As a member of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, I’ve been witnessing Cindy Sheehan’s Crawford odyssey with a bittersweet mixture of pride, support and sadness.

I felt the same way when Megan Bartlett, one of the first EMT workers to arrive at the World Trade Center site, founded Ground Zero For Peace/First Responders Against War; as military parents Nancy Lessin and Charley Richardson founded Military Families Speak Out; as the 9/11 widows known as the “Jersey Girls” dragged their government, kicking and screaming, into conducting an independent commission into the 9/11 attacks; and as Michael Hoffman, Kelly Dougherty, Jimmy Massey and others came together to create Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Ordinary Americans with firsthand knowledge of the results of terrorism, violence and war were bearing witness and asking to be heard.

I felt pride at their personal courage, support for their desire to spare others the horrors they had experienced, and sadness at the inevitable response they would draw from the government and its corporate media: Ignore them. They’re small in number. They’re not authentic. It’s all about politics. They’re funded by the Democrats. They’re traitors. They’re an invention of the media. They have a personal axe to grind. They don’t know what they’re talking about.

Every argument raised about Cindy Sheehan has been raised about us, and about the rest, each argument reflecting the same goal: to dehumanize us. Faced with the dissonant reality that 9/11 families might not support the bombing of Afghanistan, or military families might not support the war in Iraq, or that there are people with a few more questions for the 9/11 Commission, our reality — our actual existence — has to be denied. One radio pundit has claimed that we “aren’t even 9/11 family

members.”

Denial and dehumanization are required elements of terrorism, violence and war.

The humanity of our families was invisible to the people who murdered them on September 11th.

The humanity of Afghan civilians, already suffering, was invisible to the Americans who supported the bombing of their country.

The humanity of Iraqi civilians, already suffering, was invisible to the Americans whipped into war on a series of calculated lies.

The humanity of the troops and reservists doing hard time in Iraq is invisible to the people sending them there.

And the humanity of those troops killed or maimed for the rest of their lives remains largely invisible to the American people.

To stand up in the midst of this denial and demand that our humanity, and the humanity of others, be recognized, is not just a patriotic act of a high order. It’s a way of reclaiming the life that was taken away from us. To respond that our demands are inauthentic, insincere, an “invention” — in short, not real — dehumanizes us in the same way that terrorism, violence and war dehumanizes us all.

Even after he has shared his “sympathy,” many continue to ask the president to see Cindy. The fact is, he doesn’t have to see Cindy in Crawford. He can see Cindy in the brave numbers of Americans with firsthand knowledge of the war on terror as they stand up to bear witness to what they, and we, have lost. He can see Cindy in the growing majority of Americans who see war for what it really is, and want the troops home.

And he can see Cindy in the mutual humanity, sense of common purpose and worldwide desire for peace that revealed itself to the United States immediately after 9/11 — and remains, today, our best hope of survival.

Long after his Crawford vacation is over, we’ll still be there — demanding to be seen.

David Potorti is co-director of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows (www.peacefultomorrows.org).

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