In the wake of 9/11, media found frenzy interviewing families who lost their loved ones in the terrorist attacks. Media printed stories and aired interviews with 9/11 mothers, wives, sisters, fathers and brothers. They described heartbreaking accounts of a newly wed wife, or a soon-to-be wed fiancé, or an expectant mother. All were necessary stories: people in America and people all over the world came to know the harrowing details of the impacts of this grotesque barbarism.
Then, media moved on and began telling stories of some 9/11 family members who took up on a mass-manufactured political angle of the tragedies: they were vociferous for their support for revenge and the so-called war on terror. They expressed strong support for domestic repression and round-up of hundreds of thousands of innocent people who had absolutely nothing to do with violence or terror. Ashcroft’s USA PATRIOT Act came in handy; the phony Weapons of Mass Destruction story mass-cloned by Judith Miller and colonized media gave Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld much-needed ammunition to justify mass murder thousands of miles away.
In the middle of this melee, a small, new organization started their work that nobody noticed. They named their new, under-resourced group September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. Through our activist work with New York Civil Liberties Union, I came to know some of these mothers, sisters and wives. I was blown away to see the unknown side of America.
I met Adele Welty, I met Valerie Lucznikowska, and I met Talat Hamdani. I came to know a whole new world. I came to know an America — one that nobody talks about, and nobody knows about.
Watch YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-z10FNKnQ4
Adele Welty’s son Timothy was one of the firefighters who responded to the SOS from the burning World Trade Center on that fateful day. He and his colleagues went up Tower Two to save lives. City officials misdirected them, as they’d misdirected many others, and told them it would be okay to walk up the stairs of the burning building. Tim and hundreds of New York’s brave firefighters went in to pull the panic-stricken people out. In a few minutes, Tower Two crumbled to the ground like a pack of cards. I heard that Tim’s body was never recovered.
I met Adele the first time when I was speaking across New York City against post-9/11 hate crimes. At one such mid-Winter meeting at Columbia University compound, New York Civil Liberties Union’s Udi Ofer and South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow’s Deepa Iyer — both activist lawyers — introduced me to a frail woman, still in mourning, perhaps in her sixties. Adele came to speak at that meeting, to show her support for peace and opposition against hate. I was overwhelmed to see her strength, courage and resilience. She spoke about her beloved son who gave his life to save others. She did not seek revenge. She didn’t believe in arrogant America’s “tooth for a tooth, eye for an eye” doctrine. Instead, with a few other 9/11 parents and widows, she joined the grassroots, progressive group.
For nearly ten years, Adele and her group became an important and active part of America’s humanity, working tirelessly to promote peace and oppose violence and war of any kind. Adele traveled to Afghanistan and Iraq many times when the war was in full swing, and spoke to government officials and peace organizations. Then she spent years crisscrossing the USA and, along with colleagues from Peaceful Tomorrows and other groups, met with senior politicians in Washington, D.C. Her group worked with us on the issue of human rights for immigrant workers and their children. On one trip to Washington (as the executive director of New Jersey Immigration Policy Network), I went with her to lobby U.S. congress members to support the DREAM Act, a pending law that would provide tuition benefits to children of undocumented immigrants – children who came to the USA with their parents at a young age, went through the American school system, passed high school, but now couldn’t attend college because of their immigration status. They didn’t know any other country; most of them didn’t speak any language other than English; they had been in America their entire life. Now their dreams and aspirations to go to college were dashed, and they didn’t have a clue about it beforehand; nobody had warned them. At that round of meetings in Washington’s Capitol Hill, I had a precious opportunity to interact with Senator Edward Kennedy briefly. We had a long meeting with his immigration staff. Senator Kennedy was one of the prime sponsors of the DREAM Act. His sudden death seriously pushed back the nationwide effort to pass the law.
I live in America not because of leaders like Clinton, Obama or Bush. I live here because of leaders like Adele Welty.