9/11 Workers Deserve Our Help

American life keeps on lurching forward, with ferocious indifference. One day we’re celebrating a great sporting victory, the next we’re recoiling in horror as a young news reporter is shot dead in front of our eyes on live TV.

The news cycle is so riveting and relentless here now that even our political leaders have resorted to making outrageous statements just to catch the nation’s attention, even if it’s only for a few minutes of a day.

But where does it all go, all the pain and sorrow that we see on our screens after the nightly news reports fade? Who’s left to pick up the pieces and the people left behind? Who stays behind to hold the hands of the injured and the broken?

It’s a vast, restless country America, teeming with so much incident that it can easily overwhelm us. And to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, it cannot seem to bear too much reality.

So I am aware of how hard it can be to get and then keep the country’s attention. I have learned how easy it is for unscrupulous American politicians to manipulate popular sentiment to get the results they’re after. They know they can get away with so much now because they know the nation isn’t watching.

Last week Senate Republicans filibustered a vote that would have provided free medical benefits to the emergency workers who were first on the scene of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The motion to begin debate needed 60 votes to pass due to a Republican filibuster, but it fell short at 57-42 in favor. Last Thursday’s vote harpooned the bill’s chances for approval in the final weeks of the current congressional session.

Republicans had complained that the $7.4 billion price tag was much too high, but Democrats had insisted the government had an obligation to help the first responders to the deadliest attack in U.S. history. For all their flag waving talk about patriotism and the heroism of the emergency workers, when the time came the GOP pulled the plug.

Recall that the GOP will pay over $2 trillion for the Iraq war. Recall also that the U.S. gained little from it while Iraq itself was torn apart and became a giant training camp for radical Islamic militants.

The rights of women were shred, the national healthcare upended, and families and security were upended. We set fire to trillions in Iraq and we tell our homegrown heroes that we don’t have a cent to show our appreciation.

The Senate GOP is relying on your ignorance or indifference. They assume that because it’s been 14 years since the 9/11 attacks that by now you’ll have forgotten all about it. After all the news teams have gone, the circus has packed up, the cameras have stopped filming.

But I was in the city on the day of that attack and it changed my life. The sheer scale of the horror unleashed by radical homicidal lunatics staggered the senses.

What I saw next was what changed my life. Instead of running away from the horror our emergency service workers ran toward it.

They entered the buildings that others were fleeing. Instead of saving their own skins they put their lives on the line to save others.

So thanks to them I know what true heroism looks like now. It doesn’t loudly announce itself or wrap itself up in the flag.

Instead it simply offers a hand. It simply turns up. It simply helps.

On 9/12 I stood with a thousand other people along the West Side Highway and I loudly cheered the emergency service workers as they drove past on trucks toward the scene that others only wanted to get away from.

The aid they offered was beyond any questions of partisan politics. It was beyond the considerations of New York or Washington. It was simply a question of human decency.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health Bill, named after the deceased New York police detective who had been daily exposed to the toxic plume at ground zero, simply seeks to provide free medical coverage for responders and survivors who were exposed to deadly toxins after the attacks. The bill is actually the least we could do to help people who gave their all to help us.