After the terrorists hit the towers at the World Trade Center on 9/11 they stated they were going to instill fear into the people of the United States so that we would fear everything: going to public events like football and baseball games, concerts, marathons, visiting beaches and traveling by plane and train.
In other words: we would be so afraid about things that might happen that we would hide in our houses and refuse to be a part of our own lives.
But we have shown the world, time and time again that we would mourn and cry for the lost but rise up the next day and continue to do whatever is necessary to heal and move forward. That instead of running away in fear we run back into the destruction around us, as people did on 9/11. We have proven over and over that in times of extreme terror we turn to help the person beside us. We see this in the hundreds of volunteers that came to New York after the towers collapsed on 9/11 to help search for victims. People brought food and water to help the volunteer workers who were digging through the rubble. They helped with the dogs that were getting depressed because they were trained to find people that were still alive and not retrieve only bodies. Even when it was hopeless, even when we knew that everyone in those towers couldn’t possibly have survived, people still came and searched and offered themselves to others even if it was to share a tear or come together over prayer and candle vigils. Our saving grace is that we, as Americans, do rise up, do put ourselves aside; that in times of extreme tragedy, we stand together.
Three days after the towers fell, President Bush gave his Bullhorn Speech and said: “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us…” Now, I wasn’t a fan of President Bush. I didn’t agree with many of the things he did in response to 9/11. But, when he said these words and the crowd erupted into cheers it filled me with pride and maybe even a little bit of hope. It gave me comfort in a strange way to see him as moved and shocked as I was, and it was that cocky American resolve that came through that gave me a glimpse of hope on that darkest of days. It helped me through weeks that followed when I was scared and overwhelmed with grief. I knew that we, as Americans, would prevail. I knew we would find a way to get through it all. And even though I felt vulnerable there was that American thing in me that knew we had survived revolutionary wars, civil wars, world wars and foreign wars. I knew that we would find a way to survive this. It was the first time that I respected President Bush because he spoke the words we all needed to hear–that the world would hear us–and those words comforted me because I knew that the world would not only hear us, they would hear our strength and understand that not only were we not defeated, we would not cower in fear.
But that was sixteen years ago and this is now. And now there are no words of comfort coming from The White House. There are no speeches telling us that we are strong, that we are mighty, that the world will hear us and we will be proud. Today that voice is telling us that we are not what we used to be, that we are decrepit like empty factories. That we are drug addled, uneducated, and that crime has taken over our streets. We are told that we used to be great but we are not anymore. We are told that it will all be fixed but that we are not to be a part of it. If news media disagree, they will be banned from information. If people rise up and gather in the streets in protest, they will be prosecuted even though it is our first amendment right. They are detaining women and children, doctors, students and professors with valid visas at airports. They are questioning citizens according to skin color and dress as if that made criminals. They are planning to defund safe energy directives designed to keep us healthy, the arts, healthcare, school lunch programs and public education while also attempting to privatize Medicare and Social Security. And, the money they will save will be funneled into the defense budget; which says to me that they are once again looking to war as the only solution.
Now we are afraid that our own government will be taking away not only our first amendment right to free speech, we are worried about how we will pay for our healthcare coverage, how our kids will get student loans, whether lower income families will still be able to get meals for their children at school, in many cases the only meal these children will have all day. But instead of addressing the country’s fears, we are being distracted with flashy photo ops when we need reassurances that we, the people, will be the number one priority and not the business deals that can make individuals already at the top even richer.
The day of the inauguration, as President Obama left on the helicopter, I felt a tiny ball of fear wedge itself into the pit of my stomach as if I were watching my father leave us in the hands of a mean and self-indulgent stepfather. As much as I hate that analogy, it seemed fitting as one man handed off the presidency to another and I once again became a disenfranchised female by a patriarchal regime. My fears were only cemented when the first directives were signed and we were caught in the ensuing chaos. And it was no surprise when we saw that what the people need is not the priority. We are now in dangerous times. We need voices of reason in Washington to rise out of all of this confusion and stand up for the people who elected them. They need to do the right thing. Or, as chanted in several town halls in the paste few weeks: they need to do their jobs.
But we cannot sit back and wait for someone else to pick up our fight. Again and again we must come back to the starting point of being our own advocates. We must continue to demand that our voices be heard. We must step back from the fear and look around our own communities to see what we can do to keep those legislators in Washington listening to us.
Call your representatives daily. Go to your town halls. If they don’t have one scheduled, get together with your neighbors and organize one yourself. Demand that your state representatives listen and let them know that if they don’t advocate for you, that you will vote them out of office in the midterm election. We must never give up our belief in the power of our vote.
We cannot be heard if we don’t speak.
We cannot speak if we hide in fear.
Joan Hanna has published poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, book reviews and essays in various online and print journals. Hanna’s first poetry chapbook, Threads, was named a finalist in the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Both Threads and her second chapbook, The Miracle of Mercury, are available through Finishing Line Press. Hanna has previously served as Assistant Managing Editor for River Teeth, Assistant Editor for rkvry Quarterly Literary Journal, Managing Editor for Poets’ Quarterly and Senior Editor at Glassworks. Hanna holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and teaches creative writing at Rowan University. You can follow her personal blog at Writing Through Quicksand.