This Isn't the Speech I Expected to Give Today...
Keynote Address to the
Environmental Grantmakers Association, Brainerd, MN
October 16, 2001
This isn't the speech I expected to give today. I intended something else. For the last several years I've been taking every possible opportunity to talk about the soul of democracy. 'Something is deeply wrong with politics today,' I told anyone who would listen. And I wasn't referring to the partisan mudslinging, or the negative TV ads, the excessive polling or the empty campaigns. I was talking about something deeper, something troubling at the core of politics. The soul of democracy-the essence of the word itself-is government of, by, and for the people. And the soul of democracy has been dying, drowning in a rising tide of big money contributed by a narrow, unrepresentative elite that has betrayed the faith of citizens in self-government.
This wasn't something I came to casually, by the way. It's the big political story of the last quarter century, and I started reporting it as a journalist in the late 70s with the first television documentary about political action committees. More recently, at the Florence and John Schumann Foundation, working with my colleague and son, John Moyers, we saw how environmental causes were being overwhelmed by the private funding of elections that gives big donors unequal and undeserved political influence. That's why over the past five years the Schumann brothers-Robert and Ford and our board have poured both income and principle into political reform through the Clean Money Initiative-the public funding of elections. I intended to talk about this-about the soul of democracy-and then connect it to my television efforts and your environmental work. That was my intention. That's the speech I was working on six weeks ago.
But I'm not the same man I was six weeks ago. And you're not the same audience for whom I was preparing those remarks. We've all been changed by what happened on September 11. My friend, Thomas Hearne, the president of Wake Forest University, reminded me recently that while the clock and the calendar make it seem as if our lives unfold hour by hour, day by day, our passage is marked by events-of celebration and crisis. We share those in common. They create the memories which make of us a history, and make of us a people, a nation. Pearl Harbor was that event for my parents' generation. It changed their world, and it changed them. They never forgot the moment when the news reached them. For my generation it was the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, the dogs and fire hose in Alabama. Those events broke our hearts. We healed, but scars remain.
For this generation, that moment will be September 11th, 2001-the worst act of terrorism in our nation's history. It has changed the country. It has changed us. That's what terrorists intend. Terrorists don't want to own our land, wealth, monuments, buildings, fields, or streams. They're not after tangible property. Sure, they aim to annihilate the targets they strike. But their real goal is to get inside our heads, our psyche, and to deprive us-the survivors-of peace of mind, of trust, of faith; they aim to prevent us from believing again in a world of mercy, justice, and love, or working to bring that better world to pass.
This is their real target, to turn our imaginations into Afghanistans, where they can rule by fear. Once they possess us, they are hard to exorcise.
This summer our daughter and son-in-law adopted a baby boy. On September 11th our son-in-law passed through the shadow of the World Trade Center to his office up the block. He got there in time to see the eruption of fire and smoke. He saw the falling bodies. He saw the people jumping to their deaths. His building was evacuated and for long awful moments he couldn't reach his wife, our daughter, to say he was okay. She was in agony until he finally got through-and even then he couldn't get home to his family until the next morning. It took him several days fully to get his legs back. Now, in a matter-of-fact voice, our daughter tells us how she often lies awake at night, wondering where and when it might happen again, going to the computer at three in the morning-her baby asleep in the next room-to check out what she can about bioterrorism, germ warfare, anthrax, and the vulnerability of children. Beyond the carnage left by the sneak attack terrorists create another kind of havoc, invading and despoiling a new mother's deepest space, holding her imagination hostage to the most dreadful possibilities.
None of us is spared. The building where my wife and I produce our television programs is in midtown Manhattan, just over a mile from ground zero. It was evacuated immediately after the disaster although the two of us remained with other colleagues to help keep the station on the air. Our building was evacuated again late in the evening a day later because of a bomb scare at the Empire State building nearby. We had just ended a live broadcast for PBS when the security officers swept through and ordered everyone out of the building. As we were making our way down the stairs I took Judith's arm and was suddenly struck by the thought: is this the last time I'll touch her? Could our marriage of almost fifty years end here, on this dim and bare staircase? I ejected the thought forcibly from my mind, like a bouncer removing a rude intruder; I shoved it out of my consciousness by sheer force of will. But in the first hours of morning, it crept back.
