From the Ashes

From the Ashes

On 9/11 Andrew Rice lost a brother and found a greater purpose.

By Ruani S. Freeman


 
It was in South Africa that Rice met Marina Cantacuzino, the creator of the Forgiveness Project (an initiative whose patrons include Tutu and other luminaries). Cantacuzino added Rice's story to the exhibit. His is one of only 42 chosen from events around the world—from Belfast to Chechnya, from Australia to Rwanda—and the only story connected to 9/11.

Rice had found his focus: reconciliation. "It's a humbling process to see commonality between you and someone who has brought harm to you and your family, but one we must undertake as part of the process of self-introspection,— he said. "Introspection is one of the most important and powerful aspects of every religious tradition.—

Rice appears to make a genuine attempt to reach across divides. He opposes the war in Iraq and supports the soldiers who fight and die in it. In June 2004, when Michael Moore offered a premiere of his movie Fahrenheit 9/11 as a fund raiser to organizations in 10 cities, Rice's organization, Progressive Alliance Foundation, was one. At the end of the evening, half of the proceeds were given to military families in Oklahoma affected by the war in Iraq.

The Progressive Alliance Foundation is as widely engaged as its founder. Through planning public forums and brainstorming strategies for communicating policy to Oklahomans, the organization has attracted an impressive roster of speakers that includes Bud Welch, who lost his daughter in the Oklahoma bombing and later befriended the parents of bomber Timothy McVeigh. The group launched the traveling exhibit of the Forgiveness Project in Oklahoma City.

It is not altruism that drives his determination to reconcile with those who harmed him and his family, Rice said. "It is an effort to protect my brother's spirit. I do not want to embody a visceral hatred between two sides. I want to have a spiritual supremacy that rises above that.—

The loss of his brother notwithstanding, it might seem that Rice has led a life of unmitigated success. And yet some of his most fulfilling work, he said, has come from campaigns that failed: opposition to the war in Iraq and countering the effort in Oklahoma to define marriage as between a man and a woman, for instance. "Andrew lives a principled life. He counts his success in small victories,— Von Feldt said, "and he does not balk at taking the hard road.—

The trajectory of his path, however, leads back to that September morning.

"I was uneasy with the retributive, simplistic language of the administration that refused to look at the political underpinnings of the 9/11 event,— Rice said. "We were going against the democratic and pluralistic principles of our country in response to 9/11. I took it personally.— Rice worked full time lobbying against the war and was speaking out in Alaska when the first bombs fell on Baghdad.

"It's a humbling process to see commonality between you and someone who has bought harm to you and your family, but one we must undertake as part of the process of self-introspection."

Andrew Rice '96

Disheartened by the federal government's lack of accountability in relation to 9/11, the decision to go to war amid what he and others saw as a haze of deception, and his difficulties bringing transparency to the political process, Rice decided to run for office.

Soon after the birth of his son, Noah David Rice, in 2004, Rice announced his run for the Oklahoma State Senate seat that covers much of central Oklahoma City. "There are a lot of negative trends here, and I want to make sure that the state deals with the state, with issues of infrastructure and accountability, not interferes in people's personal lives.—

It is a highly contested seat, with Republicans challenging the last bastion of the Democratic Party in Oklahoma, but Rice has connections that go beyond the district. Eli Pariser, head of the successful online advocacy group moveon.org, is supporting his candidacy (the organization itself has not endorsed him), as are those in groups he has worked with outside of Oklahoma.

Admittedly, family and friends share concerns about Rice's entry into politics. "Oklahoma politics are as dirty as they get,— Von Feldt said. "There are people whose lives have been destroyed, suicides that have occurred because of the vile nature of the political world there. I worry that someone as pure as Andy will be tarnished by it.—

Yet, who better than an American who lost his brother on 9/11, who speaks in the language of faith, a patriot whose vision of life stems from a deep spirituality, to throw his hat into the ring?

"I wanted to be on the inside so I could have some power in preserving the integrity of our democracy,— he said, "because I saw that there are limits to the efficacy of outside groups, which are tremendously marginalized. Instead of giving up, I want to do more.—

The idea of representative government has a direct, emotional meaning for Rice and others who were so directly affected by 9/11, he says. "It is not in the realm of the intellect or the abstract,— Rice said. "We know that the basic principles of our constitution and the checks and balances of power are key to American democracy. Of course abuses of power have always occurred, but the use of 9/11, the deaths of our family members, to consolidate political power and benefit certain demographic groups and interests over others—this is a travesty to us.—

writing from New York, his colleague on the Peaceful Tomorrows group, Adele Welty, described Rice as "a rare man of integrity and good will.— His bid for the Oklahoma senate stems from "a personal conviction that he can have a positive impact on the people in his state, not from a desire to have power.—

"Those within the 9/11 family completely get what I am doing with this senate run,— Rice said.

Colleen Kelly, co-director of Peaceful Tomorrows, agrees. "There are those who hold onto anger and choose to let grief overwhelm them and those that take this horrific tragedy and try to make something better for the world. Andrew is one of the latter.—

Kelly listened to Rice speak at the one-year 9/11 memorial, a vigil held as the sun set on New York's Washington Square Park and attended by more than 10,000 people. Rice's speech was memorable, she said. "He did it then and he does it now: Andrew speaks the unfettered truth without self-censorship. When someone like that attempts to do good, everything falls into place.—