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Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008 01:02 am

I’m a 9/11 survivor living in Springfield

Still looking for some conservative compassion

I am a 9/11 survivor living in Springfield. I was born and raised here, and after completing college in Chicago, I lived and worked in New York for 22 years. On Sept. 11, 2001, I escaped from the collapse of the South Tower — but not without some terrible consequences. While I feel fortunate to be alive, I think it's important to share my experience with those of you who care about what happened to those of us who were there.

Shortly after that horrific day, President Bush, the "compassionate conservative," promised us that we would receive all of the support that we needed to survive the imminent economic crisis in Lower Manhattan. He apparently delivered millions of dollars directly to corporations, but the average citizen received virtually nothing. Over the next few weeks, the Bush administration coerced the Environmental Protection Agency into saying it was safe to return in order to persuade the residents and companies in Lower Manhattan to resume "business as usual" as soon as possible. Of course, it was not safe. Many of us became ill and were hospitalized for overexposure to toxic chemicals. I developed a neurological disorder that may be in part caused by exposure to toxic chemicals.

Over the next few months, hundreds of thousands of citizens lost their jobs in Lower Manhattan because of the continuing collapse of the New York economy. I was one. Also, like so many others, I applied for unemployment insurance for the first time in my life. But six months of minimal economic support was not enough to make it possible to find a new job in a broken city of 9 million people competing desperately for work in a devastated economy.

In the spring of 2002, Sen. Charles Schumer and Sen. Hillary Clinton saw the signs of the economic disaster mounting. First, the senators requested extended unemployment insurance for those who had lost their jobs as a consequence of the 9/11 attack. But their request was denied by the Bush administration and the then Republican-controlled Senate. Second, Senators Schumer and Clinton plead for interim health-care coverage, at least, for those directly affected. Incredibly, the Republicans in the Senate refused their plea.

By the fall of 2002, many of us had no employment and no unemployment insurance. And by the spring of 2003, I was unemployed, uninsured, and surviving on my life savings until the money ran out. Eventually and maybe inevitably, I was hospitalized for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Today, I am permanently mentally disabled and live on a disability income of approximately $400 a month. This fate, which I share with so many 9/11 survivors, is the direct consequence of the events of that day and the government's complete mismanagement of its aftermath.

The "compassionate conservative" government promised an ongoing commitment to help those of us who were, after all, the victims of its failure to protect and defend us. But what do our conservative leaders mean by saying that they will protect and defend "us"? They did not protect me and I thought that I was one of "us." What do they mean by saying that they have a conservative compassion for "us"? They have not shown compassion for me and I thought that I was one of "us." What do they mean by saying that they will bring change for "us"? Our conservative leaders have been responsible for the "change" that they have been bringing for almost two terms now; they have not brought me any good change and the bad change that they have brought has been immeasurably destructive.

If you are happy with the facts of the story above, then I don't know that I can reach you. But if you are unhappy with those same facts, I hope that you will go to the polls in November and cast a vote for "us."

William Wilkins, of Springfield, is a former William Graff Traveling Fellow to Egypt and a graduate of Hunter College in New York.

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