It's time. After 11 long years it's time for us to return to where we were in those first few moments after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and choose trust over fear. 11 years after that horrible 9/11 day whose innocent victims we hold forever in our hearts, we must resolve to be smarter on terrorism and more trusting with each other. We learned four big lessons from 9/11 - security, fear, patriotism and trust - and now we must choose trust over fear.
First, we begin with service. Very few of us are actually fighting the "war" on terror. Our military is - but they are the 1%. Add intelligence officials, civilian defense workers, and law enforcement and we get to closer to 10% - still a tiny fraction. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have donated to charities that support veterans and military families, connecting with this new generation of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, but not enough to bridge the military-civilian divide. A whopping 95% of Blue Star Families surveyed do NOT believe most Americans understand their sacrifice. http://www.prweb.com/releases/2012/5/prweb9475453.htm Yet while most Americans do not understand the ins and outs of military life, they are empathic and believe in equality. As we just learned from a survey showing the positive effects of Don't Ask, Don't tell repeal, it turns out that ending military discrimination improves military readiness
so those who do enlist will no longer have to hide the person they love to serve the country they love.
Most of us are engaged in civilian service, which thrived in the past 11 years as millions of Americans directed empathy toward service for the common good. Family members and loved ones turned personal grief into public action in order to demand the 9/11 Commission and the relief - still ongoing - for first responders, some of whom are still awaiting assistance.
This culture of service has energized our communities, but it is enervated by the second 9/11 lesson: fear.
Fear of being attacked again. Fear of The Other. Fear of criticizing the establishment for fear of being Dixie Chicked. http://msnbc.msn.com/id/14822593/site/todayshow/ns/today-entertainment/t/dixie-chicks-shut-sing-toronto/#.UE9kCqlc8_U The fear was obviously well-founded on 9/11 but manifest itself after that in security screenings, scapegoating and swiftboating that many have called into question.
For 11 years we've had security screenings that have intensified over time. The screenings began before the attacks were over. Jersey barriers appeared, airport security measures increased, phones were wiretapped and even the simple act of entering public buildings became subject to restrictions. Many made good sense, but some - like the overly zealous airport pat-downs, are wearing thin after 11 years. The growing security-industrial complex is so pervasive that most teenagers - who already go through metal detectors or car trunk checks at school - endure even more recently invasive screenings with mere shrugs. Far more depressed are we gen Xers and older generations recall flying to visit grandmother's house without putting our dolls and shoes into rubber bins passing through metal detectors under armed guard. The color coding terror alert system is gone, the warrantless GPS tracking laws are changing, and more lawmakers are asking TSA to work smarter not pat down harder to identify threats.
For 11 years we all have witnessed insidious scapegoating of Muslims and been told to fear The Other rather than to love a stranger as their sister or brother. With over a decade of propaganda against Islam, the war of choice in Iraq as if Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11, the 2010 campaigning against a "Ground Zero Mosque" and at least 5 years of othering Obama calling him a Muslim as if that were a bad thing, nativists had too loud a voice in our civic discourse. Like Ronald Reagan shrugging off age jabs by joking at ageists, Barack Obama has shrugged off the birthers, but they unfortunately have a friend in Mitt Romney and several other prominent Republicans, so the hits keep on coming.
For 11 years we all have seen swiftboating of progressives, most notably Vietnam War hero, triple-amputee Max Cleland, who was compared to Osama bin Laden for supporting worker's right to organize at the Department of Homeland Security, and Vietnam War hero John Kerry who was attacked by swift boat veterans who falsely claimed that he did not earn his medals. No one who applied any nuance about the screenings or opposition to the scapegoating was going to escape the swiftboating - or so it has seemed.
But something happened within the American psyche during these 11 years - we decided that we did not have to act from a place of fear or just accept the scapegoating and the swiftboating. Fear is still there, but contextualized and not-all encompassing. Not only did years pass with no new attacks, but progressives frankly got better at politics. We managed our fear, articulated a vision, and pledged real resources for veterans and first responders.
That shift in patriotism manifest in political power, with voters electing patriots in both parties not just one. Voters elected Democrats to keep us safe and take care of those who take care of us. Between 2007-2011 the Democratic Congress led by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid acted to pass many 9/11 Commission recommendations, improve force readiness and quality of life, help businesses hire military families, send veterans to college, provide relief for 9/11 emergency responders, stabilize VA budgeting, and pass the largest increase in health benefits in the history of the VA with a pledge to Leave No Veteran Behind. http://assets.dstatic.org/misc/documents/LeaveNoVeteranBehind.pptx
Americans elected President Obama, who, with his bipartisan team of rivals - including primary opponents Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Bush administration leaders Robert Gates and David Petraeus, ended the War in Iraq; are drawing down the War in Afghanistan; and have enhanced intelligence, military and law enforcement cooperation to prevent attacks, kill terrorists, and disrupt networks. Yes another swiftboating cabal has reared its ugly head, but Americans see though the fog of propaganda. We know that 9/11 mastermind Osama bin laden is dead and we know that President Obama crafted the strategy, devoted the resources, and ordered the raid that killed him.
Pause to reflect on that for a minute: on 9/11 no one -not even those already planning war with Iraq before the attacks from Afghanistan http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2004/01/11/bush_began_iraq_plan_pre_911_oneill_says/ - could have predicted that then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama would be elected United States Senator much less President, end the war in Iraq, and bring Osama bin Laden to justice. But that's the lesson - you cannot predict that only one party or one perspective holds a lock on patriotism. Now service members, veterans and military families are once more swing voters - as it should always be.
Service. Fear. Patriotism. Somewhere in there we must create the space for the greatest 9/11 lesson of all: trust. Let's be honest: after 11 long years of the daily othering, many Americans have reached the end of our emotional bandwidth.
Luckily, we can look to our newest voters to teach us about trust - because they have already chosen it over fear. Children who were second and third graders on the horrific day of September 11, 2001 will be first time voters on Election Day November 6, 2012.
To their immense credit, despite all the screenings, scapegoating and swiftboating, this post-9/11 generation is far more trusting of humanity than their programming would suggest. Though most young Americans coming of voting age cannot envision a time when they won't confront terrorism, they don't automatically condemn an entire religion or blame Muslims or see their immigrant peers as the problem; rather, they trust relationships with people different than themselves. http://www.people-press.org/2012/06/04/section-2-demographics-and-american-values/ As America's most diverse generation http://www.civicyouth.org/PopUps/FactSheets/FS_07_minority_ce.pdf they are willing to look past race, color, class, creed, sexual orientation and identity to character.
What a wonderful tribute to humanity that after so much negativity it is the positivity that shines through. Not blind trust or trust in large institutions (Americans are wary of "Big ----") but trust in the humanity of other people. Trust is what guided in the early moments after 9/11 when we lit candles, or volunteered to help, or lined up to donate blood. Its call was often silenced by the voices of nativism or the drums of war. Yet look at the polling - young people do not automatically accept scapegoating or more swiftboating - they want to know how they are going to be safe, get a job, make a life, and climb those ladders of opportunity to reach for the American Dream. 11 years after 9/11 they support the DREAMers http://www.gallup.com/poll/145136/Slim-Majority-Americans-Vote-DREAM-Act-Law.aspx and the diplomats http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/new-poll-majority-of-americans-oppose-military-strike-on-iran.premium-1.464330 more than they fear The Other. http://www.gallup.com/poll/152072/Americans-Immigration-Concerns-Linger.aspx
They've figured out how to choose trust over fear - good for them - and instructive for us.
What better way to honor the fallen than to choose trust over fear in a safe and free society?