Everything After: A New Outlet for Discussing September 11th

everything after

As the six-month anniversary of September 11th was approaching, teens everywhere had mixed reactions. If they were like me, they felt frustrated by a lot of what had happened since the attacks. We watched the violence in Israel escalate through the eyes of the American media. We heard about the war in Afghanistan, but most of us still felt removed, and we paid attention to the way President Bush was handling being a "wartime president."

Amidst all this, I was asked to become part of a project that looked to connect young people. Global Kids, a New York City-based organization developed a Web site designed to join youth in their efforts to make sense of this time in history. It's called Everything After: a 9.11 Youth Circle and I was invited to be a youth monitor and help run this project

Global Kids runs workshops to help teenagers become global citizens and community leaders. They promote discussion and dialogue between youth from very different parts of the world. And this web site represents the first time they have taken their model online to youth around the world. The site is made up of discussion circles and each circle is restricted to a small number of people and run for around three weeks. Monitors like myself read the dialogues, watch out for disrespect, and suggest topics to the group.

While teenagers from New York tell their personal stories about seeing the attacks from their school windows, it is also interesting to see how kids from others places have been affected. One girl from the Midwest wrote that she came to E.A.9.11 because nobody in her town understood her sadness and that she felt she didn't have a right to be so upset. Youth as far away as Siberia were also moved, writing, "What happened 9/11 is a real tragedy for all [of the] world, not just [the] US." But at the same time, back in the U.S., a boy in Florida, Sergei, said "how this attack could alter anyone's values puzzles me," arguing that the last presidential elections had a bigger impact on his life.

How can youth in distant Siberia feel more of a connection with the attacks of 9.11 than a boy living in the country where they occurred? Perhaps the youth in Siberia are over-empathizing, both with the Americans and the people in Afghanistan. And perhaps Sergei in Florida isn't thinking about how the war that followed changed the American psyche and our perceptions about civil liberties. "In the end, this project is less about the events of September 11," explained Barry Joseph, the E.A.9.11 project director, "than how they continue to affect us six months later, both at an emotional and political level."

A lot of people are sick of talking about what happened on September 11. When I told my friends about this site, they would say things like, "That topic is tired." But as Joseph explains this project is really about "everything after," meaning almost nothing is off limits. While some threads discuss how issues like education reform and gay rights have been changed by 9.11, others are not connected in any clear way. People are talking about abortion, human cloning, prayer in school, and the conflict in the Middle East.
"Youth as far away as Siberia were also moved, writing ,'What happened 9/11 is a real tragedy for all [of the] world, not just [the] US.' But at the same time, back in the U.S., a boy in Florida, Sergei, said 'how this attack could alter anyone's values puzzles me.'

That's what makes this project so important and why I am glad to be involved. It is different from other online dialogues because, as Joseph puts it, "Most Web sites treat youth like they are merely eye-balls for their advertisers, but E.A.9.11 is about turning youth into creators." Joliz, one of the other youth monitors for the project, believes that the site is "crucial for today's youth." As she sees it, we don't have many forums for speaking our mind, but "E.A.9.11 allows youth to question the government, question our own ideas and morals, and create a discussion in order for all of us to understand what it means to be a global citizen today."

Because the youth circles are small, youth not only get a chance to speak their mind, they also have a chance to listen to others. Locke from Utah wrote in this farewell when his group came to a close: "I've learned some stuff from ya' all, and I hope ya' all have learned some stuff from me." Another member of his group, heddie8383, from upstate New York, agreed, adding, "Thank you for teaching a once closed-minded person to be open minded." To the group as a whole she concluded, "I am gonna miss you."

One participant named FreedomsBlue, from Arkansas, summed up what many seem to feel in E.A.911 about the last six months. "I am deeply saddened," she wrote, "But I have realized that life must go on and if we want to avoid things like this in the future, we've got to be the ones to make the change." For many, E.A.9.11 seems to be one place to do just that.

For more articles on life post-September 11, visit Alternet's After 9/11 page.

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