Defending Peaceful Tomorrows

President Bush came under immediate fire on March 4 with the airing of his first official campaign ads, which employed imagery from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to capture the alleged strength of his leadership. Across the mainstream media -- from CNN to the New York Times -- family members of 9/11 victims began voicing their disappointment in the President's callous opportunism. The most visible of these critics are members of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a group nominated for last year's Nobel Peace Prize who have spent the past two years channeling their own suffering into advocacy for nonviolent solutions to terrorism. Rita Lasar, who lost her brother on 9/11, told the Washington Post the following day, "The idea that President Bush would rally support around his campaign by using our loved ones in a way that is so shameful is hard for me to believe. We are incensed and hurt by what he is doing."

Not surprisingly, the President would not budge and pledged to keep running the ads. Terry Holt, the Bush campaign spokesperson, defended his boss with typically facile statements such as: "There was universal agreement that 9/11 needed to be treated with utmost respect and dignity, and the spots are an honor to the first-responders and speak to the strength of the American people." But the 265,000-member International Association of Fire Fighters was not feeling Bush's "honor," and has joined Peaceful Tomorrows' outcry with the demand that the President "apologize to the families of firefighters killed on 9/11 for demeaning the memory of their loved ones in an attempt to curry support for his re-election."

The indecency of the Bush Administration can nonetheless seem restrained when compared with that of its rabid press corps, who have unleashed a vile campaign of disinformation aimed squarely at Peaceful Tomorrows. Rush Limbaugh took an early swing at the group ("These people are poisoned. They have literally been poisoned by their hate . . . It is unbelievable, the depths to which they will sink"), and was quickly backed up by the Wall Street Journal's loose-cannon editorial page, which issued the bizarre accusation that the group is a "front organization for the Democratic Party" ["Politics of 9/11," 3/10/04]. In its searing attack, which has sent reverberations across the right-wing media landscape, the Journal made no mention of the group's ongoing outreach to other victims of terrorism, such as relatives of those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; instead, the editorial "unearthed" the finding that the group is a "subsidiar[y] of anti-Bush forces" and a "creature of the tax code." These statements are patently false. As one of the publishers of the book September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows: Turning Our Grief into Action for Peace, I was outraged by the Journal's claim that "it has become difficult to track groups like Peaceful Tomorrows." If the paper was so rigorously investigating the group, why didn't they simply give us a call?

Another baseless allegation in the Journal editorial was that Peaceful Tomorrows has been "welcomed into the Democratic network of money and support" -- a strange thing to say about a nonpartisan group whose bank account has been running on empty for months. The Journal further condescends that Peaceful Tomorrows members "have a right to try their hardest to get Mr. Kerry elected this fall." While some group members will undoubtedly vote for Kerry in November, their work has never been driven by electoral politics -- much of their energy, in fact, is exerted abroad, creating peace coalitions with victims of terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq, Japan, and beyond.

The silver lining to these malicious fabrications is that they reflect the desperate flailing of an ideological movement up against the ropes. The President's popularity with the American public continues to sink as his trumpeted "economic recovery" is proving as illusive as the WMDs and Saddam-Al Qaeda ties that he used as justification for invading Iraq. Rush Limbaugh, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post can take as many shots at Peaceful Tomorrows as they like, but they will never connect. Peaceful Tomorrows members have nothing to hide, and their courage in the face of intense personal tragedies makes a mockery of cowards like George Bush and his wanton foot soldiers in the media, who don't hesitate to promote wars that will be fought by others.

Donations to September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows can be sent to: Peaceful Tomorrows, PO Box 1818, Peter Stuyvesant Station, New York, NY 10009. For more information, visit their website. Johnny Temple is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Akashic Books.

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