On Realizing I Was Impacted by Terrorism
I'm still trying to wrap my head around the last 12 hours of world event news.
The bombing of the Pentagon and WTC Twin Towers changed the course of my life n very significant ways. While I was initially worried about my step-daughter who was at work a few blocks away from the WTC in NYC. We heard from her fairly soon after the plane strikes and knew she was ok. We knew people who worked in the WTC who got out, although we did not know for a while if they were safe but they were. They worked on the 23rd floor. But that was it for direct impact on my life. Like most of the nation I was connected to the events of that day primarily through media coverage.
Indirect impact that day was far more significant for me. My sixth grader was so upset by the attacks that the school called me to ask how I wanted them to proceed with her. She had visited the WTC the previous month with her dad and knew the place and scale of what was happening in a way that most kids from Tucson could not.
I had worked for several years as the head of the security section at a major anthropological museum. I received training in cultural property protection coordinated by the Smithsonian and partially funded by the Getty. My thoughts were about evacuation routes, responders, and infrastructure and the magnitude of what was transpiring. Then like everyone else I mourned. Then I watched the whole world reach out to us and our leadership at that time choose how to react to that embrace of good will.
In October of 2001, a month after the attacks, my husband was contacted by the head of the section at the National Science Foundation, with whom he had a fair amount of contact during the first 15 years of his professional career. That gentleman told him they were having absolutely no one express interest in starting a rotation the following summer in 2002. They had slots they could not fill. The NSF brings academic and scientific professionals from various research areas to Arlington, VA to rotate through the Foundation for a year or two so evaluations of research proposals are headed up by people actively involved in the research area within which the proposal falls.
Unlike most academics, my husband had done a stint in the military after the draft was eliminated and before he finished his education. We are progressives and we are very patriotic. We decided it was our duty to help keep part of the cycle of scientific inquiry in our country going after the attacks. It was the least we could do. So we uprooted our family over the protests of our preteen daughter, who bemoaned that she would absolutely die if we took her away from her friends, and moved across the country to the Ballston area a couple of miles or so away from the Pentagon in a lovely little neighborhood just off Highway 50. Our daughter went to school that next year with kids whose parents had been killed in the Pentagon attack. It was a good year for us in all regards but financial. We went into debt with the moves and inability to rent our home in Tucson for the whole time, and the extra expense of living in a costly city. It was life-changing.
I expected surgical strikes and undercover ops would take out the Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden within a year or so from the time of the attacks. I did not expect the vast constriction of our rights as Americans nor did I expect the blatant misdirection of our precious resources and lives in war toward a land, against a people, and despot who had absolutely nothing to do with the heinous attacks on the U.S. on Septemberr 11, 2001.
Living just outside the Beltway made me aware of politics in, for me, a very new way. We didn't have a television that year, but we did have internet, radio, and newspapers. I watched a group of women vigil in front of the Whitehouse, starting in November of 2002, against the invasion of Iraq that the Bush administration seemed hell bent on accomplishing no matter what. I watched huge, absolutely HUGE, anti-war marches in the winter receive practically no news coverage. I began to join in those peace marches in February and March of 2003. I marched with CODEPINK, in their first march, on International Women's Day, March 8, 2003.
We had been attacked, our land and people assaulted and killed, I allowed my family's entire life to be upturned so that in some small way terror would not win by disrupting our country's way of life. I knew there were countless Americans who had made far larger changes to their lives and offered up sacrifices of their lives to serve our country, so I didn't think much about what our little family had done until our administration insulted and in many ways desecrated the memory of all those who died in the attacks on our country and in the initial attacks in Afghanistan by focusing our country's energies and sacrifices in a political and economic vendetta against Iraq. Wrapping my home in plastic and sealing it with duct tape just isn't my way. I wrote about it email lists and friends. I blogged about it a bit. I had to do more. My way is to react consciously and purposively. My father taught me that. We have civic responsibilities and they are precious.
Back in Arizona in April of 2004, I joined together with a few other women and began to bring the PINK message of peace to Arizona through CODEPINK Women for Peace actions. I liked the spontaneous, truly grassroots, and positively focused organic, interconnected nature of the links between individual women that made us respected by the peace and justice community and detested and vilified by the far right wing. I felt my actions were patriotic and proudly still feel so.
Since that time, I have had my patriotism questioned, had my life threatened, been called reprehensible names, and had my resolve and heart hardened. I've given up time with my daughter as she grew up so that I might return to D.C. with other women to press the peace and justice message forward and keep it visible so that no one would forget that our country is about plurality and diverse belief systems working together for democratic principles. I was removed from Senate Committee meetings on May 17, 2006 when I could not contain myself and shouted out, "Liar" to Rumsfeld as he ended a report to Armed Services Committee. I helped start the house in D.C. that grew into an "official" Pink House that housed women from around the country for a week or two when they could travel to D.C. in order to let officials know there were and are other views in the country that did not support our men and women being killed and our country being bankrupted and our constitution violated.
Even when I had briefly moved back to Indiana to take care of my mother so that she might leave this world in her own home of 60 plus years, I managed to bring a bit of PINK to Fort Wayne to brighten the peace message that has been a constant in that agrarian and blue collar part of the world through the message of Church of the Brethren, Mennonite and Amish faiths as well as the progressive political community.
It is from this lens through which I have to view the death of Osama bin Laden. I wasn't filled with joy when I heard the news of his death. Neither was I sad. I've become very measured in my response to war. I am on discussion lists where almost every day I read about the deaths of young children from drone attacks. I hate war. I hate violent death. I hate what we do to each other. As I wrote in a rather inarticulate post shortly after I learned of bin Laden's death, my husband I opened a bottle of wine and toasted. The toast was, "May our troops come home soon."
I was trying to not make my response to this into a political statement. But everything we do has political impact. We make political choices in everything we do, even if we do not consciously understand or want to think about that. I mean that. The most important thing I have brought into my conscious life since I joined with the efforts of thousands of other women in the U.S. and around the world who work for peace is that every little thing we do, say, or think has consequence.
Mother's Day is coming this weekend. It seems like a good time to remember the call of Julia Ward Howe, yes the same person who wrote the words to The Battle Hymn of the Republic, when she wrote another document in 1870 when she issued her:
Mother's Day Proclamation for Peace
Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.
This week I will reflect on where I should aim my efforts in the next 10 years. These last 10 years were not a concrete block of time for me until last night. I have been putting all my efforts into starting a business these last few months. Everything somehow changed again in the last couple of days. This week I will reflect on these past few years and where my next 10 years of effort in this world might be placed. I need to do this. Until I sat down this morning to write my reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden that our President announced last night, I didn't really grasp how much my life has been directed by actions and reactions to things that this man set in motion. I'm pretty sure I met extremists who worked with bin Laden when I worked at the University Library here in Tucson. I first worked in current periodicals where international newspapers were available. This was during the time when Al Qaeda in the U.S. was head quartered here. An islamic cleric was murdered here during that time. Later when I worked at a museum here I became aware of FBI agents specifically using our buildings for terrorist related training exercises. More was going on around me in my daily life than I ever dreamed. These things have impact. We cannot ever know all the impact single actions may take, but we can know they are vast and immeasurable.
I need a week, I'm giving myself until Mother's Day, to contemplate the past ten years and the next ten years. What are you doing differently this week?