September 11 focused national attention on the risks and complexities of survival in a global society. In its wake, the notion that any nation-state, even one with the economic and military might of the United States, can guarantee the safety and security of its citizens has all but collapsed—much has changed in six months.
Yet, with time to reflect, some voices in the nonprofit sector are suggesting that the events of September 11 merely brought many conditions that existed on September 10 into bold relief. The long-term trend toward devolution, disinvestment, privatization and profitization of vital human services continues unabated. So, trying to make some sense of the radically changed environment we now share, the Nonprofit Quarterly reached out to practitioners, academics and advocates, inviting them to share their insights and opinions.
From New School University researchers Rikki Abzug and Dennis Derryck, we have a study of the experiences of community-based nonprofits in New York City confirming that affiliation with existing nonprofit networks made a significant contribution to immediate recovery efforts. In addition, their findings point to the need for greater flexibility in performance-based service contracts to adjust to new recovery demands and long-term
Articles by immigrant rights activist Eunice Cho, Heidi Boghosian of the National Lawyers’ Guild and Kay Guinane of OMB Watch analyze the emerging threats to civil liberties and how community groups are experiencing these effects and responding.
Brookings policy analyst Paul Light advises the sector against adopting a defensive posture in the face of media criticism (à la Red Cross), instead urging us to stand tall by recognizing our own level of credibility with the public. Rick Cohen steps back a pace to reflect on the “lessons from the streets” and the critical value of communication, transparency and accountability to the public to nonprofit practice. Both authors warn of the accelerated drive to hold nonprofits “accountable” through more stringent congressional oversight.
Finally, Sanford Schram, Chuck Collins, Gary Bass and Reece Rushing paint a sobering picture of converging forces (“recession, and a decade of tax and social program cuts…”) that prior to September 11 posed serious threats to the constituencies served by our readers. As always, we suggest ways for you to take action.
But in some ways it feels like we are trying to make sense at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. We remain at the table set for us, and that table has become a very uncomfortable place to be.
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The apparent resentment held against the United States seems hard to fathom—even petty. But, though most Americans pay precious little attention to the world beyond our borders, our global neighbors pay very close attention to each other and to us. Widely perceived as a non-participant in the global community, the United States has repeatedly shown its willingness to boycott constructive opportunities for dialogue on such pivotal issues as the environment and systemic racism. As a nation, we are often criticized for asserting the primacy of our national interests while we consume the lion’s share of the world’s precious resources with abandon. It is little wonder that to the rest of the world this looks like heedless arrogance and blind greed.
No amount of protectionist beefing up of our military or intelligence capacity can keep us safe from violence born out of long-standing and ever-growing resentment, frustration and despair. If we love this country, we must realize that if we attempt to guard ourselves against every possible form of terrorist attack, we run the risk of eradicating many of the characteristics that redeem our country. To truly protect ourselves, our civil liberties, personal freedom and mobility would have to be seriously impaired. The nation would have to spend such enormous amounts of money that it would bankrupt itself. Our political leaders say these things are necessary outcomes. But is there a better alternative?
Many understand the need to connect across the planet—as one action affects many others, economically, environmentally and culturally. We can remain reactive to the forces that are unjust and limiting, or we can begin to think more powerfully and generatively to call people toward another view. In many places, appreciation for what can be learned through watching and listening to others is growing. We must reach for each other in empathy across the rubble of our worst ideas and actions in hopes that old boundaries and distinctions will fade in a common human will for peace with justice.
The community sector, made up of people concerned for each other and justice, can and should organize itself globally with common principles of mutual aid—holding ourselves responsible for each other’s safety. We recognize that each person’s future is bound together with others, which requires us to stay in dialogue, working for a sustainable world worth living in. Awareness across boundaries of difference, interconnection, cultural development and human development is our business. Don’t stay silent. Don’t opt out. Don’t accept the language of violence that limits our work. Don’t give over to fear.
If you are a patriot as I am—do take a look back at our founding principles. They are profoundly few and simple but value and protect diversity of opinion, belief and identity and the freedom and creativity of others.
We need to bring this simplicity to the task of building a set of worldwide principles as well as the institutions and processes supporting them. Such principles would not only outlaw blatant acts of terrorism and militarism, but also the kind of silent and cumulative violence that condones the stoning of schoolchildren in Belfast, the scourge of AIDS in Africa, the scandalous and growing disparity of income between corporate executives and other worthwhile people, the increasing rates of imprisonment in this country (which already has the highest rates in the world), and the thousand other daily abuses to our minds, bodies, spirits and environment.
Mutual aid and reciprocal obligation is an alternative way to craft a healthy and sustainable collective future—or any future. You, my friends, and I, working in small communities of the world, also need to build a larger community. There is no other way forward.
Many arts and culture organizations in New York City rose to the occasion and delivered on their missions in the midst of devastation. They gathered and disseminated art in response to September 11 from amateurs and professionals around the world. We used art from two of these projects to illustrate the magazine and would like to offer our sincere gratitude to the organizations and artists involved.
Here is new york: a democracy of photographs was organized by four individuals in response to the World Trade Center tragedy, with the aim to collect, organize, display, and preserve for historical purposes the broadest possible view of this event and its aftermath. One of these photographs is by Matt Weber, page 7. Time to Consider: The Arts Respond to 9.11 is a multi-faceted poster campaign that offers varied reflections on September 11 by artists, poets, designers and architects. Four organizations, Creative Time, Poets & Writers, the Van Alen Institute, and Worldstudio Foundation—visual, literary, architectural, and graphic arts organizations, respectively—collaborated to collectively solicit nearly one hundred submissions from which four were selected for printing and posting around New York City. Three of these submissions were by Nebojsa Seric Shoba, page 13; Richard Press, page 31; Mel Chin, page 39.