Returning from Washington on the train last week, I looked up and for the first time in days saw a plane in the sky. And then another, and another-not nearly as many as I used to on that same journey. But so help me, every plane I saw, and every plane I see today, invokes unwelcome images and terrifying thoughts. Unwelcome images, terrifying thoughts: time bombs planted in our heads by terrorists, our own private Afghanistans.
I wish I could find the wisdom in this. Then our time together this morning might have been more profitable for you. But wisdom is a very elusive thing. Someone told me once that we often have the experience but miss the wisdom. Wisdom comes, if at all, slowly, painfully, and only after deep reflection. Perhaps when we gather next year the wisdom will have arranged itself like the beautiful colors of a stilled kaleidoscope, and we will look back on September 11 and see it differently.
But I haven't been ready for reflection. I have wanted to stay busy, on the go, or on the run, perhaps, from the need to cope with the reality that just a few subway stops south of where I get off at Penn Station in midtown Manhattan, five thousand people died in a matter of minutes. One minute they're pulling off their jackets, shaking Sweet 'n Low into their coffee, adjusting the picture of a child or sweetheart or spouse in a frame on their desk, booting up their computer-and in the next, it's all over for them. I've been collecting obituaries of the victims. Practically every day the New York Times runs compelling little profiles of the dead and missing, and I've been keeping them. Not out of some macabre desire to stare at death, but to see if I might recognize a face, a name, some old acquaintance, a former colleague, even a stranger I might have seen occasionally on the subway or street. That was my original purpose.
But as the file has grown I realize what an amazing montage it is of life, an unforgettable portrait of the America those terrorists wanted to shatter. I study each little story for its contribution to the mosaic of my country, its particular revelation about the nature of democracy, the people with whom we share it.
Luis Bautista was one. It was his birthday, and he had the day off from Windows on the World, the restaurant high atop the World Trade Center. But back home in Peru his family depended on Luis for the money he had been sending them since he arrived in New York two years ago speaking only Spanish, and there was the tuition he would soon be paying to study at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. So on the eleventh of September Luis Bautista was putting in overtime. He was 24.
William Steckman was 56. For thirty five of those years he took care of NBC's transmitter at One World Trade Center, working the night shift because it let him spend time during the day with his five children and to fix things up around the house. His shift ended at six a.m. but this morning his boss asked him to stay on to help install some new equipment, and William Steckman said sure.
Elizabeth Holmes lived in Harlem with her son and jogged every morning around Central Park where I often go walking, and I have been wondering if Elizabeth Holmes and I perhaps crossed paths some morning. I figure we were kindred souls. She too, was a Baptist, and sang in the choir at the Canaan Baptist church. She was expecting a ring from her fianc� at Christmas.
Linda Luzzicone and Ralph Gerhardt were planning their wedding, too. They had both sets of parents come to New York in August to meet for the first time and talk about the plans. They had discovered each other in nearby cubicles on the 104th floor of One World Trade Center and fell in love. They were working there when the terrorists struck.
Mon Jahn-bul-lie came here from Albania. Because his name was hard to pronounce his friends called him by the Cajun "Jambalay" and he grew to like it. He lived with his three sons in the Bronx and was supposed to have retired when he turned 65 last year, but he was so attached to the building and so enjoyed the company of the other janitors that he often showed up an hour before work just to shoot the bull. In my mind's eye I can see him that morning, horsing around with his buddies.
Fred Scheffold liked his job, too-Chief of the 12th battalion in Harlem. He loved going into fires and he loved his men. But he never told his daughters in the suburbs about the bad stuff in all the fires he had fought over the years. He didn't want to worry them. This morning, his shift had just ended and he was starting home when the alarm rang. He jumped into the truck with the others and at One World Trade Center he pushed through the crowds to the staircase heading for the top. The last time anyone saw him alive he was heading for the top. While hundreds poured past him going down through the flames and smoke, Fred Scheffold just kept going up.
