you know? And I can’t say I’ve ever done a lot to change the world. But at least I didn’t let the bastards change me.”
Rev. Kevin Annett, the author of “Hidden No Longer: Genocide in Canada Past and Present” (available for reading in its entirety at www.hiddennolonger.com), was in Duluth, MN, early in 2012, presenting the disturbing story of his attempts to tell the hidden story of the genocide of aboriginal children in Canada (and his related banishment from Canadian society). His stay in Duluth included a showing of his award-winning documentary “Unrepentant” at the Zinema Theater, a taping with sociology professors at UMD, an interview on “People of Color with Henry Banks,” and an address at the Lake Superior Freethinkers meeting, as well as several gatherings at area churches.
The story of the current legal status of the evidence for crimes against humanity and genocide can be obtained at the website of the International Tribunal into Crimes of Church and State, www.itccs.org.
For more on the background on Rev. Annett’s decades-long repression and banishment by powerful organizations such as the United Church of Canada, the MacMillan Bloedel timber company, the Roman Catholic Church, the Vatican, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Canadian government, please view the documentary about the crimes and cover-ups of the genocide of aboriginal children in Canada by Googling “unrepentant hidden from history,” or simply watching the documentary at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88k2imkGIFA.