9/11/01…Now What.

For those too young to feel connected to tragedies that have befallen our nation in the past (i.e., Pearl Harbor, the death of JKF, Martin Luther King, Richard Nixon’s presidency,), we have the 11th of September that will, for a long time, be a stark reminder of how in a just a few hours, the mundane routine of the day to day becomes a surreal landscape from which we all suddenly inhabited.

“It was like a movie,” was a common refrain I heard from people I spoke to after the towers fell and the fires were out at the Pentagon. But this movie had us all befuddled as to how it was going to end. “Who are we going to fight?” “Is it war?” “Why would anyone want to do this?” “I’m pumped! I’m ready to kill for my country.” These are just a smattering of questions and declarations I remember on 9/12/01 when I was teaching a political science class. And if you think that I crammed on Islamic fundamentalism and who this Bin Laden person was, you’re right! The next day, my students were looking at me like I had all the answers to what had happened. I asked: “How many people understand the underlying roots of Islamic fundamentalism?” Of course, not one hand went up. I then launched into my “mini-lecture” (it was about 15 minutes) and for the rest of the hour it was discussion time. I’m not sure if it was because I set the tone of the discussion with some background info, but the students were very thoughtful about what was going on. There were some who said they were thinking about joining the military to fight the terrorists, others were a bit skeptical about the government’s statement of who was a responsible, and some students said nothing. For the most part, though, this was not a time for politics. It was a time to mourn for the loss of life, and hope those whose loved ones were missing would somehow find their way home.

Now, here we are. 5 years later and…well…where are we? We’re still at “war with terrorism,” we are mired in a war in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan (despite what Ann Coulter says) is not going “swimmingly,” our government tortures people and wants us to accept it as, well, acceptable, and among the rank and file there’s quite a bit of unrest about the job the Bush Administration is doing governing our country and trying to win this “war without end.”

Freedoms, liberties, rights. These are things we take for granted. When they slowly erode, we hear a vocal minority tell us things are getting worse. But do many of us believe them? Are our “day to day” distractions so much that we don’t bother to do anything about it? Or do the “day to day” things become more important because at least in that realm we have some measure of control? It’s easy to say that apathy and an over-reliance on the “small things” are winning our hearts and minds. But people are pretty smart –despite the slogan that says: “Never underestimate the stupidity of people in large numbers.” What I mean is that after two general elections that were replete with controversy, many folks know when the fix is in. Bush wanted a war with Iraq (even though they had nothing to do with 9/11, didn’t possess the weapons of mass destruction, nor were they trying to actively develop a nuclear bomb that would send a mushroom cloud over the middle east), and he got it. Bush wanted tax cuts for his rich benefactors, and he got it. Bush wanted to spy on us, and many companies actively and secretly complied with his wishes. Bush wanted to repeal environmental laws, and he got it. It seemed for a time, anything Bush wanted, Bush got. Why? All he had to say was it was because of terrorism and 9/11. Speech after speech this guy has made for the past 6 years has had to mention 9/11 and terrorism to justify his actions. It worked! And it didn’t help that the Democrats were gutless in their opposition.

So…Now what.

After we play our tribute songs, tell our 9/11 stories, watch television specials on that day, what do we do? Our president wants us to stay the course “until the job is done.” What do the majority of us want? That would be the opposite of what the president wants. But to do the opposite of what the president wants is tantamount to treason and appeasement – or so his ardent supporters like to say. When you’re dealing with radicals, that’s the kind of attitude you’re dealing with. You know, “You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists.”

We’re headed into the final lap of the midterm elections. Think about where we are as a country and what we’ve lived through since the 2000 election. What kind of country do you want to live in? What kind of people are running for elected office share a good deal of what you believe? Take 20 minutes out of your day once a week until the election and find out about who is running for what in your state, your district, and your county. Figure out whose ideas closely match yours, your friends, and associates and vote for those folks. Once they are in office, keep the heat on and tell them to support policies and issues that reflect what you believe. Is this hard work? Yes and no. It’s hard in that you have to allow time in your “day to day” to be a citizen. But once you realize that the system allows your voices to be heard (and if you don’t believe me, why do you think these large corporations spend all that money to influence politicians?), you’ll realize the inherent power of our republic. What that, you say? You have power!

If 9/11 made us feel powerless against people who were clearly on a mission to change the course of history by terrorizing us with their power to destory life and symbols of our financial and military power, then know we can continue to cling to those use the cloak of “security” as a way to grab more power over our lives, or we can do…well, something different.

I’m not saying the Democrats have the answers, because, to me, they haven’t proved they have. I’m saying that our political system responds to the voices that participate.

If 9/11 changed anything in me, it was a partial shedding of my Gen X’er cynicism. I became more idealistic about the power of humans to shape our reality in ways that make our lives better and our world more tolerant. I know, how can I think of tolerance and all that “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” idealism when those ideals are not shared by those who want to do us harm? The short answer is that there will always be people who want to do us harm. But does that mean that you abandon the more positive attributes we humans possess and surrender to the alternative? Some would say that what I’m talking about is squishy-fruity bleeding heart crap that “real men” don’t bother with ’cause it’s weak. But I just think of people I’ve read about (like Gandhi and Martin Luther King)and people I have met (like Unita Blackwell) who were the objects of ongoing terror campaigns against them for, well, existing. And they took direct action and clung to the belief that the racists, bigots, terrorists, and killers were not the ones with the real power…and they were right.

So…now what.

–PK