You probably remember where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001.
I’d left Cambridge, Mass., early that morning to drive with colleagues to Vermont to lead a training at a worker owned company. When we arrived on site in the late morning, our host greeted us with: "The world has changed since you left Boston."
At the company, work had stopped. A television was on in the cafeteria. Workers and staff were gathered together watching the news play and replay the crashing of the planes into the twin towers. Two thousand nine hundred seventy-six people died that day.
Our memories of dramatic and unexpected events are more vivid than ordinary memories. Memories of 9/11, like memories of where one was the day JFK was shot, are called "flashbulb" memories because they seem brighter. Their vividness is fueled by emotion, which heightens senses. Their vividness also has to do with the fact that memories like these carry meaning in the context of our society. They represent a moment when our own personal experience connects to the arc of history. "We remember the details of a flashbulb occasion, because those details are the links between our own history and History," wrote memory researcher Ulric Neisser.
Sept. 11, 2001, indeed marked an important moment our country's history, and that of the world. As much as the day itself left its mark in the minds and hearts of so many, its aftermath - the policy decisions that were made in response to the events - left a lasting mark on our society. They propelled our country down a policy path with tremendous consequences for human lives, and for the American experiment in constitutional democracy. Since that day, our country has never been the same.
We know that following 9/11, key players in the Bush administration exploited the event in ways that furthered long held ideological goals - the expansion of presidential power; the erosion of civil liberties, the projecting of US power into the Middle East through military force. Vice President Dick Cheney and a small group of advisers wrote secret memos legalizing torture, expanding secret government surveillance, and launching the "war on terror" … largely outside of public view.
Yes, when President Obama took office, there were certain course corrections - for example, he nullified the memos legalizing torture, and in time drew down the US troops in Iraq. But much of the policy trajectory set in motion following 9/11 remains in motion--with deep repercussions for civil liberty, freedom and for peace, and particular repercussions for communities of color and immigrants.
Despite the significance of this period in our country’s history, and despite the annual public tributes, we have never truly assessed this moment in our history and its continuing impact.
It's past time to take stock.
The Richmond Peace Education Center, together with the ACLU of Virginia, is organizing a special community forum timed to coincide with the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11. Reclaiming Our Democracy 15 Years After 9/11 will take place on Saturday, Sept. 17, at the University of Richmond, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This forum will bring together extraordinary national experts and people affected by 9/11, to share their stories and perspectives. This program is a special opportunity for the Richmond region. All are welcome.
For Talat Hamdani, one speaker coming to Richmond from New York to speak at the event, Sept. 11, 2001, delivered a terrible personal loss. Her eldest son, Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a New York Police Department cadet who had trained as a first responder, was killed during Al Qaeda's attacks. At the forum on Sept. 17, Hamdani will share her story with the Richmond community. Sadly her son, who had spontaneously made his way to help at the World Trade Center only to die when the buildings collapsed—was investigated as a suspect following the attacks. She will describe how she found her voice as a Muslim American mother of a 9/11 victim, eloquently speaking out time and again, when leaders used 9/11 to stoke fear of “the other” and divide us.
Other extraordinary speakers expected that day will include:
- Lecia Brooks, outreach director for the Southern Poverty Law Center and director of the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Ala.
- Kade Crockford of the ACLU of Massachusetts who works to defend civil liberties in the digital 21st century, focusing on how systems of surveillance and control impact people of color, Muslims, immigrants and dissidents.
- Kate Gould, legislative representative for Middle East policy at Friends Committee on National Legislation.
- Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project.
- Larry Syverson, whose three sons have served multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, distinguished adjunct professor of government and public policy at William and Mary and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.
We need your voice at the table at this community forum. We hope you will join us.