[Marxism] Young islander returns from war zone with hope for better world

Ken Hiebert knhiebert at shaw.ca
Thu Oct 29 16:55:22 MDT 2015

Published in Island Tides, which is distributed on the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island.
				ken h


Anyone who meets Cody Bergerud, a 26-yearold who has lived all his life on a Salt Spring sheep farm, will probably take an immediate liking to him. To talk to, he is personable, outgoing, extremely polite, and has a special quality that signals great compassion and benevolence of spirit. 
Continue your discussion, and you will soon realize there is much more to this remarkable young man than first meets the eye. Mundane chatter quickly gives way to broader social issues, and, as the ideas start to pour out, it becomes clear Cody is an intellectual, a deep thinker who questions just about everything and is driven by a passion to make this world a better place for all.
 Aside from working on his family's homestead, Cody spent several years as a political philosophy major at the University of Victoria where he developed a strong antipathy to laissez-faire capitalism. Like many others who are socially and environmentally aware, he realized the current economic system leads to great inequality, suffering and exploitation, and to widespread environmental destruction. It also promotes a dehumanizing culture of competition and ‘survival of the fittest’ which is linked to alienation, anxiety, and depression.
 Earlier this year, this hard-core news junkie became fascinated by the social revolution happening among the Kurds in war-torn Syria. He identified strongly with the Kurds’ struggle to take control of their own destiny—to defend their territory and establish a local economy to provide for their own needs.
 ‘Their goal is to deliver energy, food, infrastructure, and social services through a system of communal economies,’ he explains, ‘It can best be described as an economy of sharing within a decentralized democracy.’ 
In response to an inner calling and much to the dismay of his family, Cody travelled first to Turkey and then clandestinely across the border into Kurdish-held northern Syria. He was initially greeted with some suspicion, but then with open arms when it became clear he was there to lend support to the freedom fighters. 
After undergoing several weeks of military training, the world’s least-likely warrior went to work as a medic along the front lines where the Kurds were battling both ISIS and forces loyal to the brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad. 
‘I worked in a field hospital in a town under siege from ISIS,’ he recounts. ‘We would tourniquet serious injuries and give the patients IV lines before sending them on to the major hospital which was over an hour away.’ 
In addition to his role as medic, Cody attended many grassroots meetings focusing on economic planning and development. Drawing on his extensive knowledge of political systems in the west, he was able to provide valuable insights into what would help the Kurds reach their goal of an autonomous state with sustainable communities. 
During his six months among the Kurds, Cody had almost no need for money as so much was provided by the community. He experienced a powerful sense of solidarity and forged many friendships that will no doubt last a lifetime. 
‘Never before have I witnessed such generosity,’ he says. ‘It seems the less people have the more they are willing to share.’ 
Today, back on Salt Spring Island, Cody reflects wistfully on his time in Syria and the friends he left behind. But he has learned a lot from working with the Kurds, and is keen to share that knowledge with fellow Canadians. 
‘There is so much we could be doing at the local level with regard to energy, food security, and many other issues,’ he asserts. 
So what has to happen to make our communities more self-sufficient, sustainable, inclusive, and livable? 
‘We need to start thinking about building local movements around communal at-cost economics rather than the individual for-profit operations that dominate our economic landscape. Accessibility should be our number one goal. It’s something our social justice and sustainability movements have struggled with providing up to this point.’ Asked if he is an idealist who is trying to build a socialist utopia, he replies: ‘Not at all. I have seen all these ideas put into practice. If working together to meet our common needs is perceived as some kind of utopia, we really do have a problem. As for being an idealist, I’ll plead guilty to that. What great accomplishment didn’t start with a dream?’  

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