I lost my son, Firefighter Timothy Welty, at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He was 34 years old, was married and had two children — a son, age three and a daughter, age one month. At the time, I was working for the City of New York as a geriatric social worker in a building several blocks from the Twin Towers. From the window of my office, I watched the towers collapse, knowing that my son had responded to that alarm, along with 343 other firefighters who lost their lives that day.
The first year following the attacks, I was devoted to my family and my young grandchildren. But as the mood of the country seemed inclined to war, I searched for a way to find some peaceful alternative. I found September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, which was dedicated to that very principle.
I first met members of Peaceful Tomorrows on February 15, 2003 at the New York march for peace, a demonstration that was replicated in cities all over the world that same day. Within a month, this 67 year-old grandmother was arrested on the mall of the Capitol Building in a protest against the Congressional vote authorizing the president to declare war on Iraq.
In February, 2004 I traveled to Afghanistan to meet with families who had lost loved ones in the U.S. bombing. Although thinking I would be showing them a different face of America, bringing a message of peace and extending to them comfort for their losses, it was I who received healing compassion from these families—a life-changing experience.
Later that same year, from December 2004 into January of 2005, I was part of a delegation to Jordan, organized by Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange, which brought medication and survival supplies for the refugees from Fallujah. The delegation was met in Amman, Jordan by a delegation from Iraq consisting of doctors, pharmacists, peace advocates, journalists and Iraqis living in Jordan. We met for ten days, delivered the medical supplies, exchanged heart- wrenching personal stories, met with Palestinian refugees near the Iraqi border as well as some of those living in Amman and made deep connections with each other.
Stonewalk 2004 brought together members of Peaceful Tomorrows from New England, New York, Philadelphia and people along the way who wished to show their support for peace and to remember all those killed in war, including the civilian casualties too often dismissed as “collateral damage.” It was on Stonewalk that I met other members of the organization who were to become close friends in the supportive network that is Peaceful Tomorrows.
The first anniversary of the Madrid bombing in March 2005 coincided with the publication of the Spanish edition of our book, Manana en Paz, edited by David Potorti. Along with David and another Peaceful Tomorrows member, Karen Shea, I traveled to Madrid and met three families who lost loved ones in the terrorist train bombings on March 11, 2004 and yet remained dedicated to peace. Accompanied by Juan Gutierrez, who translated our book into Spanish, we then drove north to Guernica and met with several survivors of the German bombing of this Basque town on April 26, 1937, who remembered that day with a clarity that comes only with extreme trauma. We visited a gravesite, then recently uncovered, where more than 80 villagers had been gunned down and buried in an anonymous mass grave because they opposed Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s Nationalist regime.
All the travels of Peaceful Tomorrows members ignited in us the understanding that we had become part of a global family of people who had been directly affected by violence and chose to pursue peaceful reconciliation in lieu of retaliation and revenge. In September 2006, Peaceful Tomorrows held an International Conference and met with people from 18 countries who had developed or were part of organizations devoted to peace and justice. The relationships built of that gathering have resulted in the formation of the International Network for Peace and the continued and cherished contact with some of those most active in it.
In addition to Peaceful Tomorrows anti-war activities, many members have worked hard to speak out against the injustice of torture and unlawful imprisonment of suspected terrorists who have never been formally charged with crimes, or tried and convicted of alleged terrorist acts. In 2007, I traveled to Cuba to speak at a Human Rights Conference held in the Cuban town of Guantanamo, located on the other side of “no man’s land,” the heavily land-mined stretch between the U.S. Naval base of Guantanamo and Cuban territory. There I met a former detainee who had been held for two and half years, tortured and ultimately released. I met the family of a detainee, who has since been released, and a close relationship with the family developed which we still maintain.
In 2008, Peaceful Tomorrows’ Terry Rockefeller and I traveled to Erbil, Iraq, a northern city in Kurdish territory, to attend a meeting of representatives of the 18 provinces in Iraq who have formed La Onf, an organization dedicated to non-violence. There we learned about La Onf’s efforts to bring lessons of non-violence to schools as well as adult forums where they teach non-violent communication. Upon their return, Adele and Terry spoke at many gatherings of the brave and courageous efforts of these Iraqis to turn their countrymen away from retaliation as the perceived appropriate response to attacks. In 2009, La Onf received the International Pfeffer Peace Prize from the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Unfortunately, the promise to close Guantanamo remains unresolved and I continued to be involved in Peaceful Tomorrow’s efforts to effect the closure of this blight on our nation’s standing in the world. The continued detention of many foreign nationals without the right to face their day in court goes against the very principles our nation stands for.
That Constitution and the rule of law in our own country define our way of life, and we must be vigilant to assure that we do not lose sight of the values that have sustained the nation through the most challenging times. To that end, I continue to work as part of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.