Returning to 9/12: An Open Letter to President ObamaMay 2, 2011
By: Rachel Johnson
Dear President Obama,
I just finished watching your remarks on the death of Osama bin Laden. I am grateful for your leadership and for everything that you, the national security community, and the brave women and men in uniform do everyday (so much of it unknown) to keep me and my loved ones safe. Your remarks were an eloquent balance of compassion, strength, equanimity, and understanding. You brought us back to that dark day that changed our world forever, and reminded us of the better angels of our character that emerged. But when I think of all that has happened in the world in the nearly ten years that have passed, it is not the morning the towers fell that I return to, but the day after. It is 9/12 that I long for with the aching question of “what if?” As I remember, I am filled with the yearning that you stand up and ask of us now what was not asked of us then.
Mr. President, you spoke tonight of the compassion and unity we all felt on that day – as Americans, but more importantly, as brothers and sisters with a shared humanity. We said prayers of lament, gave blood, and embraced one another with steady flowing tears. But we would have done more. We would have done anything our leaders asked of us. If our leaders had told us that in the wake of 9/11, the world is now too dangerous to pursue a path of isolationism, that only love and relationship can overcome fear and hate, we would have joined the Peace Corp at rates to rival army enlistment after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. If our leaders had told us that it is abject poverty, global hunger, disease, and changing climates that create the conditions of desperation that allow extremism and terrorism to flourish, we would have launched a War on Poverty to dwarf LBJ’s vision. We would have propelled our country into an initiative for energy independence that would have broken our addiction to oil within ten years – the very point in time where we find ourselves now. Instead, we were told to go shopping. Today we bemoan the divisiveness of our politics and apathy toward the political process. But we didn’t get to this state because unity is too great a challenge to ask of us. We got here because we have not been asked enough.
As I watch thousands flood Pennsylvania Avenue, press toward Ground Zero, and pour out onto college campuses, I see again that feeling of unity and hope. It’s the kind of hope you speak of Mr. President, hope that stands in the midst of ruin and dares to say that a different world is possible. As a person of faith, this is the hope to which I cling. And I believe that it is the hope that defines my generation. Millennials, especially those of faith, may reject politics as too divisive, but we are not apathetic. September 11 shattered our illusions of security and limitless optimism, but in the wreckage was born a burning desire to heal the brokenness of our world. We are Isaiah in want of a call, Jeremiah with a fire in our bones that we are weary of holding in. We are ready to serve, but we are in need of leadership.
The world is still a dangerous place. Though Osama bin Laden may be gone, the conditions that created him are not, and there are still many bent on destruction. Now is the time to demand more of us, Mr. President. History has given us an opportunity to return to that 9/12 moment and do things differently. Tell us to shine our light in the darkness, to not return evil for evil, but overcome evil with good. Tell us to house the homeless, feed the hungry, free the oppressed, and strengthen the bonds between ourselves and our brothers and sisters the world over. Do not allow this night to become a fleeting moment. Use it to make the world a place where not only the body of Osama bin Laden is absent, but the hatred he preached is erased from memory as well. Demand more of us. And if you do, you will hear us respond, “Here I am, send me.”
The piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.