Now you know why I can't give the speech I was working on.
Talking about my work in television would be too parochial. And what's happened since the attacks would seem to put the lie to my fears about the soul of democracy. Americans have rallied together in a way that I cannot remember since World War Two. In real and instinctive ways we have felt touched? singed -- by the fires that brought down those buildings, even those of us who did not directly lose a loved one. Great and low alike, we have been humbled by a renewed sense of our common mortality. Those planes the terrorists turned into suicide bombers cut through a complete cross-section of America-stockbrokers and dishwashers, bankers and secretaries, lawyers and janitors, Hollywood producers and new immigrants, urbanites and suburbanites alike. One community near where I live in New Jersey lost twenty-three residents. A single church near our home lost eleven members of the congregation. Eighty nations are represented among the dead. This catastrophe has reminded us of a basic truth at the heart of our democracy: no matter our wealth or status or faith, we are all equal before the law, in the voting booth, and when death rains down from the sky.
We have also been reminded that despite years of scandals and political corruption, despite the stream of stories of personal greed and pirates in Gucci's scamming the treasury, despite the retreat from the public sphere and the turn toward private privilege, despite squalor for the poor and gated communities for the rich, we have been reminded that the great mass of Americans have not yet given up on the idea of 'We, the People.' And they have refused to accept the notion, promoted so diligently by our friends at the Heritage Foundation and by Grover Norquist and his right-wing ilk, that government-the public service- should be shrunk to a size where they can drown it in the bathtub (that's what Norquist said is their goal.) These right-wingers at Heritage and elsewhere, by the way, earlier this year teamed up with the deep-pocket bankers who finance them, to stop the United States from cracking down on terrorist money havens. As TIME Magazine reports, thirty industrial nations were ready to tighten the screws on offshore financial centers whose banks have the potential to hide and often help launder billions of dollars for drug cartels, global crime syndicates-and groups like Osama bin Laden's Al-Quaeda organization. Not all off-shore money is linked to crime or terrorism; much of it comes from wealthy people who are hiding money to avoid taxation. And right-wingers believe in nothing if not in avoiding taxation. So they and the bankers' lobbyists went to work to stop the American government from participating in the crackdown on dirty money, arguing that closing down tax havens in effect leads to higher taxes on the poor people trying to hide their money. I am not kidding; it's all on the record. The president of the Heritage Foundation spent an hour, according to the New York Times, with Treasury Secretary O'Neill, and Texas bankers pulled their strings at the White House, and presto, the Bush administration folded and pulled out of the international campaign against tax havens.
How about that for patriotism? Better terrorists get their dirty money than tax cheaters be prevented from hiding their money. And that from people who wrap themselves in the flag and sing the Star Spangled Banner with gusto. These true believers in the god of the market would leave us to the ruthless cruelty of unfettered monopolistic capital where even the law of the jungle breaks down.
But listen: today's heroes are public servants. The twenty-year-old dot.com instant millionaires and the pugnacious pundits of tabloid television and the crafty celebrity stock pickers on the cable channels have all been exposed for what they are-barnacles on the hulk of the great ship of state. In their stead we have those brave firefighters and policemen and Port Authority workers and emergency rescue personnel, public employees all, most of them drawing a modest middle-class income for extremely dangerous work. They have caught our imaginations not only for their heroic deeds but because we know so many people like them, people we took for granted. For once, our TV screens have been filled with the modest declarations of average Americans coming to each other's aid.
I find this good, and thrilling, and sobering. It could offer a new beginning, a renewal of civil values that could leave our society stronger and more together than ever, working on common goals for the public good.
The playwright Tony Kushner wrote more than a decade ago: 'There are moments in history when the fabric of everyday life unravels, and there is this unstable dynamism that allows for incredible social change in short periods of time. People and the world they're living in can be utterly transformed, either for the good or the bad, or some mixture of the two.'
