Momentous Momentum Conference

I had a memorable experience a couple of weeks ago in San Francisco at the stimulating Momentum Conference, produced by the Tides Foundation.

Momentum gathered activists, philanthropists, and intelligentsia, drawn primarily by the call to consider strategies for solutions around the most challenging issues of the times, in light of the looming leadership change in the White House. The brainchild of Tides founder and CEO Drummond Pike (also board chair of the Endswell Foundation and a founding board member of Tides Canada Foundation), Momentum was patterned on the renowned TED and Idea City conferences, all with a progressive agenda focus.

I was asked to share my experience with the Canadian health care system as it related to my November 2007 kidney transplant. The idea was to help raise the profile of the national health care agenda and help debunk some of the negative propaganda about Canada. It was a moment to tie my health diagnosis 30 years ago, to my choice of life purpose, and to give a sketch of the work of Renewal.

My carefully planned talk was redesigning itself and eventually falling into disarray as I listened to a series of brilliant speakers before me. Following Stephen Lewis, one of Canada's greatest orators, was both a great honour and a wonderful opportunity for humility and learning. From the moment I’d seen who was speaking before me, I knew that Ambassador Lewis would have the audience spell bound and far beyond their comfort zones. Hearing him speak is always a priority for me.

Stephen's remarks instantly ripped open our hearts. He gave a litany of statistics about sexual violence being perpetrated against women as a war tactic. He went through country after country, war after war, including Iraq and Afghanistan. He implored us to demand our nations halt their silent complicity.

For 18 minutes the images and facts poured forth almost as fast as he could speak. Most of the room was stunned and in tears.

Upon conclusion to a resounding standing ovation, Drummond wisely called for a period of silence. The outrage and horror of the wealthiest and most powerful nations on earth standing by and for the most part ignoring these atrocities, sunk into our souls.

"I'm glad the next speaker is my friend, because he has no choice but to come on up to the podium and be the next presenter."

With that slight break of the tension in the room, the reality of the situation settled into me enough and I stood up and walked on stage.