The foreword from The Advocates for Human Rights’ report Voices from Silence: Personal Accounts of the Long-term Impact of 9/11. Published in February 2007, “Voices of Silence” details the impact of 9/11 on the lives of immigrants, refugees, and religious minorities in Minnesota. It documents personal stories of fear and discrimination in a post-9/11 environment and contextualizes them with an overview of laws and policies that have affected these communities. As a staff member of the organization that published this report, I was privileged to play a small part in the drafting and editing of this report.
September 11, 2014 was a day of terrible tragedy, on every level -personal, community and national. We must always honor the memory of those who lost their lives to acts of terrorism, as well as the courage of those who worked so hard to help others. But neither should we forget what happened in the United States after the terrible events of 9/11 and the impact that fear and discrimination had on a personal, community, and national level. #NeverForget
Late in the afternoon of September 13, 2001, a Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights (now, The Advocates for Human Rights) staff attorney was meeting in our office with two of our pro bono clients, a Christian couple fleeing religious persecution in Egypt. Although it had been rescheduled from the afternoon of September 11, this meeting to prepare their application for asylum was routine for our organization, which provides legal representation to hundreds of asylum seekers each year. During the meeting, however, two uniformed Minneapolis police officers obtained access to the locked offices of Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights and, without warning, entered the room where our clients were meeting with their attorney. Th police apologized for interrupting the meeting, but sated that they were obligated to investigate a report that a “Middle Eastern” man had entered the building, which was located next to the Federal Building in downtown Minneapolis. After…
I chose the turtles of the Phelps Fountain in the Lyndale Park Rose Gardens as my subject for the weekly photo challenge From Every Angle. A cherished Minneapolis institution since 1908, the rose garden on the southeastern shore of Lake Harriet is the second oldest public rose garden in the United States. But the turtle fountain was not always there.
Meanwhile, in downtown Minneapolis, the 1915 Edmund J. Phelps Fountain, with its bronze turtles, sat at the center of the Gateway Park’s Beaux Arts Pavilion. During the Great Depression, the park became a gathering place for the unemployed, homeless and transients moving through the area looking for work. Eventually, the city drained the water from the basin of the turtle fountain to keep men from bathing in and drinking from it. Turns out that the turtles in my neighborhood park’s fountain were mute witnesses to dire poverty and suffering.
The turtle fountain was spared when Gateway Park was demolished. In the early 1960s, a Perennial Garden was added just east of the rose garden. The fountain was relocated in 1963 from downtown Minneapolis to the east end of this garden.
The turtle fountain, a familiar neighborhood icon, is different when seen from every (historic) angle.
See more responses to the Weekly Photo Challenge here.
Just over a year ago, my oldest son was infected with Lyme Disease. There were no telltale symptoms, no fever, no bullseye rash. We never even found the tick that bit him. Those nasty little Borrelia burgdorferi spirochetesjust went straight to his heart. He ended up in third degree heart block in the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit. The bacterial infection caused swelling, which blocked the flow of blood. By the next afternoon, his heartbeat was at times as slow as 25-30 bpm; normal resting heart rate for boys his age is more like 80 bpm. The Lyme Disease also wreaked havoc with his heart’s conduction system. We found out later that the doctor had actually scheduled the operation to put a pacemaker in him. He was only thirteen at the time.
Hospitals are strange places, where time seems to lose its meaning. I was in hospital when each of my children was born, but the regular maternity ward is a very different place from the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit. I don’t ever recall a chaplain visiting me on the maternity floor. On the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit, with its beeping machines and profoundly sick babies and children, the chaplain visited at least once a day.
The first time I met her, the chaplain offered me a series of bookmarks and cards with sayings from a variety of religions – Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish. The last thing she pulled out of her bag was a a small, photocopied square of paper.
May I be at peace.
May my heart remain open.
May I awaken to the light of my own true nature.
May I be healed.
May I be a source of healing for all beings.
Say these blessings for yourself anytime you feel alone,
afraid or out of touch with the Light within.
May you be at peace.
May your heart remain open.
May you awaken to the light of your own true nature.
May you be healed.
May you be a source of healing for all beings.
Say these blessings for as many people as you wish.
If worried thoughts about loved ones occur during the day,
take a minute to send them a lovingkindness blessing
rather than a fearful thought.
