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Free Speech Feels the Pressure

While commercial UGC sites have dwindled, the public need for individual self-expression – and a validation of that expression in a wider forum – is very great during this period of crisis. Last week, San Francisco Bay Area residents began to express their feelings about the terrorist attacks, and their implications for the future of America and the world, in an online "video quilt" (www.tribute.to) created by local production company Red Zeppelin Digital. The participants, who ranged from children to senior fire fighters, described their sense of shock, loss, grief and fear in the aftermath of the attacks.

Renee Rosenfeld, whose father was rescued from Auschwitz in 1940 and whose grandparents died there, expressed a sense of disbelief at the current crisis. "I never thought that our generation would know the kind of wartime horrors that my ancestors knew," she said. Addressing the bereaved families of those who died in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania, she added this note of compassion: "If all of us who are thinking about you and praying with you could just take one moment of the grief that you bear, you wouldn’t have to hold any yourself."

In one of the most heart-rending messages on the site, nine year-old James Cameron comments that one effect of the tragedy is that "many children don’t have their Moms and Dads to hug and love them." Robert Boudoures, a chief officer with the San Francisco Fire Department, commends the extraordinary bravery displayed by his colleagues in New York. "You have set the standard," he said of the New York Fire Department, which has reported 300 of its firefighters missing since the attacks.

Many interviews reflected the widespread feeling that life changed significantly in the early hours of September 11; a sense of compassion with those who died in the attacks and the families who now mourn their them; and a fear that retaliation may risk perpetuating the hatred which led to the attacks in the first place. "When I first watched the television coverage I wanted vengeance," said one participant, identified only as "Clark." "Yet the more I watched, the more I thought about the hate behind the act, and the more I thought that an act of vengeance would generate more hate, and that it wasn’t the answer."

Jan Boyd and Stan Bunger of Red Zeppelin were inspired to create the project by the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the community arts project that now commemorates over 83,000 people who died of AIDS. Boyd says that the public response to the video quilt has been impressive, and that additional hosting companies will be needed to support the non-profit project as it expands.

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