Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Pelerin Speaks with Al Gore

Taking my cue from fellow Haitian blogger Alice B, who capitalized on an opportunity to meet Ted Turner last year, I did not hesitate when the opportunity to sit down with former Vice President Al Gore arose during his recent visit to Washington DC to testify in front of congress. As reporters from DC area stations and other prominent northeast officials waited their turn to meet with Mr. Gore, I took full advantage of the 30minutes allotted and turned it into a 2hr conversation.

We began with some easy chatter as Mr. Gore gave me some tips on my recent campaign for President of the Caribbean. He was very adamant about reminding me about the importance of winning Haiti, a solemn reminder about his inability to carry his home state of Tennessee during his own Presidential campaign in 2000. Mr. Gore offered some tips about withstanding the latest bout of mudslinging by my opponents, who have been implying in the media that I attended a primary school in Haiti where the pupils were instructed in the principles of Vodou. While I did attend primary courses in Haiti until the age of five, they were not a “Hoodoo academy” as one tabloid recently suggested. Our conversation appeared teetering on the brink of a finale as we assayed this topic, surely most unfortunate turn of events if this were the case because I hoped to engage Mr. Gore on where the Caribbean fit into his global warming agenda. Since we share a hemisphere with the United States, this nation’s reliance on oil and other inefficient energy sources that are damaging the environment are surely having an impact on the air/flora and fauna of the Caribbean as well. The region has already been hampered by unfair trade provisions that make it harder for farmers to make a living, a harsh reality that only makes one wonder how Caribbean farmers will survive in a climate system that vacillates between flood inducing torrential downpours and droughts.

Of course one cannot smoothly jump from talking about Voodoo academies to Caribbean environmental issues without an apt segue. In an attempt at conjuring up a subject that was sure to draw my host’s interests and hopefully abscond with a few more minutes of his time, I leaned into him and said, “Isn’t it ironic that seven years ago you were lampooned by the news-and-media for saying that you invented? However, now every politician and corporate giant has taken credit for some web innovation. Think about it, everyone credits Howard Dean with bringing blogging into politics, when it was in fact the other way around, politics brought Howard Dean into blogging.”

Mr. Gore turned red and I thought that I surely had touched a nerve. A vein cascaded across his forehead like a bolt of lightning and his hands appeared on the verge of crushing each other as he squeezed one into the other.

“Brother Pelerin,” he said, leaning forward toward me as if he were about to share an intimate secret, “I don’t get credit for a lot of things. And that’s the first and most important lesson you better learn about politics.”

I was struck by this momentary departure from the calm borderline glib persona that Mr. Gore has crafted since that Presidential bid. Not knowing where to proceed from this venture in our conversation, I just let fly, “you know Mr. Gore, speaking of not getting credited, no one ever credits Haitians for inventing blogging.”

Yes, we get tons of credit as the first Free Black Republic in the west, but no one ever speaks about how “blogging is a computerized version of a Haitian vernacular pastime of the same name.”

Most of you probably have the same incredulous face that Mr. Gore had during our conversation, but seriously, go into any Carrefour in Cap Haitien, Jacmel or Port au Prince (you could also add Boston, Miami or New York) and ask a Haitian person how long have Haitians been blogging, and they’ll definitely say, “for centuries.” Similar to this web 2.0 phenomenon of reporting, the Haitian form of blogging is a story-telling tradition that sometimes includes news updates, but often times consists of humorous tales and gossip that you’d find on a site such as Dallaspenn.com.

Mr. Gore found this topic somewhat captivating and prodded me to continue. Realizing that it was clear that I had him on the hook, I proceeded on with this tale before luring him into an inconvenient truth about the environmental crisis in the United States and that is that Caribbean nations have been bearing the withstanding the worst of the damage caused by this nation’s faulty environmental planning. Soccer moms in Orange County and Aunties in Kingston are wrestling with very similar, but with very dissimilar means of garnering support and attention to their plights.

As we concluded our meeting and shook hands, I asked Mr. Gore that once I am elected President of the Caribbean will he come tour our island-states and be as adamant in sharing the wealth that has afforded him the opportunity to carry out this mission with activists on our islands. Then I asked him to promise me even if I am not elected President he will still make this trip.



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