It's Not Enough to Remember 9/11

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It's Not Enough to Remember 9/11

9/11 rescue workers Bill Maher (left), Reggie Cervantes (center) and John Graham (right)

First, for my son Russell, who turns 40 on September 11, 2016, I've always said there had to be an incredible amount of joy and humanity to remember on other September 11th's to make the pain and vivid memories of September 11, 2001, a bit less horrible to bear. Looking back on giving birth to my son and giving thanks to God for the husband and father he has become makes my memories wild with divergent emotions.

When Michael Moore took a few of the subjects of his 2007 film, SiCKO, to Cuba, I was fortunate enough to go along to receive some much needed medical care I could not get under my own health insurance in the United States. We also had three 9/11 first responders with us, and there were a couple of moments seared in my heart that no one may ever see though cameras were present.

One afternoon as the sun was setting over Havana and those of us in SiCKO who had been admitted as patients to the hospital for care were gathered in the communal dining room on our patient floor, our conversation shifted to 9/11 and why the first responders were having so much trouble accessing needed medical care in the US. I told Billy, one of the 9/11 responders, that I doubted most Americans even knew they were having trouble getting care. I said I was sure they'd be outraged, as I was. He shook his head. He said most people had already forgotten and that many just didn't care that much. I argued. How could I not? He must be bitter, I thought. He must not know we all care. Turns out, he was right and I was mostly wrong.

The 9/11 first responders deserved to never want for medical care again. Ever. Yet they have. The 9/11 first responders have had to fight and lobby and prove their illnesses and injuries over and over again in the 15 years since we all watched them fearlessly act in the face of unimaginable horror. Sitting with them in Havana in 2007, I heard about some of the horrors. Even hearing about some of the things they saw, heard and felt firsthand was so troubling that I still think about it. Yet, we make them beg for help in many cases. Their families have suffered too as incomes were lost or greatly reduced due to 9/11 related injury and/or illness and those incomes have often not been replaced. Homes have been lost. Families shattered.

And, we did forget. We didn't have an attention span long enough or a reservoir of compassion deep enough to include them.

My other memory from growing to know those three 9/11 first responders (Billy, Reggie and John) surrounded watching them meet with Cuban mental health professionals and seeing the translators (medical students from the US studying in Cuba) working to make sure every word was understood. As the first responders left the room, I watched tears run down the faces of those Cuban medical professionals. They stood in awe of what these three fine human beings had been through and how they had themselves suffered for care. It was humbling to watch.

To Michael Moore's everlasting credit, these two scenes were never included in the film in any way. The 9/11 responders were not wanting sympathy. They wanted to be remembered. They wanted us to remember, and perhaps they wanted us to show just a fraction of the commitment to their well-being that they had committed to others -- to the point of risking their lives if necessary. And we have failed them greatly.

I am not sure what they all are thinking on this 15th anniversary of 9/11. But, Reggie, John and my dear Billy, I have never and will never forget you and what you did that day in Manhattan and in the weeks ahead at Ground Zero. And you must know part of the reason I believe in and continue to fight for an improved Medicare for all for life system is so none of you will ever again need to fight for healthcare. Just as you believed every life was worth trying to save, I believe every life is worthy of access to needed healthcare. I guess some Americans don't agree, but knowing that you are my allies in this cause gives me strength and gives me pause. With heroes such as you on our side, we must be on the right path. May God give you peace and may you know today and every day that your lives and your sacrifice matter greatly to me and to many. Thank you.

Donna Smith

Donna Smith
Donna Smith is the executive director of Progressive Democrats of America.  PDA's mission is to strengthen the voice of progressive ideas inside and outside the Democratic Party by using "inside/outside" and "grassroots fusion" models of working both in the Democratic Party as well as working with other progressive organizations both inside and outside the Party.

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