Clinton vs. George W. – A Review of the Surrey Regional Economic SummitPosted by Jessica Oman
I had a unique opportunity today to attend the Surrey Regional Economic Summit, and while I’m not much for talking politics, protests or musing on the global economy, this was nonetheless a fascinating event. The headline speakers were none other than Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – and who could say no to being allowed to watch their talks from less than 30 feet away?
Before anyone suggests I’m a staunch supporter of either man, let me qualify this review by stating that I was only there because I won a contest. BC Business awarded me my ticket. Curiosity, and the possibility of meeting some of the Lower Mainland’s big cheese, was my motivation for entering that contest.
Certain I would be the only attendee to take transit to the event, I boarded the skytrain at 7:30 am. I decided to take a cab from the station and was glad I did, as the lines of police officers around the hotel were pretty intimidating. My ID was checked four times before I even got to the entrance. Once inside, I waded through a sea of black suits and BlackBerry smartphones and located an empty seat.
The first panel (composed of The Economist’s Senior Editor Pam Woodall and Wall Street Journal Columnist John Fund) was probably the most interesting, but I know that’s not why you’re reading this blog post. So I’ll skip past the clever debates over the global economy, the inspiring talk by the founders of Free the Children, and the expensive catered lunch, to the main event.
Outside the hotel protesters had been in abundance, but by about 1:00 they had mostly dispersed. Nevertheless, it was obvious security inside the building had been ramped up, and stern security personnel guarded every door. When the 42nd and 43rd Presidents of the United States entered the room to loud applause and some cheering, dozens of smartphones were raised in a technological salute as we all vied to capture blurry pictures. Bush opened with a cheeky hockey joke and proceeded to say many things that didn’t completely make sense, while Clinton espoused the virtues of Bush’s father and both men made thought-provoking statements about the current economic uncertainty.
Several quotables can be taken from Surrey Now‘s review of the speeches, so I won’t repeat them here. What I prefer to describe is the mood of the event, which was light, if not slightly contrived. Bush’s jokes met with huge guffaws while Clinton’s musings received multiple rounds of applause. It was all very…nice.
Following the event I asked police how best to leave without having an egg thrown at me, and was directed towards the vehicle exit where the Presidents’ escort vehicles passed right in front of me. A protester screamed loudly at the cars, and then at me simply because I had clearly come from inside. This, I feel, is the problem with so many protesters: they assume that everyone inside whatever building they are protesting in front of is part of an exclusive group, a clique of the wealthy and privileged who somehow schmoozed their way into an event that surely cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands. He was yelling at the wrong girl (and though the price of admission was not cheap at $600 per ticket, anyone with the cash could have had one).
So I decided to stop and chat with protesters while handfuls of black suits swept by and sent strange looks my way (wasn’t she just in there? With us? Surely she’s not one of them). The protesters looked absolutely astonished when I said I had watched the speakers (then why is she talking to us?). Then they demonstrated authentic interest in hearing what I had to say about the event (much more than I can say for most of the people I met inside). I diffused their anger. Maybe they realized that, though the growing gap between the haves and have nots is surely vast, it is possible to bridge, sometimes.
Then I boarded a public transit bus and headed back to the office.
So it turns out: both the 1% and the 99% maintain some ignorance about each other. I spoke to more than one person at the Summit who had actually booked rooms at the hotel the night before because they were so fearful of having to pass by protesters on their way in. Shocking. And I spoke to protesters who seemed surprised that someone who had attended the Summit also wanted to engage in dialogue with them.
We need more people who want to find ways to bridge that gap, constructively and thoughtfully. Then perhaps some meaningful change can take place.