Bush calls for `Sept. 11 volunteers'

He urges Americans to be vigilant, commit to their communities

`Defy, defeat the terrorists'

President offers no new progress on anti-terror campaign

War On Terrorism

The Nation

November 09, 2001|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Two months after the terrorist assaults on America, President Bush called for a resurgence of volunteerism to strengthen local communities against possible attacks in the future.

Bush made no new announcements last night about the progress of his anti-terror campaign, which has produced no arrests at home and slower-than-expected results in Afghanistan.

Instead, the president tried to lift the spirits of public safety officials on the front lines of the fight against domestic terrorism, while seeking to bolster the resolve of ordinary Americans.

"We cannot know every turn this battle will take, yet we know our cause is just and our ultimate victory is assured. We will no doubt face new challenges, but we have our marching orders," he said.

"My fellow Americans, let's roll," Bush added, invoking the final words from aboard United Airlines Flight 93 before a group of passengers presumably forced it to crash in western Pennsylvania on Sept. 11.

Bush delivered his pugnacious speech to a whistling, cheering crowd at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. The audience included thousands of firefighters, police officers and postal workers, many of them in uniform.

His remarks, delivered before a backdrop that read "United We Stand," were intended to rally public support for the anti-terror campaign. Bush was greeted with chants of "USA! USA! USA!" and was frequently interrupted by applause.

White House officials had described the address as a major one, perhaps the most important since Bush's speech to Congress on Sept. 20. Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, called it "an important progress report."

But there was no new progress to report. And only one major TV network, ABC, carried the speech live.

"I came to Atlanta today to talk about an all-important question: How should we live in light of what has happened?" the president said.

Bush advised Americans to be "vigilant," inspect their mail carefully, follow public health advice, rely on "good old common sense," avoid discriminating on the basis of religion or ethnic background and, "above all," be courageous and optimistic.

In words that may join his father's "thousand points of light" as a catch-phrase for volunteerism, Bush advised Americans to become a "September the 11th volunteer" by committing themselves to service in their own community.

The president said that tutoring children, comforting the needy, sheltering the homeless, volunteering at local hospitals and performing other such acts would improve communities "and thereby defy and defeat the terrorists."

Response to critics

During his 30-minute appearance, Bush seemed to be responding to critics who say the administration has been sending a mixed message: advising Americans, on the one hand, to go about their normal lives, while at the same time issuing repeated warnings about possible terrorist threats that have put the nation on high alert and left many people frightened.

"A terrorism alert is not a signal to stop your life," he said. "It is a call to be vigilant ... and to add your eyes and ears" to those of law enforcement.

To heavy applause, he also said that "there is a difference between being alert and being intimidated, and this great nation will never be intimidated."

Bush demanded that Congress put aside "needless partisanship" and approve a measure for tightened airline security. He called, too, for passage of his energy plan to help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and to stimulate the sagging economy.

Citizen preparedness force

He also announced creation of a task force on citizen preparedness, which is to report next month. It will recommend ways that Americans can prepare their own responses, at home, school or work, to the potential consequences of a terrorist attack. The panel will also look for ways that citizens can support local authorities who are the first responders to attacks, such as police, fire and health workers.

Bush is also directing 20,000 volunteers from the AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs into public safety and disaster relief jobs. Half the new positions would be used to free up police, fire and other local workers for homeland security by having volunteers assume some of their responsibilities.

A more sweeping proposal, introduced this week in the Senate by Democrat Evan Bayh of Indiana and Republican John McCain of Arizona, would increase the number of AmeriCorps volunteers from about 40,000 today to 250,000 by 2010, with 100,000 devoted to security needs. AmeriCorps, President Bill Clinton's national service program, puts volunteers to work in public safety, education, environmental and other public service projects. They are paid $4,725 for 10 months of service.

The administration has been criticized for its uneven reaction to the anthrax outbreak. Four people have died from anthrax sent through the mail, and 13 others have been infected.

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