It’s that day of the year again. A day we couldn’t forget if we wanted to; the memories are unpleasant and trigger within every American a vague feeling most of us are very unfamiliar with: vulnerability.
Usually the feeling of vulnerability is followed by the desire to lash out, to strike blindly, act rashly, especially in the pain of loss. Like a mother bear igniting over the loss of her cub, it’s hard to fight the natural, “I’ll hit you harder than you hit me” mentality.
Of all people to have an excuse to react with the blind anger and wounded rage of a mother bear, the family members of people who died in the Towers have the most right. But some have stepped back calmly, with more maturity than it would take a five-year-old schoolchild that had just been slapped in the face, even though their pain of loss must sting more than a million slaps in the face. They haven’t come out swinging, and instead demonstrated admirable steps of conscious, mature thought, and used their tragic yet prominent positions to lend credibility to their words. Seven years ago many people who had all lost family members in the attack united to advocate a nonviolent response to the attack, forming September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. Since then, members have been traveling to Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas to meet with victims in those areas. Members work to establish citizen-to citizen connections and learn facts from the ground up. According to them, many of these facts “Really challenge the policies our government has pursued.” Members like Terry Rockefeller were criticized early on as being “too naïve, and unpatriotic”. Yet, like the others, she used her position to share her insight on the dangers of responding to terrorism with violence.
“I do believe that those of us who were personally affected by the 9/11 violence understood something viscerally about the nature of terrorism, which is that it feeds on itself. And you can take steps to break the cycles. And I think that continues to be a message that our administration and the entire American public needs to hear.”
The upcoming trial proceedings to be held at Guantanamo Bay prison, and the families’ exclusive opportunity to view them has given the group a new issue of violence to address. They have spoken out about their concern that true justice can never be reached if inhumane methods were used in the treatment of war prisoners. And unfortunately, we know they have been.
Families for Peaceful Tomorrows has made contacts with groups of similar missions in war-torn zones, including a new Iraqi peace group called LaOnf, which translates in Arabic to “No Violence”. Members work actively to promote dialogue over violence, despite many having lost family members to violence. The group unites many civil society organizations that work together to create nonviolent strategies to oppose occupation, terrorism and corruption in Iraq. LaOnf now includes over 100 organizations, including student groups, women’s groups, unions, and humanitarian organizations in almost every Iraqi state.
Sometimes, just like with children on the playground, tempers flaring, beating their little fists in the air and ready to fight, someone needs to step up and tell everyone to pause and take a deep breath. Count to ten. And consider:
“Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows” Martin Luther King Jr.
Check out these other dialogue-over-violence organizations: Voices for Creative Nonviolence, United for Peace and Justice, American Friends Service Committee, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Beyond War, Nonviolent Peaceforce, and Codepink: Women for Peace.