Taking Stock of 9/11

You probably remember where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001. I’d imagesleft Cambridge, Massachusetts, 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 seven 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.

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September 11 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 led to expansion of presidential power; the erosion of civil liberties, the projecting of U.S. power into the Middle East through military force 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 U.S. 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.

To take stock of this significant period in our history, the Richmond Peace Education Center, with the ACLU of Virginia, has organized a daylong forum, Reclaiming Our Democracy 15 Years After 9/11, to take place on Saturday, September 17th, at the University of Richmond.

Read the details at www.rpec.org and join us at this important community event.