Monday, September 22, 2014

Peace Arch Revisited

Although the sentiment since the end of The War of 1812 has been "May These Gates Never Be Closed," you can see in the background the construction of a reinforced crossing on the U.S. side.
I’d visited Peace Arch during a trip to promote Driven into the Shade back in 2006, and I remembered it as a special place: a big grassy meridian with a concrete arch on the border that said, “May These Gates Never Close.” Those words meant a lot to me because I’ve watched the park on the international border near where I live shut tight. Given the recent changes at Friendship Park/Plaza de Amnistad on the Mexico-U.S. Border, I wanted to revisit Peace Arch this year to resupply my hope.
A crowd gathers on the Mexico side to participate in communion with Rev. John Fanestil on the U.S. side.

When Pat Nixon had dedicated Friendship Park in 1971, she shook hands over the waist-high fence. Years later, that fence was replaced with a metal-grate wall. Still, we met occasional  to play music, picnic and read poems across the border.

Then in 2006, Congress suspended the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Act (both signed by President Nixon), so Homeland Security could build a double fence along with a fenced pen in the middle so U.S. citizens with I.D. could speak for a half hour at certain times of the week. No more interlacing fingers through the steel mesh, no more taking communion (essentially the same rules for visitors at the prisons a couple miles down the fence). Using sign language and parabolic discs, we still managed to speak across the increasing distance. (

On my second trip to Peace Arch, I noticed a Border Patrol SUV in the parking lot on the U.S. side of the park, but there was no fence, just a woman and two little boys, presumably a mother and her sons. They walked across the park and kept going until they went into a house in the Douglas on the British Columbia side of the park.

Looking north, we can see The Peace Arch reads, "Children of a Common Mother."
The Peace Arch is not just a sentiment. It’s a memorial to the 100 years of peace following the War of 1812, which officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in 1814. In 1914, Samuel Hill, a road builder and Quaker philanthropist, led the effort to commemorate the century of peace. Besides “May These Gates Never Be Closed,’ the Peace Arch also features the inscriptions, “Children of a Common Mother” and “Brethren Dwelling Together in Unity.” Could we do something like this in the south?

Besides Hill’s backing, Peace Arch has enjoyed the ongoing and evolving support of others. In 1931, school children from Washington and British Columbia raised money to expand the park from 7 acres to 40. Many other groups have made contributions, including the Kiwanis Club of Vancouver. In a pavilion constructed of the six kinds of wood from the region, I sat down at a table dedicated in 1947 by the International Peace Memorial Association. The acoustics were good for practicing poems. Berries grew along western edge of the park. I started walking north along the coast and eventually came to the band shell in White Rock. What a bunch of cool spots to write, workshop & perform poems, I thought.

In this season of bicentennial of peace, I've thought about trying to get poets from the Americas to meet someplace where the lines don't overlap as much as they grow wide, so that differences are not out of sight. The "dominion" of both Canada and the U.S. are articulated in plaques around the park. The treaty to leave the border unfortified by soldiers or forts is becoming a thing of the past.The War of 1812 gave way to The Peace of 1814. Friendship endures despite the security measures, but future generations will probably not know what it felt like to meet at the border with family and friends.

 Links to news items about Francis Scott Key penning the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner" have been appearing online, but the song doesn't mean what it once meant. What song does? History messes with the groove. Since the fall of The Berlin Wall, my country has rebuilt it many times over for "security," but the more cage-like protection becomes, the less safety felt. I'll take the relative peace of Peace Arch over "The Star-Spangled Banner," which is also a collaboration a bi-national collaboration with Key's lyrics and a melody borrowed from a British drinking song.I'd rather have Friendship Park back along with a new policies that admit NAFTA has exacerbated immigration and counter-insurgency training of Latin American armies at WHINSEC has not made millions of undocumented immigrants feel like life south of the U.S. border was worth it. As Micheal Corleone says, "Keep your friends close, your enemies closer."

So give me baseball season, a beer and a song. I'd rather keep the peace where we used to find it. But if all we have is beer and music, play on.

Sing "Anacreon" Again

First-pitch politics
we stand with foamy schooners--
bombs bursting in beer.