From Buddhist Tradition
I’m not a Buddhist, but I repeated these words to myself that night as I lay on the hard, cramped cot in my son’s room. I closed my eyes and listened to his slow, sleepy breathing, the heart monitor’s low beep. I sent my son Lovingkindness blessings until I fell asleep.
By daybreak, my son had moved from third to first degree heartblock. Since he had been in an area where we knew there were ticks carrying Lyme, they had started him on IV antibiotics as soon as he got to the hospital. After 24 hours, the antibiotics had kicked in fully and the infection was retreating. (Last month, my son went back to the pediatric cardiologist for his final follow-up exam. She gave him an “A+” for his EKG and physical exam. There appears to be no permanent damage to his heart and no lasting symptoms of Lyme Disease.)
I can’t say that I believe my son’s improvement was related to the Lovingkindness meditation or to my other prayers, but I do know that, at a time when I was worried about him, it gave me great comfort to send him the Lovingkindness blessing. I put the photocopied scrap of paper with the Lovingkindness meditation in my laptop case. At some point, out of curiosity, I read a bit more about Metta. At the risk of oversimplifying an ancient religious practice, the Lovingkindness mediation generally is done in this way. You always begins with yourself. Next, you think of someone you love, then someone who you think about in a neutral way. Followed by the hardest one – someone with whom you are in conflict. The words of the meditation can be varied, but the words on the paper I was given capture the essence. The purpose of the meditation is because, as Buddha said,
“Hatred cannot coexist with loving-kindness,
and dissipates if supplanted with thoughts based on loving-kindness.”
I love the idea that, even in the face of great evil, you CAN do something. Don’t think you are small and helpless. You, as an individual, can control your thoughts. You can turn them, at least for a few moments, away from fear and towards something positive instead.
A few weeks ago, I was in New York and found myself downtown near the new National September 11 Memorial. I had half an hour before my next meeting, so I decided to check it out.
Like most who remember that day thirteen years ago, September 11 will always be for me a day marked by pain and shock and suffering. I don’t know what it is like to lose a loved one in a tragedy like the World Trade Center attack, but my son’s close call with Lyme disease gave me the smallest of inklings of what it is like to lose a loved one. And it definitely gave me a sense of what it is like to experience unexpected danger that falls from a seemingly clear blue sky. For me, September 11 is an annual reminder of the strident need we have for less violence and hatred in our world. And of how much we need more peace, more connection, more healing. More loving and more kindness.
I happened to have my laptop in my briefcase. That little scrap of photocopied paper was still there, in the pocket of my laptop case, where it had been since we left the hospital more than a year ago. I had never bothered to throw it away, but I had never taken it out either. Now, at the September 11 Memorial, I sat down in the shade of a newly planted tree and took it out.
When Nelson Mandela died last week, I was struck by the somewhat impersonal nature of the “continuous live” media coverage. In the United States, I heard interviews with reactions from world leaders, I saw billboards with quotes from Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou about what Mandela meant to them. We now, apparently, memorialize our greatest heroes in memes, soundbites on photos which we share and share again. But what I really wanted to know was this:
“What are the people of South Africa feeling right now? How are they mourning the loss of the father of their nation?”
As it turns out, my brother Jeremy is in Cape Town, South Africa. He started sending back photos of the makeshift memorials that were springing up around the city. Touching tributes, both large and small, that showed the genuine love and respect felt for this man. Jeremy is a professor of African history, so I asked him to share his thoughts about Nelson Mandela along with his photos.
The Meaning of Mandela
by Jeremy Prestholdt
I arrived in South Africa a few hours after Nelson Mandela’s passing. The nation had only just begun mourning, but the way in which the former president had touched the lives of all South Africans was plain. From Soweto to Sandton, Cape Town, and Qunu, the outpouring of grief and appreciation was unlike anything I’d seen. While I knew that Mandela was revered, the deep respect for him that I’ve witnessed over the past days suggests that he was far more than a popular leader: he personified the myriad aspirations of South Africans.
As a professor of African history I often tell Mandela’s story. For decades Mandela was vilified as a terrorist. After he traveled to Algeria for military training, many in South Africa called for his execution. Rather than hanging Mandela, the Apartheid government tried to make him irrelevant by condemning him to a life of hard labor. During his nearly three decades in prison he became an icon in the struggle against white minority rule in Africa.
Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 was a watershed in the fight against Apartheid. Yet, it was his adroitness in navigating the path to national freedom that cemented his place in the hearts of all South Africans. Unlike most political leaders, Mandela had an extraordinary ability to balance justice with reconciliation. By drawing on this skill he accomplished what many deemed impossible: he steered a deeply divided and unequal society towards peace and greater freedom. For this Mandela earned universal appreciation as well as the title Tata (father of the nation), a word now on everyone’s lips in South Africa. It’s this deep appreciation for the father of the nation that is so evident here.
Though I’ve recounted Mandela’s history many times, joining South Africans during this period of mourning and remembrance has made me rethink the conclusion to the story that I will tell in future. The new ending will not be Mandela’s presidency or his death. Rather, it will be a reflection on what Mandela means to us now. South Africans–and mourners around the world–have demonstrated that, perhaps more than any other figure of our time, Mandela represents our collective aspirations for freedom, justice, and equality. In this he is more than a South African icon. He is a global symbol of human possibility.
Civic Centre, Cape Town
Sign on a Woolworths in Cape Town
All photo credits to Jeremy Prestholdt
Thank you so much, Jeremy, for writing this guest post!
The Acropolis, perched on a rocky hilltop above the bustle of Athens, is one of the grandest historical sites that I have had to opportunity to visit. I’m sharing a few photos from my 2012 visit in response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Grand. If you have never had the opportunity to experience the grandeur of the Acropolis, you can take a virtual tour here. Happy Sunday!
“I’ve been coming here since the beginning,” he said conspiratorially, leaning towards me from the stool next to mine.
I had noticed the white haired gentleman earlier, as he was shouldering his way through the Sunday brunch crowd at Beauty’s Luncheonette. He took a seat on the chrome-and-blue pleather stool next to me. As he carefully placed his folded Montreal Gazette on the formica countertop, he caught the server’s eye. “Hi hon!” she sang out as she filled his coffee cup.
He didn’t even have to place his order. In a matter of minutes, “the usual” was set in front of him. Side of home fries, black coffee, and a Beauty’s Russian Black Special. Most people who come to Beauty’s get the Beauty’s Special – smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato, and onion on the infamous Montreal sesame bagel. But The Regular clearly prefers the Special on on a Russian rye bread so black that it looks like it is made of dark chocolate.
“You’ve been coming here since 1942?” I asked.
“Sure, I went to high school just down the street. I used to buy my school supplies here back when it was a stationary shop. There was always a poker game going on back in the back room.”
He pointed towards an open door behind the kitchen to a small room where they now store the mops and brooms and cleaning supplies. (You can see it in the background of the photo above.)
“They won’t tell you THAT in the history.”
He gestured vaguely towards the blue and white menu, which contains a detailed history of Beauty’s. How newlyweds Hymie and Freda Sckolnick bought the shop on the corner of Mont Royal and St. Urbain and started serving lunch to the garment workers from the factories in the neighborhood. The name “Beauty” came from Hymie’s bowling nickname. It grew so popular that the workers started bringing their families on the weekend. “And the Montreal brunch was born,” to quote the menu. Indeed, there was no mention of the poker game in the back room.
“I’m in my 80s,” he confided, “so Hymie must be into his 90s. You met him when you came in, right?”
I had indeed met Hymie. He was guarding the door when we arrived – literally standing in the inner doorway and quizzing the groups of Montreal hipsters queued up outside. Since we only had two in our party, we scored an immediate seating at the lunch counter. “I like American money,” Hymie told me as he resettled, ever vigilant, on his perch by the door.
“Hymie opened up this morning,” The Regular told me. “That’s the son, Larry.” He waved dismissively at a white-haired man with black frame glasses who was dashing about with a pot of coffee. “He just showed up now.”
We talked for a few minutes. He told me how he grew up to be a lawyer and a politician. He represented the neighborhood for a number of years before returning to private practice. He lives downtown now, but he made it very clear that he is not retired.
“What’s your practice area?” I asked. Corporate, I thought.
“Immigration,” he said. “There’s always work and it’s interesting.”
“I know,” I said. “I’m a human rights lawyer at a non-profit, but I started out practicing asylum law. We always look to Canada as the better asylum system. Even now in the debate about immigration reform, we are using Canada as the example of why we should provide counsel for indigent asylum seekers.”
“Well,” he replied, “It was a hell of a lot better before the Conservatives took over. Now I’m not sure we’re a model for anyone anymore.”
As he paid his bill and gathered up his car keys and his black leather gloves, he asked, “What are you going to do today?”
