Do Your Jobs: Sick and Dying, They Brought Themselves Down Here to Speak - To No One

FealGood Foundation co-founder John Feal hugs Stewart after emotional testimony. Getty Image. On front, Stewart helps Luis Alvarez as they're sworn in. Photo by Jack Gruber, USA Today

For a scathing, potent, gut-punching look at the efficacy of righteous rage in the name of change, look no further than Jon Stewart's blistering testimony to an almost empty House Tuesday on the shameful  failure of Congress to adequately compensate 9/11 First Responders, dying of cancer and other ills at horrific rates even as glib lawmakers continue to spout "Never Forget" bullshit. A longtime advocate for New York City firefighters and police who for weeks inhaled toxic waste from working on "The Pile" - over 20,000 people have contracted or died from thousands of kinds of cancers, including brain and lung, along with breathing ailments - Stewart was alternately livid and tearful as he ripped the "callous indifference and rank hypocrisy" of GOP lawmakers who didn't even show up. At issue is the need for Congress to reauthorize a 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund that's  running short on money and has already had to cut payments by more than half to the sick and dying, many of whom came and/or spoke at the hearing. Luis Alvarez, a retired NYPD detective and ailing 9/11 responder starting his 69th round of chemotherapy Wednesday, told lawmakers, "You all said you would never forget. I'm here to make sure that you don't."

He and others faced barely half of the subcommittee's 14 members, mostly Democrats - a fact Stewart called "an embarrassment to the country." "I can't help but think what an incredible metaphor (this) is," he seethed. "A filled room of 9/11 first responders and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress. Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak one. Shameful." He also excorciated the multiple legislative loopholes survivors have endured - "Why this bill is not unanimous consent is beyond my comprehension," hollow arguments this is a New York issue - "Al Qaeda didn't yell death to Tribeca" was one of his few moments of fierce wit - and obstacles erected by unnamed spawn of the devil Mitch McConnell. "This is how outrage is supposed to work," wrote one admirer of Stewart, who spoke without notes and remained cogent, impassioned, furious and  deeply human as he railed at the sins of Congress entire. Earning a mournful, standing ovation, he ended by citing the 5-second response time of first responders that day as "hundreds died in an instant, thousands more poured in." "They responded in 5 seconds. They did their jobs, with courage, grace, tenacity, humility," he said, his voice breaking. "18 years later, do yours."


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