“Mom, this is Welles. I want you to know that I am OK.” This is the calm voicemail that Welles Remy Crowther, an equity trader, left for his mother Alison after the South Tower of the World Trade Center was struck by United Airlines Flight 175 on September 11, 2001. He was on the 104th floor, and somehow found a safe stairway, and made his way down to the 78th.
With his face covered with a red bandana—just like the one his father gave him when he was 7 or 8 years old—Welles made at least three trips to get people to safety, saving as many as 18 souls who made their way out of the South Tower before it collapsed. He carried one woman down 17 flights of stairs, and went back up again. Those people who were saved followed the confident voice of a 24-year-old man shouting, “This is the way.” When the tower fell, Welles was in the lobby with firefighters, making a plan to take tools back up to rescue more people. Welles had been a volunteer firefighter as a young man in Nyack, New York. One month before he died, he shared with his father, Jeff, that he was about to make a career change to become a firefighter. In the last hour of his life, Welles fulfilled his mission.
When the 9/11 Memorial was dedicated on May 15, 2014, Welles’ mother, Alison, said,
Welles believed that we are all connected as one human family, and we are here to look out for and care for one another. This is life’s most precious meaning. It is our greatest hope that when people come here and see Welles’ red bandana, remember how people helped each other that day and be inspired to do the same in ways both big and small. This is the true legacy of September 11th.
Here we are again, facing another 9/11, with all of the memories it evokes. Our sorrow, our fear, our anger, our sense of insecurity. We mourn those we lost that day, and those who have died due to injuries they suffered rescuing others, or recovering the bodies of those who perished. We feel so vulnerable and terrified.
Some turned to terror. Taking out fear and hatred on our Muslim and Sikh American brothers and sisters. Insulting them, wounding and killing them.
Not only that, while a war against terror rages in theaters abroad, terror rears its ugly head here. Six Sikhs killed in Oak Creek; nine African American Christians killed in Charleston; 49 of our LGBTQ siblings massacred in a sanctuary they called Pulse; and while peacefully protesting bigotry, a woman was mowed down by a car. While praying in houses of worship, sitting at cafes, or marching for peace, people have been killed by planes, cars, bombs, and guns wielded by hatred.
Fear entrenches us in our prejudices. Here in this nation, we cling tenaciously to falsehoods that make us feel powerful. The lie of white supremacy, the ridiculous notion that our nation of immigrants should now close our borders, and the unconscionable prejudice against our transgender brothers and sisters all fuel the fires of violence and hatred, just like the planes that hit the towers fueled fires sufficient to melt the infrastructure and topple them.
We know those who planned the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the attack planned with the third plane used “9/11” to declare a state of emergency.
We are in a state of emergency. Mother Earth is rebelling because of our ignorance and the ways we have ignored her, venting her wrath in storms called Harvey and Irma. POTUS is intent on pulling down every just and ethical statute designed to support people on the margins—women, poor people, Black and Brown people, immigrants, and religious minorities. He cares more about statues than human hearts; more about reducing taxes for the wealthy than providing health care for all of us. As for Congress, most Republicans are intent on staying in power and dismantling Obama-era legislation, while Democrats seem to be unable to see their way out of the smoke and debris of politics gone bad. Who will lead us out of the dangerous rancor? Who will say, “This is the way?”
This is an emergency, and we need leadership. You and I need to lead! We need a revolution, a love revolution. In cases of emergency, we know how to pull together. We rescue each other from burning buildings and from rising waters. We pull down moldy plaster and rebuild. We board up windows together, or fly each other out of danger. We open our doors and our hearts. We stand up, we march, we sit in, we die in. We change the law. We change the tide. We make it better. We take care of each other. We have each other’s backs. Why? Because we are one human family, inextricably connected to each other. We need each other to live!
I believe our leaders need us to tell them, “This is the way!” We must take a deep breath, and go into the spaces of fear and anxiety, and lead them.
We remember 9/11. We must never forget. And I’d like us to reclaim it. In this time of emergency, we must begin a revolution, a love revolution. And here are five practical things we must do:
1.) We must call upon our leaders and demand they take down not only statues and symbols of white supremacy, but racist statutes that enslave us to old patterns of bigotry.
2.) We must build monuments to freedom with our very lives, remembering Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, John Lewis, and Abraham Heschel, along with Martin Luther King and others who have saved us from our worst selves. We must be living monuments to freedom. Find a faith community or a non-profit in your community and use your life and your gifts to save others.
3.) We must build relationships with each other that teach empathy and understanding. Everyone one of us should connect to someone unlike us—a different racial ethnic background, a different religion, a different gender or sexual orientation. Listen to their stories, share yours. Imagine this year connecting with three people just outside your circle of familiarity. They will change you, and you will change them. Let’s start with hearing the stories of our Muslim siblings. Follow the hashtag #MySept11MuslimStory to hear how September 11 impacts our Muslim family. Choose a book or film from this list and invite three people to talk with you about it.
4.) We must insist that our leaders take climate change seriously, as we must do so ourselves. When Harvey, Irma, and Jose get through ravaging land and sea, we must name the conditions that caused the storms, and do something about them. Write a letter to your representatives and push them to push POTUS toward a strategy to address climate change.
5.) Our nation, built on the genocide of Native Americans and on the backs of enslaved African-Americans, is a nation of immigrants. How dare we close our borders! We must stand up for DACA and insist that our leaders protect the 800,000 young people who are at risk for deportation. Let’s stop talking about building a wall and build bridges instead.
We know how to care for one another in cases of emergency; we know what revolutionary love looks like. We pull together, we stand together, we survive and thrive together. Sign this declaration of Revolutionary Love and register for our April 2018 conference, Revolutionary Love: Complete the Dream. Together we can learn tools and tactics, and grow our interracial, interreligious movement for love and justice.
This IS an emergency. In case of emergency: REVOLUTIONARY LOVE.
This piece first appeared on HuffPost.
By Rev. Jacqueline J. Lewis, Ph.D. is Senior Pastor at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City and an Auburn Senior Fellow.