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It's January 1951, and the villagers of Hwei Li, China, are still living as they did in the 1400s. Mao Tse-tung seized power three years earlier, but his revolutionary vanguard has yet to reach this remote hamlet near the border of Tibet.
All of which suits the Rev James Garrison, Hwei Li's Baptist missionary, just fine. He's far too busy tending to his newborn son, Jim Garrison Jr.
Besides, the Rev. Garrison is barely interested in communism. The New Testament is his metier, not dialectical materialism. Even so, he's been unknowingly dragged into the shadowy intrigue of revolutionary communism. One of his close acquaintances, a man he has welcomed into his home and taught English, is in fact a fifth columnist Communist spy sent in advance of the army to determine who is and who is not suited to Mao's new world order.
By spring, the Red Army pours into Hwei Li, and Garrison's acquaintance begins singling out malcontents for execution in a small clearing just beyond Garrison's parish rectory. Every morning as Garrison's wife, Virginia, feeds their newborn, the Communists paste to the parish wall a list of those sentenced to death. In the evening, as the Garrisons bed down their baby boy, they hear wolves and leopards in the nearby hills tearing at the fresh corpses.
Fast forward: Moscow. Winter 1991. The birthplace of world communism is unraveling. A coup by hard-liners has failed, and the raging bull of Russian politics, Boris Yelstin, is about to assume power. Isolated and powerless to control the forces of change he unleashed, "accidental revolutionary" Mikhail Gorbachev sits shellshocked in his Kremlin office planning his resignation, which will take place in less than a week. But first, a visitor - the last audience Gorbachev will give to a foreigner before retreating to his modest dacha outside Moscow. It's Jim Garrison Jr., all grown up with a doctorate in divinity from Cambridge and brimming with plans for a New World Order.
The two men have a good deal in common. Both have recently suffered political defeats. (Garrison was narrowly edged out in a 1988 congressional race.) And both are looking for new platforms, vehicles form which they can remain relevant - in play, as it were - as the world careens into uncharted territories full of possibility.
Gorbachev is particularly at a loss. The tradition of Soviet leaders who depart from office still breathing is a shallow one, never mind the prospects of such an official to assume a place in the national culture.
Garrison proposes that Gorbachev establish a foundation in Moscow - a think tank, a namesake, from which he can issue ideas and advice. Meanwhile, Garrison will set up an affiliate in the United States and dedicate it to the belief that nation-states will become meaningless. What's needed, says Garrison, is a "council of elders" drawn from the highest echelons of international politics, science, the arts and commerce to convene to plan what Garrison and Gorby refer to these days (with strikingly little humility) as "the next phase of human development."
Peace, human rights and democratci principles need to be writ global, Garrison stresses, and as one who rescued the world from superpower insanity, Gorbachev is the best candidate to lead this discussion.
WIth a parting handshake, the deal is sealed, and today, almost four years and many fundraising parties later, the Gorbachev Foundation USA readies itself to host such an independent world summit in San Francisco this coming September: "The State of the World Forum."
Hundreds of world leaders, corporate chieftains, bright lights from the academy - and a few celebrities - are scheduled to descend upon the Fairmont Hotel for five days of round tables and global mind-meld. (The Fairmont has been donated gratis by hotelier and socialite Richard Swig, one of the Gorbachev Foundation's chief financial backers.) The sessions boast squishy titles like: "Environmental Protection and Economic Growth: Should There Be a Conflict?" "The Societal Impact of Telecommunications Technology," "Emerging Megatrends Shaping the Early 21st Century" and "The Global Crisis of Value and the Search for Meaning."
Of course, the San Francisco edition of the State of the World Forum is only the beginning, says Gorbachev Foundation USA president Jim Garrison. He plans one mind-meld a year for the next five years, aimed at solving intractable world problems like environmental decay and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
And after that? Well, one world, says Garrison.
"Over the next 20 to 30 years, we are going to end up with world government," he says. "It's inevitable. It will happen and become just as normal to have a relationship with the rest of the world as we now have, say, if you are a Californian and you go to Vermont."
As he expounds, Garrison, 44, does this thing with his hands. Maybe it's his Italian hertiage (his mother's maiden name is La Rocca). Or maybe it's his days as top debator for Abraham Lincoln High School in San Jose. All the same, he strikes metaphors and gives them expression with his hands.
Talking about world government and global trends, he draws a a lot of globes in the air. He employs an upward flowering motion, both hands parting and forming a Y - fingers wiggling slightly - when he talks about his inner feelings. But his best gesture of the day is the one about "the undertow."