September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows (PT) was established in February 2002 by the bereaved relatives of people who had been killed in the Islamic terrorist attacks of 9/11, in an effort “to turn our grief into action for peace.”
PT’s founding mission was to “promote dialogue on alternatives to war”; educate the public on “the underlying causes of terrorism”; “support and offer fellowship to others seeking nonviolent responses to all forms of terrorism, both individual and institutional”; “call attention to threats to civil liberties, human rights, and other freedoms in the U.S.”; “acknowledge our fellowship with all people affected by violence and war, recognizing that the resulting deaths are overwhelmingly civilian”; “encourage a multilateral, collaborative effort to bring those responsible for the [9/11] attacks to justice in accordance with the principles of international law”; “promote U.S. foreign policy that places a priority on internationally-recognized principles of human rights, democracy and self-rule”; and “demand ongoing investigations into … U.S. foreign policies and national security failures” that contributed to 9/11.
The principal founder of PT was North Carolina resident David Potorti, a committed leftist who had previously inveighed against “righteous conservatives,” accused Republicans of ignoring the needs of the homeless and the unemployed, and joined Ralph Nader‘s “Oaks Project,” a progressive organization devoted to organizing “people who feel disenfranchised by the two-party, big-money system.” After his brother died inside the World Trade Center on 9/11, Potorti lamented that many Americans were reacting to the terrorist attacks with “anger and intolerance” – the “very things that had led to my brother’s murder.” He subsequently corresponded with relatives of other 9/11 victims, and he met some of them personally in November 2001 when he participated in the “Walk for Healing and Peace,” a multi-day antiwar march from the Pentagon to New York City. The march was organized by Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness, and was sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). Over the ensuing months, antiwar activism became Potorti’s full-time occupation. In early 2002, FOR gave Potorti the financial backing he needed in order to create PT, whose name was derived from a Martin Luther King Jr. quote stating that “wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”
From PT’s earliest days, its activism took many forms. For instance, the organization sent representatives to Afghanistan to visit with survivors of U.S. bombing raids and to warn that American military action would inevitably cause terrorist recruitment in the Middle East to spike. It lobbied Congress to create an Afghan Victims compensation fund. And in the fall of 2002, it organized a “No More Victims Tour” in which PT members traveled the country with “victims of terrorism and war” from all over the world, to protest U.S. military interventions abroad. One stop on the tour was the European Social Forum (in Florence, Italy), an annual meeting of anti-globalization groups.
Soon after its founding, PT became a member organization of the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition. PT members regularly attended political rallies and protests, particularly against the Bush administration and the War on Terror. They also spoke at universities; gave interviews on radio and television; supported the ACLU’s attacks on the Patriot Act; took up the cause of militant Palestinians; stood in solidarity with the “people of Iraq” against American aggression; and accused the U.S. of leading a profit-motivated global war on civil liberties.
On September 25, 2002, PT members held a joint press conference with Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich to protest a potential U.S. invasion of Iraq. A few months later, they once again attended a Capitol Hill press conference, this time along with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.
In January 2003, PT members visited Iraq and were given a tour of Baghdad by Saddam Hussein‘s government. At one point, they were taken to a shelter where Baathists claimed that 200 Iraqi civilians had been killed by U.S. forces during the 1991 Gulf War. When the PT representatives subsequently returned to the United States, they took part in a media blitz publicized by the Institute for Public Accuracy. PT’s Colleen Kelly, for her part, told the Voice of America: “The twisted steel and concrete visible there inside the shelter was very reminiscent of the wreckage of the World Trade Center. So there was a deep connection.”
In November 2005, PT drafted a letter to Congress condemning the Bush administration for using “the memories of our loved ones … to inflict more pain on more innocent people around the world.” Specifically, the organization objected to “the wholesale use, and defense, of torture as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy” in “Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and numerous global, clandestine detention centers.” Such practices, said PT, “have heaped shame and embarrassment on the values of America.”
In 2006, the PT website featured a letter (dated May 21) in which one of its members – who had pleaded (in court testimony) against sentencing 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui to the death penalty – wrote the following: “I believe in restorative justice and that killing someone to teach people that killing is wrong is a very poor lesson.” “Imagine,” he speculated, “if after the sentence of life in prison rather than the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui, instead of what we heard and saw, the headlines [had] read, ‘The Power of Love and Compassion Prevails in Death Penalty Trial — Hearts Are Touched Around the World!’”
The PT website also displayed a June 11, 2006 letter in which another PT member reflected on the recent death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq: “While Zarqawi was undeniably a cruel, hateful and violent man, I am mindful that the Iraqi society he infiltrated and turned into a place of wanton civilian killing was made a fertile ground for terrorist organizing by the presence of our military. Our world would, I believe, have been far better served if Zarqawi had been captured and tried in a court of law.”
As of June 2006, PT consisted of a core group of approximately 200 people (from 31 U.S. states and 7 foreign countries) who had been directly affected by the loss of family members on 9/11, plus another 4,000 supporters who had joined the organization’s mailing list.
In December 2008, PT said it was “commendable” that president-elect Barack Obama was pledging to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center, a facility whose very existence had done “extreme damage … to our country” (PT’s words). Moreover, PT formed a “Close Guantanamo Committee” in partnership with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Witness Against Torture. PT also worked closely on this issue with the ACLU and Human Rights First.
In 2010-11, PT lamented that ever since the 9/11 attacks, “a wave of Islamophobia” had “swept the country” and had caused widespread “stereotyping and scapegoating” against Muslim Americans. Stating also that it was “un-American” to “den[y] Muslims their rights,” PT warned that “repressive policies that grow out of fear and hatred play into the hands of the terrorists.” Further, the organization expressed “support for the creation of an Islamic Cultural Center in Lower Manhattan” – a facility that would have been situated a mere 600 feet from Ground Zero.
PT formally allies itself with more than three-dozen partner organizations, among which are the American Friends Service Committee, Fellowship Of Reconciliation, Military Families Speak Out, Nonviolent Peaceforce, Peace Action, United for Peace and Justice, Veterans For Peace, the War Resisters League, and Women’s Action for New Directions.
For additional information on PT, click here.