Published on September 29, 2001
Our Future Unfolding
by Seth Sandronsky
I just received a letter from a friend who lives in New York City. He wrote
that he fears for the future after the September 11 terrorist attacks there
and at the Pentagon. In Sacramento, I share his emotion.
September 11 has left many people in a state of anxiety. Understanding the centrality of this condition is crucial. Here’s why.
The desire for safety is a natural condition of human beings. This is their true interest. When safety is absent, people seek its return in many ways.
As I see it, the question is how to restore a sense of safety. I say a “sense” because absolute safety is absolutely illusory. This truism bears attention precisely because of the recent monumental event that ended life for innocent people of all backgrounds on American soil.
This crime against humanity has created a void. It’s been said that nature abhors a void. Confronting it, we do well to see that in our interrelated world, every action causes a reaction.
No people stand outside this equation. Innocent victims of violence share a bitter fate. Accepting this fact is part of the healing process.
One other thing is certain. We can count on unforeseen outcomes of our government’s responses to Sept. 11. Its militarized policies of the past offer a guide to future militarism at home and abroad.
Consider America’s “War on Drugs.” Has it made anybody safer from the violence associated with the illegal drug trade? Instead, what this war has done is incarcerate mostly nonwhite Americans whose labor is unneeded on the job market. The economics of America's skin color relations are nothing nice.
Did the U.S.-led Gulf War against Iraq bring peace in the Middle East? On a related note for us now, President Bush’s father did build some “national unity” for this war. This was one example of a political leader manufacturing public consent for an international butchery. It continues today, though less visibly, with the economic sanctioning of Iraq causing the deaths of more than 500,000 Iraqi kids.
Many Americans, in their grief and shock after September 11, want something to be done to make them safe. Who can argue? Our idea of safety has been violated in the most horrific way, and we are hurting.
In every end there is a new beginning. Which means many things. One is that during emotional times of loss, people are vulnerable. Political leaders and mainstream news media owners skillfully exploit this emotion to consolidate their power over the public mind.
Not that politicians need the excuse of a crisis to weaken our freedom. Recall that President Clinton, during the so-called “economic boom,” backed the anti-terrorism and crime bills, major rollbacks of civil rights that weakened habeas corpus. In a global economic downturn currently flowing from the U.S., President Bush and his administration are trying to build on this repressive legislation under the guise of promoting public safety.
To be sure, fear of the future can paralyze some into silence. For them, the unacceptable could become acceptable. Elites’ solutions to the current crisis are meant to cow people into embracing measures that will make a bad situation worse. To paraphrase Audre Lorde, their silence offers them no protection.
For other people, fear can vitalize them into new ways of thinking. Never underestimate the ability of ordinary folks to mobilize and organize in ways that encourage the best in themselves and others. I mean the qualities of sympathy and solidarity that have stood history’s test of adversity.
Now is the time for Americans to turn our collective fear of being unsafe into an opportunity for renewal. The future doesn’t have to be one of conflict resolution through violent confrontation. Solutions based on nonviolent cooperation are emerging, however underreported in America’s mainstream news media, in the U.S. and around the world.
In the end, the solutions to social problems will have to come from humanity's majority if society is to survive. It’s the hour for us to teach our leaders by example. They have many lessons to learn.
Seth Sandronsky ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) is an editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive newspaper.