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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The eloquence of Alissa Torres
Posted by Jill | 5:18 AM
Alissa Torres is a woman who lost her husband Eddie, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, in the 9/11 attacks. Notice I don't call her "a 9/11 widow." I do that because Torres is so much more than just a label that's all too often used as a political prop. She's also, in addition to many other things we don't even know about, an eloquent advocate for what this country is supposed to mean:
Whether it was an evenhanded article (like Newsweek's piece in which two mothers of firefighters shared their conflicting opinions) or any of the frustrating one-sided reports I've cringed over, it was hard to deny a whiff of Jerry Springer about this: All of us, in so much pain, duking it out in the public sphere. I felt saddened, confused. It used to be so meaningful to hear a victim's voice. To listen to someone speak out. Nine years later, as I watched this spectacle unfold, 9/11 victim pitted against 9/11 victim, I had to wonder: Was it still?

Right after my husband died, grief constricted my throat; I couldn't speak. Everyone, everywhere, talked about what happened: The news told me who killed my husband, what recovery efforts were occurring, where I could get resources. Meanwhile, I was mute. I remember in those early days how much it meant to hear Rita Lasar, who lost her brother Abe Zelmanowitz in the attack (and who eventually helped found 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows), a lone voice on TV explaining why it was wrong to invade Afghanistan.

Eventually, I found my voice in a series of articles I wrote for Salon and, later, in a book. I was lucky; I had a platform that allowed me to be more than a color quote in someone's reported story. As a Peaceful Tomorrows member, I lobbied in Washington on the U.S. Patriot Act, immigration and Guantánamo Bay, and though I always felt embarrassed saying it, my status as a 9/11 family member opened doors: I spoke to high-level legislative aides, I met with actual representatives.

There is therapy in speaking up, in feeling that you are not simply small and helpless in these giant matters. Each issue presents a chance for small triumph inside an abyss of loss. Maybe we can get this even if we can never get what we really want. Because what we really want is still to have our loved ones back.

But here is what's been lost in this Park51 controversy: We are not experts, we are victims. We deserve to speak up, we need to speak up to acknowledge the pain and suffering, but we were never meant to be leaders in a national debate. Because the only thing we really know intimately is grief. The only thing we really know is what it feels like to lose a loved one in 9/11.

As we approach the ninth anniversary of the event that ripped open our lives, those 5,000+ people on Arnie Korotkin's listserv are more divided than ever. And I can't shake the feeling that the media has duped us. In trying to create a controversy where there is none, in raking over wounds that -- nine years later -- still hurt. As we continue to grieve on Sept. 11, many 9/11 organizers have called for a "cease-fire" in the controversy to respect all our dead. But even that isn't something we can agree on; some families will use the day to continue to protest.

But for or against Park51, who among us wants to see images of the towers about to be hit by a plane splayed on New York City buses, as right-wing blogger Pamela Geller's anti-"ground zero mosque" ad features? None of us needs craven gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, standing in front of a picture of the smoldering towers, saying that he speaks on behalf of the victims of 9/11.

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