He's right. This could go either way. Here's one sighting: in the wake of September 11th; there's been a heartening change in how Americans view their government. For the first time in more than thirty years a majority of people say we trust the Federal Government to do the right thing 'just about always' or at least 'most of the time.' It's as if the clock has been rolled back to the early sixties, before Vietnam and Watergate took such a toll on the gross national psychology. This newfound hope for public collaboration is based in part on how people view what the government has done in response to the attacks. I have to say that overall, President Bush has acted with commendable resolve and restraint. But this is a case where yet again the people are ahead of the politicians. They're expressing greater faith in government right now because the long-standing gap between our ruling elites and ordinary citizens has seemingly disappeared. To most Americans, government right now doesn't mean a faceless bureaucrat or a politician auctioning access to the highest bidder. It means a courageous rescuer or brave soldier. Instead of representatives spending their evenings clinking glasses with fat cats, they are out walking among the wounded. In Washington it seemed momentarily possible that the political class had been jolted out of old habits. Some old partisan rivalries and arguments fell by the wayside as our representatives acted decisively on a forty billion dollar fund to rebuild New York. Adversaries like Dennis Hastert and Dick Gephardt were linking arms. There was even a ten-day moratorium on political fundraisers. I was beginning to be optimistic that the mercenary culture of Washington might finally be on its knees.
But I once asked a friend on Wall Street what he thought about the market. "I'm optimistic," he said. "Then why do you look so worried?" And he answered: "Because I'm not sure my optimism is justified."
I'm not, either. There are, alas, other sightings to report. It didn't take long for the wartime opportunists-the mercenaries of Washington, the lobbyists, lawyers, and political fundraisers-to crawl out of their offices on K Street determined to grab what they can for their clients. While in New York we are still attending memorial services for firemen and police, while everywhere Americans' cheeks are still stained with tears, while the President calls for patriotism, prayers and piety, the predators of Washington are up to their old tricks in the pursuit of private plunder at public expense. In the wake of this awful tragedy wrought by terrorism, they are cashing in.
Would you like to know the memorial they would offer the almost six thousand people who died in the attacks? Or the legacy they would provide the ten thousand children who lost a parent in the horror? How do they propose to fight the long and costly war on terrorism America must now undertake?
Why, restore the three-martini lunch-that will surely strike fear in the heart of Osama bin Laden. You think I'm kidding, but bringing back the deductible lunch is one of the proposals on the table in Washington right now. There are members of Congress who believe you should sacrifice in this time of crisis by paying for lobbyists' long lunches. And cut capital gains for the wealthy, naturally-that's America's patriotic duty, too. And while we're at it, don't forget to eliminate the Corporate Alternative Minimum Tax, enacted fifteen years ago to prevent corporations from taking so many credits and deductions that they owed little if any taxes. But don't just repeal their minimum tax; give those corporations a refund for all the minimum tax they have ever been assessed.
You look incredulous. But that's taking place in Washington even as we meet here in Brainerd this morning. What else can America do to strike at the terrorists? Why, slip in a special tax break for poor General Electric, and slip inside the Environmental Protection Agency while everyone's distracted and torpedo the recent order to clean the Hudson River of PCBs. Don't worry about NBC, CNBC, or MSNBC reporting it; they're all in the GE family.
It's time for Churchillian courage, we're told. So how would this crowd assure that future generations will look back and say 'This was their finest hour'? That's easy. Give those coal producers freedom to pollute. And shovel generous tax breaks to those giant energy companies; and open the Alaskan wilderness to drilling-that's something to remember the 11th of September for. And while the red, white and blue wave at half-mast over the land of the free and the home of the brave-why, give the President the power to discard democratic debate and the rule-of-law concerning controversial trade agreements, and set up secret tribunals to run roughshod over local communities trying to protect their environment and their health. It's happening as we meet. It's happening right now.
