Smack Mellon, a non-profit, artist-activist space in DUMBO, New York, is organizing a public lobbying event on Nov. 8 in a bid to bring back The James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.
In October 2015, the Congress decided not to renew the Zadroga Act that affects at least 72, 297 first responders and survivors according to statistics from the World Trade Center Health Program.
Smack Mellon is organizing a letter writing campaign, encouraging people to contact friends and relatives in the tri-state area and ask them to write letters (or write on their behalf) to their representatives who did not pass the Zadroga Act. The organization is installing computer stations in the exhibition space along with a database of dissenting politicians and their contact information.
The event is tied to Karin Giusti’s art installation Honorem: Three Seasons at Black Forest Farm. Giusti lost her fiancé Steven G. Schwarz, a firefighter and first responder, in 2010 months before the Zadroga Act was passed in 2011.
“Workman’s compensation is very meager and the doctors are not that good”, said Giusti, “They don’t treat you really well. When you are a first responder, you need better care than that.”
Schwarz breathed glass from Ground Zero as he was saving lives. This left him with decimated lung capacity, weakened stomach muscles and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Giusti’s photo installation of has an aura of eerie hollowness. Photographic panels fixed on each pillar in the room show an empty farmhouse in Sullivan County where Shwartz lived before his death. Feet and shadows have no body to claim them. You can hear the systematic chopping of wood- something Shwartz loved to do- but you can’t see who is performing the labor.
Anthony Flammia, a committee member of the World Trade Center Scientific and Research Committee, said that not renewing the Act meant that first responders will no longer be able to afford specialized doctors. According to him exposure to Ground Zero led to diseases that regular doctors are not equipped to treat. “Losing specialized treatment is a nail on someone’s coffin,” he said, “Cancer is not a five-year disease, it is for a lifetime.” Flammia is lobbying with other first responders and is encouraging a civilian push in advocacy for the Act.
Not renewing the Zadroga Act is also seen as a manifestation of social inequality. Emily Gilbert, an associate professor with the University of Toronto has extensively studied how US federal compensation programs value life. She said that there was a lot public attention and generosity for victims but without an eye towards long-term solutions. “There is an imbalance in terms of how different people are being treated. People turned into heroes but now they have been forgotten and abandoned,” she said.
With strong public voices for the Zadroga act, Giusti said that civilian voices would add to the push and make the politicians notice. “Americans don’t put themselves out there, they don’t give themselves work unless they mean it,” she said.