“We’re thinking of going up to the top of Mont-Royal.”
“Mount Royal? How are you going to get there? Do you have a car?”
“No, we’re planning to bike,” I said.
He looked at me for a few seconds, as if assessing whether I was truly insane. Then he moved on.
“Well, you’re going to want to go to Schwartz’s Deli, so here’s a tip. Don’t bother with the line. Go across the street to Main Deli. It’s just as good, but without the wait. We call it “smoked meat” here. There’s no such thing as “pastrami” here in Canada,” he said emphatically.
“Thanks for the tip,” I said. As a vegetarian, my interest in cured meat – whatever you call it – is minimal.
It struck me later that, based on the facts that he dropped, I could easily pin a name and full bio on this guy. It would just take a couple of quick internet searches. But I have not chosen to do that.
As he said good-bye, I felt I had been privileged with a small glimpse into not just a life, but also into a unique time and place and people in this city’s history. I saw in a flash the habits of a lifetime, traces of a distinctive community. The institution of Beauty’s Luncheonette will certainly continue, but someday in the relatively near future it will be without Hymie and the others who were there from the beginning. On this, my first visit to Montreal, The Regular had given me a rare, small gift.
He put on his long, black wool coat and headed for the door, threading his way through throngs of young people – young people of all races and backgrounds, chatting energetically and switching effortlessly between French and English. In the midst of this microcosm of contemporary Montreal, The Regular turned back, eyes twinkling, and winked at me.
“My wife is in Florida. Don’t tell her I was here.”
It’s been pretty quiet over here on The Human Rights Warrior. I’ve got a long trip coming up soon, so haven’t had much time to devote to non-essentials (sadly, that includes blogging). I felt I just had to respond, however, to the Weekly Photo Challenge with some of the images and words that mean “Illumination” to me.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail about how future generations of Americans should celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence:
It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
On Christmas Eve, bonfires are lit on the Mississippi River levee to help guide Papa Noel. (St. James Parish, Louisiana)
Le respect, c’est accepter quelqu’un même si on ne l’aime pas. Respect is accepting someone even if you don’t like him. (Discovered this on the wall of a school in the Pâquis neighborhood in Geneva, Switzerland)
On the morning of July 22 last year, I read the breaking news of a car bomb attack in Oslo, Norway. I clicked on the link to the NRK live coverage, forgetting that my three children rise and swarm, like mosquitoes from tall grass at dusk, at the slightest potentiality of a video.
“WHAT IS HAPPENING?” yelled my then-9-year-old son.
“It looks like a car bomb exploded in downtown Oslo.”
Gasps all around. We had been in downtown Oslo less than a year before. We had been in that part of town and I think we may even have walked down the street where the explosion damaged several government buildings.
“WAS ANYONE WE KNOW HURT?” screamed my then 6-year old daughter.
“I don’t know yet,” I replied. “Let me listen to what they are saying about it.”
I was trying to remain calm; I was struggling with a decision. As a parent, you have to make a choice about what horrific events you introduce to your children. And you have to decide – often on the spot – how to talk to them about tragedy and violence. You have to find the words to explain the evil that exists in the world while you simultaneously reassure them that, for the most part, they are safe. Obviously, this is not easy and there is no manual. But it is part of your job as a parent to help them make sense of life as a human on this planet.
“IT’S LIKE NORWAY’S 9/11!” blurted out my then-nearly-12-year-old son.
Presciently, in hindsight. It was that statement that decided me, that hardened my resolve. You see, like everyone else, I have a story to tell about 9/11. That’s a story for another day, but, suffice it to say, it committed me to engaging my children in a year-long discussion about the tragic events of July 22, 2011.
The Norwegian media were cautiously talking about how preliminary evidence indicated a terrorist attack. So we had a fruitful discussion (or at least what passes for a “fruitful discussion” when your kids are 6, 9 and 11) about 9/11 and the impact of those events on America. My children do not remember our country before 9/11. It was good to talk to them about the need for security, as well as the need to balance security with the protection of individual rights, including discrimination based on race and religion. They were engaged. They asked questions. Then, with the request to be kept informed of the emerging news of the Oslo bombing, they went on their way to do whatever it is that 6, 9 and 11 year old boys and girls do on a bright summer day.
