Editor’s Note: The essay below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.
Dave Sherman is a rare and precious breed. The outdoor enthusiast in his mid-thirties works as a produce manager at an organic health food store and as a full-time environmental and social activist. He was raised in New England, one of a handful of kids born to an ex-Christian mum. Today, he lives in Flagstaff, a quaint mountain town in northern Arizona. He considers himself an animist. Dave says he is “gravely concerned about the false reality” Americans have grown accustomed and addicted to, a “reality dependent upon the misery of people and places the world over.” As he further describes, “In travel, in eating, in work, in dreaming and sharing, I seek to share visions old and new that empower us to move rightly and justly, peacefully and meaningfully toward a more equitable and sustainable world.” Dave awoke to news of attacks when his alarm went off around 5:50 a.m. The following is a letter he sent out Sept. 13.
First, my heart and intentions go out to those who lost lives and/or loved ones, to those who are bearing the physical burden of this horrific event on their shoulders. You are not alone. As far as I know, I cannot speak to the reality you are now facing, but rest assured no one in this nation is unaffected by these events. Peace.
What “can we do” to arrest this vicious downward spiral of death and retaliation? Where is a sane and comprehensive dialogue, one that is putting Tuesday’s action in the context of the world we live in, a world largely manipulated and crafted by heads of business and state in this very country?
Tuesday’s attack did not “come out of the blue.” It is not an action without context, a random act without intent or historical underpinnings. Regrettably, the only thing unusual about Tuesday is that it was this country that was bearing the brunt of tragedy, rather than inflicting it upon masses the globe over. In many ways, such an event was inevitable.
This does not, of course, lessen the tragedy in any way. But it is the context in which it is unfolding, and as such it must not be ignored. Let us not forget the very active role we have played in formulating, manipulating and profiting from the often horrendous realities around the world. Some would label our current heads of state “terrorists,” and I imagine Bush’s statement about a “faceless coward” is shared by numerous countries who have felt (and continue to feel) the heavy weight of US aerial bombardment and covert (and overt) military intervention.
(Again, this does not, in ANY WAY, make Tuesday’s actions “ok.” Nor am I attempting to say that the blame is wholly ours. I am just urging circumspect and comprehensive dialogue and investigation.)
I only hope that those who feel comfortable doing “whatever it takes” to make sure that whoever planned these attacks does not have another chance to kill thousands of people feel as strongly about insuring that US policies likewise do not kill thousands. And remember, in this country such actions are routinely a matter of publicly sanctioned POLICY, rather than the actions of an active minority.
So, what to do? I imagine that victims have denounced this cycle of violence in the past. As we generally do not play that role, it is new to us. (Again, this is not to belittle any other events in which lives have been lost, whether “in combat” or in covert actions.) However, the time for new and vibrant visions could not be more obvious. Kicking sand in each other’s faces is a childish game, leaving the land itself barren and everyone blind and angry. Of course, we can continue to destroy our ecological and social capital in the futile pursuit of hitting our neighbors harder then they hit us. Or, we can work toward peace. And to put some backbone in that, rather than leave it as a laudable but insubstantial goal, how about the following:
1) Immediately cease the manufacturing of military hardware. Immediately. We already have enough to annihilate everyone. Let’s rest and think and feel.
2) Post bumper stickers, hang fliers at work, speak with everyone you can about the need for peace now. Hold vigils, meetings, prayer groups, etc. Do not let this event be controlled and manipulated by those who seek to gain from it.
3) Work to eliminate “war” vocabulary from our everyday discourse. Phrases such as the “war on the environment” serve to honor and encourage a militaristic reality that is destroying cultures and ecosystems the world over.
4) Create alternative visions in print, film, radio, etc. Forward this message to all those you can think of who are wrestling with these issues. Write letters to the editor. Again and again. We must talk until we are exhausted and then talk some more. Nothing less than the fate of reality as we experience it is at stake.
5) Get creative. We have an economy and worldview directly tied to our military might. We need other ways to make a living, to influence global policy, to (yes) protect ourselves from aberrant behavior. Social isolation, whether through jail (as opposed to capital punishment) or other creative mechanisms need to be explored. We can encourage a global peace rather than threaten military reactionaryism.
Indeed, we can lead the way toward a global peace. In my own world, the event Tuesday, and the unfolding nastiness that we are only beginning to see arise in reaction, has reconfirmed a dedication to non-violence. Not just in my own activism, not just as an historical oddity that has had its moment in the sun, but as a truly needed and necessary global view. Not something just for individuals willing to face dogs and water cannons, tear gas and “less-lethal” firearms, but for societies and institutions to embrace.
The time couldn’t be clearer.