City Councilor McLaughlin 9/11 Commentary

This is a particularly difficult 9/11, both because of the 20th anniversary as well as the recent events in Afghanistan. Today I honor the selfless service of our first responders and service members who rush towards danger even when it is not always appreciated by everyone. I also mourn for the people of Afghanistan who are often forgotten and will continue to suffer long after we are gone.

September 11 was a moment when the world united under universal suffering, but that universal empathy was quickly forgotten.

I’m what’s known as an “old millennial.” I’m 40, which means I’ve now spent half of my life in a post 9/11 America. I’m old enough to remember things younger millennials may not. I remember a time before the internet, before social media, before cell phones; all advancements that are supposed to connect us but often do the opposite. I was young enough to serve in what’s called the Global War on Terror, and I’m now old enough to see its technical ending. But I’m also old enough to understand that nothing truly ends.

I also remember a pre 9/11 America that didn’t feel so divided. We had all the same problems we have today, but those differences didn’t feel as irreconcilable as they do now. This division is best embodied by the insurrection at the Capitol Building, but I also feel it on the streets of Somerville and our local political scene, where people who agree on 99 percent of the issues find ways to divide ourselves. Even on this solemn day I witnessed residents yell obscenities at first responders that 20 years ago were called heroes. One resident raised his middle fingers at the ceremony to insult the progressive politician he doesn’t like. A police officer refused to shake my hand for whatever perceived notion he has of me. I hate to even acknowledge this negativity but it is emblematic of our national and local divides.

Humans often seem intent on dividing between “us” and “them.” We divide ourselves by borders, by race, class, professions and politics. If you put 100 identical people together in a room for a long enough period they will eventually find differences to fight over. But if you put 100 people of different backgrounds together and give them shared experiences, whether it be joy or suffering, they often find a way to work together and live in peace.

September 11 means different things to different people. It is hard for me to not think of this day as a turning point in America, where we started to focus on differences and the destructive forces of suffering more than our shared humanity. It is also a moment, however, where people put their differences aside and united ever so briefly under shared suffering. It was a moment where regular people did extraordinary things out of compassion for people they never met. Suffering is a universal constant that can unite or divide people. We all have an individual choice in how to respond to life’s trials and tribulations. If we are to survive as a nation, as a people and as a city we must focus on our common humanity and turn suffering into a healing force instead of a destructive one.

Matt McLaughlin
City Councilor, Ward 1

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