(from SEIU/1199 News October 2001, online version: http://www.1199seiu.org/articles/article.cfm?ID=3968)


Grief, Pride and Hope

Tragedy unites us in respect for human life.

By Dennis Rivera, President

We will be dealing with the aftermath of the Sept. 11 tragedy for a long, long time. At least one 1199er - heroic Cabrini EMT David Marc Sullins - is lost. Many members suffered the death of those near and dear to them. Dozens of other SEIU members are gone. All of us are touched, near or far, by the more than 6,000 lives lost on that horrible day.

The shock waves rippling out from the World Trade Center disaster are potentially very dangerous. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers will lose their jobs. Large sectors of the economy are in serious trouble. And in the rush to strengthen the military and rebuild lower Manhattan, it may be difficult for lawmakers to focus on long unmet domestic needs such as health care, education, housing and decent wages and working conditions.

We re entering a new and difficult period that will require serious thought and fresh strategies. That will come. But first, I want to talk in more detail about the immediate events of Sept. 11.

Our union extends our deepest condolences to each of you who lost a loved one or friend. We send an embrace of solidarity to other SEIU members and union families who suffered similar sorrows. An estimated 1,000 union members died at the World Trade Center, and while we mourn all who perished, the loss of union brothers and sisters reminds us that we all belong to one union family.

All of us felt deep pride in the courage and dedication of the heroes who participated in the rescue operations. The whole nation watched in admiration as firefighters, police officers, construction workers and health care employees did all that was possible to save lives and provide comfort.

I m especially proud and grateful for the work our members did in those first few terrible hours. At places like St. Vincent s and NYU Downtown, 1199ers worked around the clock among sights no human beings should have to see. Their calm bravery in crisis reminds us of who we are. Health care workers are special people who choose to work with the sick and injured because they feel called to help others. While not everybody can do this kind of work, nothing is more important. Our society may occasionally forget this truth. Sept. 11 was a terrible reminder.

As time passes, there are new ways to help. One is to contribute to the SEIU Sept. 11 Emergency Fund. Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to the Fund, c/o SEIU 1313 L St., N.W., Washington D.C. 20007.

Another way is to show our attackers that the American spirit of democratic participation is alive and well. We did this when many thousands of us turned out on Primary Day Sept. 25 and worked to help bring about the strong showing of Mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer. We did this when our League negotiating committee held a healthy discussion and then voted overwhelmingly to ask the League to extend the current contract beyond its scheduled Oct. 31 expiration to a new expiration date of March 31, 2002. And we did this when our 1199 Executive Committee met to react to the Sept. 11 tragedy.

The union position that came out of that meeting included these principles: The Sept. 11 criminals must be caught and punished to the full extent of the law. The search for those criminals should focus on the guilty individuals, and not on any race, religion or nation. True patriotism lies in protection of the civil rights that Americans like Dr. King died for. False patriotism is far easier. It exploits fear and anger to build hatred against those with different accents, clothing or skin color. I believe the overwhelming majority of 1199ers are true patriots who condemn any rush to judgement against all Moslems or Middle Easterners, here or abroad.

All of us became different people Sept. 11. For many, the shattering events of that day helped us to better appreciate our families and friends, our neighbors and co-workers. Many of us found ways to help the victims and thus rediscovered the healing power of giving. Many of us were reminded yet again that we belong to a human family where an injury to one is an injury to all.

Human life is fragile and precious. We exist in a world where terrible things happen unexpectedly to innocent people, a world where there are no guarantees. Sept. 11 brought us closer in that shared and terrible knowledge. From that closeness let us begin to heal through love for one another and for all humanity.