The View from Here

The terrorist attacks of September 11 took place far away. But they hit close to home.

At 9:13 p.m. Sayles Belton's spokeswoman Ann Freeman rushes to the front of the room with a cell phone pressed to her ear. "Now!" she yells, encouraging supporters to make their way to the podium. The mayor arrives through the back door, wearing a red plaid coat and black skirt. "Well, all right," she says quietly, then pumps her fist in the air and hustles to the riser.

"They said the mayor will not place or show in this primary!" she says. "We have proven them wrong." Sayles Belton makes reference to her "proven track record" and the "well-managed city" where "everyone can prosper." Her remarks inspire a couple of "Amens" and "Hallelujahs" from some black clergymen. Then a crew-cut young white man takes up a chant: "Four more years! Four more years!"

Her speech concluded, Sayles Belton embraces her two young sons. But instead of stepping down, she returns to the microphone. "I'm not done," she whispers. "The whole world turned upside down today and we have to pray for peace and calm. We are not just a community here, but a community of people all over the world. We are all connected, whether it's here in the U.S. or in Afghanistan. And it's forever changed because of today," she says, and calls for a silent prayer.

When Sayles Belton steps down to mingle with her supporters, the mood lifts. But by ten o'clock the crowd has begun to thin. Before they leave, two elderly women steal one last glance at the TV screens. "I'm depressed," one says to the other. "It feels like the whole world has been bombed out today."

--G.R. Anderson Jr.

 

 

ROSITA BALCH AND TERESA ORTIZ are on their lunch break at the Resource Center for the Americas, a budding Minneapolis nonprofit that champions human rights by educating U.S. citizens about their neighbors to the south. Balch, a 45-year-old mother, came to Minnesota from Bogotá, Colombia, 11 years ago. Ortiz, who's 52, was born in Mexico and has lived and traveled with her children throughout the hemisphere.

A day after what at least one television network has dubbed the Attack on America, there is a moment to reflect. The center's office radio has been turned off, computers linked to CNN and the New York Times have cued up their screen savers, and the sunbathed space seems to be taking a deep breath. Balch and Ortiz sit side by side at a small table near the receptionist's desk, picking at their salads, savoring the silence, surfing on waves of emotion.

"It cuts right to something inside you," Ortiz ventures. "It's like being violated. It's like being raped. It was so sad yesterday. I just wanted to find someone and hug them. It's very similar to what has happened, and what still happens, in other parts of the world."

"It all makes me think of the systematic terrorism that happens in the little towns of Colombia," Balch adds. "People are dying there every day. And if anyone tells the media, they die as well. And they don't have millions of dollars at their disposal or a system in place to help with recovery. When it happens, it's done. It's over. You're dead."

The night before, when Balch got home, her seven-year-old daughter was trying to be a comfort, encouraging everyone to play games, hoping to be "the mommy." "She said to me, 'I finally understand what it's like to live with this sadness in your heart," Balch says, then gets up to get a Kleenex from her desk. "She knows how much I ache for the people back home. And now she aches too."

Ortiz says her 16-year-old daughter is terrified that there will be a war, maybe even a draft; she can't understand why someone would retaliate against madness with more madness. "I understand the need for justice," says Ortiz. "But you have to pay attention to how that comes about. This is a time to be creative. This is a time to look for nonviolent solutions. People aren't people in a war; they're casualties. And if you strike another country, you have to remember that other innocent people are going to die. And what message does that send our children? That if someone hits you, the only solution is to hit him back twice as hard?"

Adds Balch: "No one wants more guns, more wars. We should sit down and talk. But you know these boys that are running things. They have their guns. And now they want to get out their guns and play too."

As they prepare to return to work, both women acknowledge that, no matter what the government's response, when the rubble is cleared and the body count tallied, the center's work will be even more crucial.

"I'm honestly afraid that now, as a person of color, I won't be able to get on a plane, because I fit a certain profile," Ortiz says.

"It's already happening," Balch concludes. "When I get on a city bus, people often ask me if I'm from Mexico. When I say, 'No, I'm from Colombia,' people ask if I came here to sell drugs. I've been asked that question 200 times. I've already been labeled. This will only make it worse."

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