If I sound a little bitter about this, I am; the President rightly appeals every day for sacrifice. But to these mercenaries sacrifice is for suckers. So I am bitter, yes, and sad. Our business and political class owes us better than this. After all, it was they who declared class war twenty years ago and it was they who won. They're on top. If ever they were going to put patriotism over profits, if ever they were going to practice the magnanimity of winners, this was the moment. To hide now behind the flag while ripping off a country in crisis fatally - fatally! -separates them from the common course of American life.
Some things just don't change. Once again the Republican Party has lived down to Harry Truman's description of the GOP as guardians of privilege. And as for Truman's Democratic Party-the party of the New Deal and the Fair Deal-well, it breaks my heart to report that the Democratic National Committee has used the terrorist attacks to call for widening the soft money loophole in our election laws. How about that for a patriotic response to terrorism?
Mencken got it right-the journalist H. L. Mencken, who said that when you hear some men talk about their love of country, it's a sign they expect to be paid for it.
Understandably, in the hours after the attacks many environmental organizations stepped down from aggressively pressing their issues. Greenpeace canceled its 30th anniversary celebration. The Sierra Club stopped all advertising, phone banks and mailing. The Environmental Working Group and the PIRGs postponed a national report on chlorination in drinking water. That was the proper way to observe a period of mourning.
Furthermore, in work like this you have to read and respect the mood of a country in crisis, or a misspoken word, even a modest misstep, could lose you the public's ear for years to come. But the polluters and their political cronies accepted no such constraints. Just one day after the attack, one day into the maelstrom of horror, loss, and grief, Republican senators called for prompt consideration of the President's proposal to subsidize the country's largest and richest energy companies. While America was mourning they were marauding. One congressman even suggested that eco-terrorists might be behind the attacks. And with that smear he and his kind went on the offensive in Congress, attempting to attach to a defense bill massive subsidies for the oil, coal, gas and nuclear companies. To a defense bill! What a shameless insult to patriotism! What a slander on the sacrifice of our armed forces! To pile corporate welfare totaling billions of dollars onto a defense bill in an emergency like this is repugnant to the nostrils and a scandal against democracy!
But this is their game. They're counting on your patriotism to distract you from their plunder. They're counting on you to be standing at attention with your hand over your heart, pledging allegiance to the flag, while they pick your pocket!
Let's face it: they present citizens with no options but to climb back in the ring. We are in what educators call "a teachable moment." And we'll lose it if we roll over and shut up. What's at stake is democracy. Democracy wasn't cancelled on the 11th of September, but democracy won't survive if citizens turn into lemmings. Yes, the President is our Commander-in-chief, and in hunting down and destroying the terrorists who are trying to destroy us, we are "all the President's men"-as Henry Kissinger put it after the bombing of Cambodia. But we are not the President's minions. If in the name of the war on terrorism President Bush hands the state over to the energy industry, it's every patriot's duty to join the local opposition. Even in war, politics is about who gets what and who doesn't. If the mercenaries in Washington try to exploit the emergency and America's good faith to grab what they wouldn't get through open debate in peace time, the disloyalty will not be in our dissent but in our subservience. The greatest sedition would be our silence.
Yes, there's a fight going on-against terrorists around the globe, but just as certainly there's a fight going on here at home, to decide the kind of country this will be during and after the war on terrorism. To the Irishman's question-'Is this a private fight or can anyone get in it?" the answer has to be: "Come on in. It's our economy, our environment, our country, and our future. If we don't fight, who will?"
What should our strategy be? Here are a couple of suggestions. During two trips to Washington in the last ten days I heard people talking mostly about two big issues of policy: economic stimulus and the national security. How do we renew our economy and safeguard our nation? Guess what? Those are your issues, and you are uniquely equipped to address them with powerful language and persuasive argument.
For example: if you want to fight for the environment, don't hug a tree; hug an economist. Hug the economist who tells you that fossil fuels are not only the third most heavily subsidized economic sector after road transportation and agriculture-they also promote vast inefficiencies. Hug the economist who tells you that the most efficient investment of a dollar is not in fossil fuels but in renewable energy sources that not only provide new jobs but cost less over time. Hug the economist who tells you that the price system matters; it's potentially the most potent tool of all for creating social change. Look what California did this summer in responding to its recent energy crisis with a price structure that rewards those who conserve and punishes those who don't. Californians cut their electric consumption by up to 15%.
