Remembering 9/11 and protecting the pillars of democracy

When the towers fell, we swore we would never forget. And now, more than ever is the time to remember.

My twin and I were born in what would become West Germany shortly after the end of WWII.

Not long afterward our family emigrated to the United States, and only a few short years after that we came home from school to find our mother weeping. Our family, Berlin, Germany, and Europe were torn in half by the building of the Berlin Wall — a wall that separated Germany into communism and democracy.

Our eastern family experienced life under communism. In short, all of their rights to choose were taken from them.

They could no longer choose what books they could read. Books were banned or burned by the government.

They could no longer choose what radio stations to listen to or television programs to watch. These, too were strictly controlled by the communists.

Nor could they choose whether or not they wanted to attend college. They could no longer choose their own career. These choices were taken from them as well. They could no longer speak out or write freely for fear of arrest. And many who were arrested never returned.

In short, what we all came to learn was that democracy has another name. It is called freedom — and freedom is often nothing more than simply having the right to make choices.

A quarter of a century ago the twin towers fell to the earth. And today the pillars of our democracy are also being threatened. Threatened by propaganda whispered through the airwaves and social media; threatened by fear, ignorance, anger, and hatred.

A country without democracy is a country without human rights. But how do we fight?

We fight by educating ourselves and our children as much as we can.

We fight by exercising our right to vote — each and every time.

We fight by speaking up and speaking out.

We fight through what the women and men who work at Vashon Island Fire & Rescue do every single day.

We live lives of compassion, kindness, and caring. We look beyond the shallow, artificial facades of skin color, clothing, religion, sexual orientation, or personal beliefs to the collective humanity of who we all are: The family of man.

The Declaration of Independence declares:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all (humans) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Freedom. We hold it in every choice, in every action, in every act of kindness and compassion.

When the towers fell, we swore we would never forget. And now, more than ever is the time to remember.

Brigitte Schran Brown is a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician and commissioner for Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR). This commentary was first presented as a speech by Brown at VIFR’s 9/11 memorial ceremony on Sept. 11, 2023.