But as the day went on, the news from Norway got dramatically worse. Eight people were killed and nearly two-thirds of the 300+ people in the government buildings were injured (and had it not been 3:30 pm on a Friday in the holiday month of July, there would certainly have been many more casualties). But the car bomb in Oslo was merely a distraction. Less than two hours later, right-wing extremist Anders Behring Brevik, dressed as a police officer in a fake uniform that he bought on the Internet, took the ferry to the island of Utøya in nearby Buskerud. There he killed 69 people – mostly under the age of 18 – at an summer camp for politically active young people in the AUF (Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking), which is affiliated with Norway’s Arbeiderparti (Labor Party).
AUF describes itself as “Norway’s largest political party youth organization and champion for a more just world (“AUF er Norges største partipolitiske ungdomsorganisasjon og kjemper for en mer rettferdig verden”). Anders Behring Breivik carried out the massacre in cold blood, coming back to shoot again those who were lying injured, shooting kids in the water as they tried to swim to safety. He later claimed that he was trying to save Norway from Muslims world by attacking Social Democrats, Norwegian immigration policies and the concept of multi-culturalism.
It was one thing to talk to my kids about car bombs and 9/11. It was something else entirely to talk to them about Utøya. I didn’t tell my kids right away about the massacre. I waited a few hours, sifting through the emerging stories of horror until the basic narrative was clear. When I did tell them, what they most wanted to know was:
I said something about hatred, but there was really nothing I could say by way of explanation. Far too many lost their lives on July 22, 2011. And Anders Behring Breivik’s hateful, violent acts stole not just the future of scores of young people, but also the innocence of a peaceful nation. Just as we demarcate contemporary US history as pre- and post-9/11, so for Norway is tjueandre juli (22 July).
Luckily for me as a parent, stories began quickly emerging about what happened on Utøya. Amazing stories of luck and bravery. Young people not much older than my own children who showed great presence of mind in an unthinkable situation. Leadership and sacrifice. These are stories – and there are many – that deserve more space than I have to give here. But we followed these stories in the days and months following 22 July. They gave us hope. They showed us that ordinary people – most of them still kids – could do extraordinary things.
There is much in our interactions with the world that we cannot control. We can control, however, how we act; how we REact to events and actions by others. This is a lesson I strive to teach my children. I don’t always provide a good role model, but Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg certainly did. I’ve been reading the speeches of Jens Stoltenberg this summer. From the beginning, he encouraged Norwegians not to give way to fear and hate and prejudice. He urged Norwegians to react to the attacks of 22 July by being MORE welcoming to the outsider, to the foreigner. Invite him in for cake and coffee, the Prime Minister suggested. Invite her to take a walk. Get to know one another.
When local elections were held in September 2011, fear was not used as a campaign tactic in Norway. I showed my kids the AUF campaign materials which said, “This summer, our democracy was attacked. The terrorist chose cowardice and ruthless violence over argument and political debate. Our answer is not more violence, but more democracy.”
I’ve heard people say that Norway’s response to July 22 was simplistic. Idealistic. Naive. Maybe it wouldn’t work in other countries. But if you doubt that words matter, let me tell you what happened after the trial of Anders Behring Breivik began on April 16, 2012. Breivik had testified that a particular song, Barn av regnbuen (Children of the Rainbow) by well-loved Norwegian folk singer Lillebjørn Nilsen, with its concept of living together in a multicultural Norway, was brainwashing children into supporting immigrants. This is a song that Mr. Breivik, apparently, detests.
Folksinger Lillebjørn Nilsen and a crowd of 40,000 sing Barn av regnbuen (Children of the Rainbow) at the trial of Anders Behring Breivik in Oslo (Source: NRK)
This is a song that I learned many years ago. It is actually a Pete Seeger song called My Rainbow Race, translated into Norwegian by Lillebjørn Nilsen. I did a rough translation of the lyrics of Barn av regnbuen in a blog post in April. The song’s title comes from the verse:
Sammen skal vi leve
hver søster og hver bror.
Små barn av regnbuen
og en frodig jord.
Together we will live
every sister and every brother.
Small children of the rainbow
and a flourishing world.
One night last week, I heard my now-10-year-old son singing in his bed. He was singing Barna av regnbuen. He sang the whole song, the refrain and every last verse. And then he sang it again.
There will be many tributes on July 22, 2012. Remembrances and roses to honor the innocents who lost their lives one year ago, the survivors who will never be the same again. Add to them this tribute, from a kid in a bunkbed half a world away. A kid who, hopefully, has learned something from the tragedy of 22 July.