Do we want to send the terrorists a message? Go for conservation. Go for clean, home-grown energy. And go for public health. If we reduce emissions from fossil fuel, we will cut the rate of asthma among children. Healthier children and a healthier economy-how about that as a response to terrorism?
As for national security, well, it's time to expose the energy plan before Congress for the dinosaur it is. Everyone knows America needs to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel. But this energy plan is more of the same: more subsidies for the rich, more pollution, more waste, more inefficiency. Let's get the message out.
Start with John Adams' wakeup call. The head of NRDC says the terrorist attacks spell out in frightful terms that America's unchecked consumption of oil has become our Achilles heel. It constrains our military options in the face of terror. It leaves our economy dangerously vulnerable to price shocks. It invites environmental degradation, ecological disasters, and potentially catastrophic climate change. Go to Tompaine.com and you will find the two simple facts we need to get to the American people: first, the money we pay at the gasoline pump helps prop up oil-rich sponsors of terrorism like Saddam Hussein and Muammar al-Quaddifi. Second, a big reason we spend so much money policing the Middle East-$30 billion every year, by one reckoning-has to do with our dependence on the oil there. So John Adams got it right-the single most important thing environmentalists can do to ensure America's national security is to fight to reduce our nation's dependence on oil, whether imported or domestic.
But don't stop there.
Before the 11th of September the nuclear power industry was salivating at the prospect of the government giving it limited liability for the risks of the meltdown or other nuclear accident. We were told by Vice President Cheney that nuclear power was a "safe technology" that could help alleviate energy shortages and not contribute to greenhouse gases.
But when Dick Cheney invited the energy companies and their lobbyists to write his energy plan, he didn't reckon on terrorism or the advice of Harvey Wassermann. Harvey Wassermann has spent years studying these issues and writing about America's experience with atomic radiation. He tells us that one or both planes that crashed into the World Trade Center could easily have obliterated the two atomic reactors now operating at Indian Point, about 40 miles up the Hudson River. Regulations put out by the nuclear regulatory commission regarding plant safety don't address that sort of event, and neither plant was designed to withstand such crashes. Until now Harvey Wassermann's scenario was unthinkable. Had one or both of those jets hit one or both of the operating reactors at Indian Point, the ensuing cloud of radiation would have dwarfed the ones at Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. At the very least the massive impact and hellish jet fuel fire would destroy the human ability to control the plants' functions. Vital cooling systems, back-up power generators and communications networks would crumble. The assault would not require a large jet. The safety systems are extremely complex and virtually indefensible. One or more could be wiped out with a wide range of easily deployed small aircraft, ground-based weapons, truck bombs or even chemical/biological assaults aimed at the operating work force. Dozens of US reactors have repeatedly failed even modest security tests over the years. And even heightened wartime standards cannot guarantee protection of the vast, supremely sensitive controls required for reactor safety. Without continuous monitoring and guaranteed water flow, the thousands of tons of radioactive rods in the cores and the thousands more stored in those fragile pools would rapidly melt into super-hot radioactive balls of lava that would burn into the ground and the water table and, ultimately, the Hudson. Striking water, they would blast gigantic billows of horribly radioactive steam into the atmosphere. The radioactive clouds would then enshroud New York, New Jersey, New England, and carry deep into the Atlantic and up into Canada and across to Europe and around the globe again and again. The immediate damage would render thousands of the world's most populous and expensive square miles permanently uninhabitable. All five boroughs of New York City would be an apocalyptic wasteland. All real estate and economic value would be poisonously radioactive throughout the entire region. Who knows how many people would die? As at Three Mile Island, where thousands of farm and wild animals died in heaps, and as at Chernobyl, where soil, water and plant life have been hopelessly irradiated, natural ecosystems on which human and all other life depends would be permanently and irrevocably destroyed; spiritually, psychologically, financially, ecologically, our nation would never recover.
