I originally wrote this post on the 5th anniversary of the September 11th tragedy. I've re-posted it every few years since then. This time, I’m a little more hopeful that our government today prioritizes diplomacy over destruction and working for peace more important than preparing for war.
Still, we’ve done little to end the racial profiling and senseless violence within our own borders. For many, fear of what we don’t understand and of people who look or act or believe differently from us is fueling an ever-widening political divide and making it okay to hate, hurt, harm and discriminate. And the hierarchy of oppression that has always existed in the United States is as rooted in our society as ever. We still have a long way to go ...
I went to bed last night watching the non-stop coverage of the five year anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks on CNN International; and I woke up this morning really aware of being outside of the U.S. on this day.
Five years ago, I was having a quick breakfast at my house in Washington, DC. I was getting ready to go to the airport for a flight to Miami, Florida for the beginning of the U.S. Conference in AIDS. I was the still fairly new director of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition and many of our staff had flown to Florida the day before.
I was watching Matt Lauer on the Today Show interview an author friend of mine, Richard Hack, when they stopped the interview to mention a report of an explosion at the World Trade Center in New York. Those early reports were chaotic and confused; nobody really knew what was happening. After that quick initial report, Matt Lauer went back to interviewing my friend.
Within minutes, however, the real story started to emerge. A plane, they said, off-course, had hit the first tower. What would become around-the-clock coverage began on every channel. Not long after, a second plane, the second tower. Fear and powerlessness began to take over. Planes were grounded. I wasn't going to Miami.
The reports continued frenetically and then in Washington, DC, we felt the ground tremble as yet another plane slammed into the Pentagon. It was unfathomable.
I'm not sure what to say about my emotions that morning. Like everyone, I suppose, it took time for the events to sink in. I sat unable to move from in front of the television for a long time. I left messages for my staff members. I closed the office. I called my mom and dad. I tried to reach my friends in New York.
There were so many lessons to be learned from that day. Five years later, looking at the actions of our government at least, I'm not sure we have. I'm sad and disappointed by many of the ways my government responded.
Back then, I wrote a press release for our organization expressing concern about the future.
Its too bad that I could reissue that same press release today:
As people who work minutes from one of the targets of the bombing, and as proud Americans, we are horrified by the devastation wrought by these terrorists. We are acutely aware of the human toll that this attack has taken on our country—some of us are still grieving, having lost loved ones in this tragedy. Indeed, we stand in absolute solidarity and in sympathy with those who grieve the loss of a mother or a father, daughter or son, husband, wife, life partner or other family or friends.
And we, too, want to see justice done.
Nonetheless, we are greatly concerned by the response of our government, and we cannot support the dehumanization and increased racial profiling of Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, and Central and South Asian people; the further loss of fundamental American civil liberties; a shifting of economic resources away from critical social and human services; and now, military action in the Middle East which puts innocent people, including US service members, at risk. Nor can we accept rhetoric and actions which disproportionately put young people and people of color directly in the line of fire.
These are not issues we take lightly.
In taking this stance, we recognize that it won't be popular and it may even be dangerous. Even now, more than three weeks after this horrific attack, there exists a highly-charged, revenge-bent atmosphere—an atmosphere palpable particularly for people who look like they may be from the Middle East, but which ultimately affects all Americans.
We are deeply concerned about the environment of suspicion, blame and violence fueled, in large measure, by the bellicose rhetoric which came early from the [George Bush] White House. We hope that their proverbial “better angels” guide all Americans in this time of turmoil. We specifically call upon President George W. Bush to be a leader in this regard, and we are grateful that he has begun to tone down the rhetoric.
Many have advocated for a national discussion which includes asking why so many people around the world hate the United States in the first place. It is just too bad that this becomes a central question for our government only after the US becomes a target.
We know we face the inevitable charges hurled from predictable quarters condemning our position as un-American. We are clear, however, in the distinctions between blind nationalism and true patriotism. We refuse to muzzle our deep and heartfelt concerns about this war, for fear of being labeled as traitors. If democratic ideals are ever to be truly realized by all Americans, we must all stand with our country when and where she is right, and work firmly and steadfastly to correct the course when, as now, we believe she is in danger of betraying the ideals that make her great.
A thirst for vengeance can never really be quenched. It comes from a place of hatred, not of love. By acting with our military, more innocent people will die—civilians, children, young soldiers, many with families of their own to support, both here and abroad.
As cliché as it may seem, violence only brings more violence. If as a country we take the bait, the healing will not begin, and this terrible national tragedy will only get worse as more terrorism occurs as a result of our actions. We would do well to remember the old adage about not becoming that which we most despise.
We are not saying that the US cannot work hard to bring the people who are responsible for these atrocities to justice. But, the ends cannot justify the means when the means require us to restrict the democratic values which make us American in the first place.
In the end, however, social justice must be about something more important than a narrow agenda serving only a few. For us, it requires us to look at the connections which exist between oppressions, and refuse to accept a hierarchy which must always include a few at the top and many at the bottom.
We are humbled by the spirit of community which has come into our country in countless untold ways over the past few weeks; and we honor the powerful courage shown by so many of our fellow Americans. Now should be a time to grieve for those whom we have lost, celebrating their lives and spirits, and to reflect upon what it will take to end violence, and hunger, and poverty, and tyranny in every corner of the world.
We should not sit back and accept that so many more must die in order for the US to appear strong. Our national ego cannot allow vengeance to substitute for justice.