September 11: A Day for Compassion and Hope

By Tammy Johnson Sep 11, 2008

My heart was filled with hope when I went to bed the evening of September 10. I had just returned from the UN Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. Despite the infighting between Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell about US participation, despite the false claims that the event was just an anti-Israel hate-fest, and despite all of the mismanagement of the People’s Conference, I walked away feeling that there was hope for humanity yet. I am terrible with names, but the faces and voices I heard the previous two weeks will live with me forever. These were people who had survived wars, midnight raids, treacherous border crossings and countless attacks on their very being. They had made it to South Africa—putting their heads and their hearts together with mine—to attempt to unravel the twisted race question that plagued our nations. I was so very grateful for the experience. The reporter’s voice jolted me awake on September 11. I couldn’t quite believe my ears as the radio announcer described the plane hitting the Twin Towers. Seconds after I switched on my television, the second plane hit. My eyes watered. My heart sank. And hope seeped away. What followed can only be described as a never-ending state of delusion and dysfunction that would last for days, months and even years. Doesn’t Mike work near the Towers? Where is he now? Why do some victim’s families get money and others don’t? We are profiling whom now? We are at war with whom? Why do those men have to register with the government? I have to do what at the airport now? Are we at yellow or orange alert? And what exactly does that mean? Why is AT&T is recording my family gossip sessions? If the Senator is against the war, why isn’t he for bringing the troops home now? Like good soldiers in the army of justice, we all kept pushing forward with our campaigns for health care, immigrant rights, quality education and whatever the cause, all the while the madness kept swirling around us. I woke up with a heavy heart this morning. I’m usually not one for sentiment, especially when its wrapped in government manufactured patriotism, electoral aspirations and deep collective denial. But beyond all of that façade is something real. There is real pain, real loss, anger and sadness. And there is a tremendous need for compassion. In the days after September 11, the US experienced an outpouring of compassion from people around the world. And it is in that moment in history that my hope is restored. After all, in many of these countries, especially those filled with black, brown and Asian folk, these were people who had been harmed by the policies of US. They had lost their livelihoods, their homes and love ones because of US backed sanctions, support of draconian regimes, or our failed economic schemes. But perhaps on that day, September 11, in our suffering, they saw a reflection of their own sorrows. And they mourned with us. It’s a lesson that anyone who claims to be fighting for justice must remember. Having compassion does not mean that our nation’s leaders should not be held accountable for the suffering that they cause. It is compassion that helps us to recognize the humanity of our enemy, so that in the process of pursuing justice we do not lose our own. Without this sea change, the solutions we offer will continue to be smothered by the atmosphere of hate. So on this day, I try to remember the warmth and support given to us by brothers and sisters across the globe. And in that remembrance my hope is restored.