This is what we missed by a mere forty miles near New York City on September 11th. And remember-there are 103 of these potential bombs of the apocalypse now operating in the United States. 103.
I know you see the magnitude of the challenge. I know you see what we're up against. I know you get it-the work that we must do. It's why you mustn't lose heart. Your adversaries will call you unpatriotic for speaking the truth when conformity reigns. Ideologues will smear you for challenging the official view of reality. Mainstream media will ignore you, and those gasbags on cable TV and the radio talk shows will ridicule and vilify you. But I urge you to hold to these words: "In the course of fighting the present fire, we must not abandon our efforts to create fire-resistant structures of the future." Those words were written by my friend Randy Kehler more than ten years ago, as America geared up to fight the Gulf War. They ring as true today. Those fire-resistant structures must include an electoral system that is no longer dominated by big money, where the voices and problems of average people are attended on a fair and equal basis. They must include an energy system that is more sustainable, and less dangerous. And they must include a media that takes its responsibility to inform us as seriously as its interest in entertaining us.
My own personal response to Osama bin Laden is not grand, or rousing, or dramatic. All I know to do is to keep doing as best I can the craft that has been my calling now for most of my adult life. My colleagues and I have rededicated ourselves to the production of several environmental reports that were in progress before September 11. As a result of our two specials this year-Trade Secrets and Earth on Edge-PBS is asking all of public television's production teams to focus on the environment for two weeks around Earth Day next April. Our documentaries will anchor that endeavor. One will report on how an obscure provision in the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) can turn the rule of law upside down and undermine a community's health and environment. Our four-part series on America's First River looks at how the Hudson River shaped America's conservation movement a century ago and, more recently, the modern environmental movement. We're producing another documentary on the search for alternative energy sources, another on children and the environment the questions scientists, researchers and pediatricians are asking about children's vulnerability to hazards in the environment-and we are also making a stab at updating the health of the global environment that we launched last June with Earth on Edge.
What does Osama bin Laden have to do with these? He has given me not one but five thousand and more reasons for journalism to signify on issues that matter. I began this talk with the names of some of them- the victims who died on the 11th of September. I did so because I never want to forget the humanity lost in the horror. I never want to forget the e-mail Forrester Church told me about-sent by a doomed employee in the World Trade Center who, just before his life was over, wrote: "Thank you for being such a great friend." I never want to forget the man and woman holding hands as they leap together to their death. I never want to forget those firemen who just kept going up; they just kept going up. And I never want to forget what Forrester said of this disaster-that the very worst of which human beings are capable can bring out the very best.
I've learned a few things in my 67 years. One thing I've learned that the kingdom of the human heart is large. In addition to hate, it contains courage, in response to the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, my parents' generation waged and won a great war, then came home to establish a more prosperous and just America. I inherited the benefits of their courage. So did you. The ordeal was great but prevail they did.
We will, too, if we rise to the spiritual and moral challenge of survival. Michael Berenbaum has defined that challenge for me. As President of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, he worked with people who escaped the Holocaust. Here's what he says: "The question is what to do with the very fact of survival. Over time survivors will be able to answer that question not by a statement about the past but by what they do with the future. Because they have faced death, many will have learned what is more important: Life itself, love, family, community. The simple things we have all taken for granted will bear witness to that reality. The survivors will not be defined by the lives they have led until now but by the lives that they will lead from now on. For the experience of near death to have ultimate meaning, it must take shape in how one rebuilds from the ashes. Such for the individual; so, too, for the nation."
We're survivors, you and I. We will be defined not by the lives we led until the 11th of September, but by the lives we will lead from now on. So go home-make the best grants you've ever made. And the biggest-we have too little time to pinch pennies. Back the committed and courageous people in the field-and back them with media to spread their message. Stick your own neck out. Let your work be charged with passion, and your life with a sense of mission. For when all is said and done, the most important grant you'll ever make is the gift of yourself, to the work at hand.