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   The Magic Onion


The Magic Onion

by David Jenneson

With the world anguishing over how to establish democracy in post-Saddam Iraq, with billions of oil dollars whirling into a black unknowable vortex of back room deals and hand picked leaders, I have a short sweet way of how to start.

Some time ago I designed and wrote a brochure for a new political party. They were just starting out and didn’t have much money. As a freelancer, neither did I. Nevertheless I believed in the cause so was happy apply my minimum hourly rate.

The party itself was no big deal: somewhat to the right of center, advocating direct democracy, recall of elected representatives, but I approached it with a passion.

I took the brochure to the home of the Party’s President. He was in the kitchen cooking when I arrived. When he saw and read the brochure he was delighted.

“This is exactly what the Party needs to say,” he exclaimed. “I can’t thank you enough, but we can’t pay you at all now. We’re a new party and we’ve run out of money.”

I told him his thanks were enough, but he still wanted to express his gratitude.

He grabbed an onion the size of a cantaloupe. It was a splendid thing. “Do you know that these Yakima Onions are the mildest, sweetest onions in the world?” he asked. “Look. You can eat them raw.” He bit off a piece and offered me one a bite. He was right. You could eat it raw. It was sweet.

“These are very hard to get. Here, go ahead, take one home,” he urged.

Again I assured him his thanks were enough, but he insisted. Thus I left with the payment of one onion.

When I got home my wife was hardly impressed. I felt like Jack in the Beanstalk, bringing home a lowly onion instead of cold hard cash. I wondered about depositing the onion at the bank. Maybe I should go back and get him to sign it. Then I could go to the bank and tell them this was payment for a worthy political cause. I could deposit the worth of one onion into my account and withdraw a few small potatoes—once the onion had cleared, of course.

My point is that it is not going to take billions of dollars for democracy to grow in Iraq. If the U.S. lets everyone have a go at it, at some point some poor dumb Iraqi freelancer is going to write a political brochure with real passion, and will pass it on to the party president and—if that person’s lucky —get paid an onion. It only requires that everyone get a fair shot at it; not just some hand-picked successor backed by guns and money.

You’d be surprised what can grow from one onion. In Iraq’s case it may well be a populist, democratic party committed to fairly representing every Iraqi man, woman and child. Although this may seem like wide-eyed idealism, there is every reason to hope for such a thing.

By the way, although I am not still involved with it, the party which could only afford to pay me an onion is now the official opposition party in the Canadian national parliament.

David Jenneson writes from North Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

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This story was published on May 13, 2003.
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