TO: CVF-NEWS FROM: Kim Alexander, CVF President DATE: September 23, 2001 RE: September 11 -- a view from abroad
For this edition of CVF-NEWS I am sharing with you an account of my experiences as an American abroad during the recent terrorist attacks against the U.S. As always, your thoughts are welcome and appreciated.
September 11 -- a view from abroad
On September 10, my husband Bob and I traveled to Valencia, Spain, where I was to deliver a speech to the collected lawyers of the Spanish parliaments on the subject, "Cyberdemocracy".
Bob and I were excited to return to Spain. Our first trip there together was last December, when I was invited to speak at a conference hosted by the Basque government. We had been a little fearful then about traveling to Spain, as there had been a recent series of terrorist attacks linked to ETA, the radical Basque separatist movement.
On this trip we hadn't given terrorism much thought at all -- this time we were visiting the east coast of Spain, far away from likely terrorist attacks, which had subsided in recent months. We arrived in Valencia on September 11, shortly before the U.S. was attacked. We checked into our hotel, unpacked, napped, woke up and turned on the TV to watch the BBC. They were showing footage of a plane flying into the World Trade Center tower. It seemed unreal, and it took at least 20 minutes for the reality of the news to sink in.
We wanted to get out of the hotel and see what was happening in Valencia. As we walked the bustling streets I felt like Alice in Wonderland -- everything was different, but everything was the same. People were walking around, shopping, talking, eating, laughing, carrying on as Valencians do around 7 p.m. Everything seemed normal, and Bob and I relaxed a bit, and hunted down a department store.
We found the store and made our way to the electronics deparment. A group of people were clustered together in one section of the floor. They were all watching something -- at first I thought it was one of those in-store demonstrations, but as we approached the crowd I realized we were in the TV department, and there were a sea of televisions all showing the same image of the plane slamming into the tower. Every pair of eyes watched in horror, mouths open, astonished at the news. Again, the reality of the situation hit me, like a blow, and I wept, there, in El Corte Ingles' electronics department.
There were few Americans around and I was glad Bob was traveling with me. In our broken Spanish it was all we could do to find our way around, let alone have a meaningful conversation with anyone except each other about what had happened. The BBC was our lifeline, as was the cyber cafe near our hotel. We thought often about what we were hearing, and how different it would have been to have been informed of the attack through our usual sources, NPR and CNN.
I decided I still wanted to give my speech -- I had come all this way, and felt that it was more important than ever to stand up for democratic ideals. On Friday, the last day of the conference, at a few minutes before noon, all of the conference attendees and members of the Valencian Parliament began exiting the building to stand out front together for five minutes of silence. It is a ritual the people of Spain have engaged in for some time now, borne of the continuous terrorist attacks launched by ETA.
Whenever there is a terrorist attack anywhere in Spain, everyone the following day gathers together outside at noon for five minutes of silence. It is their way of standing up to terrorists, to show their bravery. It is a message to terrorists that we will not cower in the dark in fear of attack, but live in public, together, in peace.
Bob and I had participated in this ritual back in December, when we were with members of the Basque Parliament. The day following an attack in Barcelona, the conference attendees left the conference center and gathered on the street to spend five minutes in silence together. While we stood in silence on that rainy December day, I saw other people lined up and down the street, standing outside, with us, in silence. It was a powerful and awesome experience.
Again I felt like Alice in Wonderland, to find myself back in Spain during a terrorist attack, standing together again with the people of Spain to observe five minutes of silence -- except this time the attack was on my land, not theirs.
A police helicopter flew above us, to protect the dignitaries, as we stood outside the Parliament building. It made tremendous noise, and as noon approached it slowly flew away and the silence began to grow.
All of the words we couldn't understand melted away in the awesome power of that silence. I felt the courage of the people surrounding me well up inside of me. I felt their bravery to stand up to fear, which they are far more accustomed to dealing with than I am. That silence broke me, and again I wept, and crumbled on the steps of the Valencian parliament, overcome by grief for my people and my land. But as I wept, the powerful silence of the Spaniards again welled inside of me. I thought of the Valencians, their history, and the fact that their very name means bravery, courage and valor.
Their proud silence, and the millions of candles and flowers and flags that fly in our honor right now all across the world, tell me that we do have friends. That we are not alone. That there are people in this world who know terrorism, and know how to cope with it. They love us and will help us be brave and find our courage to stand together in silence, in war, in peace, and to work together for democracy and freedom.
Wishing love and courage to you and yours,
-- Kim Alexander, California Voter Foundation
firstname.lastname@example.org, (916) 452-7706, www.calvoter.org
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This page was first published on September 23, 2001 | Last updated on September 23, 2001
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