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Peter Bonilla @pebonilla
, 15 tweets, 3 min read Read on Twitter
I haven't thought of this in ages, but I remembered, reading the reporting on the #Parkland survivors' meeting with Trump that I have been a fly on the wall in a meeting of this nature, and it is one of the singular experiences of my life. /1
First, some background. From roughly 2005-2011, I wrote and developed a play based on the experiences of attorney Kenneth Feinberg as the special master of the September 11 Victims Compensation Fund. As research, we had several hours of on-record conversation. /2
That fund, briefly, was designed to provide financial compensation to the families of those killed in the 9/11 attacks, as well as those injured, in exchange for forgoing litigation against United and American Airlines. In the end, Feinberg disbursed roughly $7 billion. /3
Feinberg had established a reputation as someone skilled at bringing about settlements through mediation of incredibly complex liability disputes (Agent Orange, Dalkon Shield, et al), and it was this reputation that got him appointed special master of the 9/11 fund. /4
The success of the 9/11 fund cemented his reputation in this area, and changed the course of his career. Feinberg continued to mediate massive disputes (like the BP fund after Deepwater Horizon), but he also became the go-to person for memorial funds for singular tragedies. /5
One of these was the memorial fund for the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, from which about $7 million flowed in from donors nationwide. Feinberg was brought in to figure out how to distribute the fund among the injured and families of the deceased. /6
I was in the process of writing the play when this took form, and when he held a couple of open town hall-style meetings with the family members of the deceased at VT, I travelled to attend one of them in Trenton, NJ. /7
I don't remember if he invited me along or if I asked to attend. Either way I didn't think it was a particularly big deal, because I figured the meetings were at least semi-open to the public. I was wrong. /8
When I was in Trenton for the meeting, Feinberg introduced me to the crowd as part of his staff team. And then the families took a vote to have the meeting without any media present. So all outsiders left except for me and one or two others of his assistants. /9
And I remember thinking, "oh, shit." I was the only person in the room at that point who did not have a direct stake in what was being discussed, and I have never felt a more acute sense of being someplace I didn't belong in my entire life. /10
I don't actually remember well what was discussed at the meeting. But partly that was by design. Feinberg proceeded, to my recollection, without much of an agenda. Instead, he gave the floor to the families to talk at length and share the stories of those they'd lost. /11
He'd learned to do this the hard way. His early town halls running the 9/11 Fund were a disaster, because he tried to impose his own agenda and order on the discussions, and the families just weren't ready for that. It took him a long time after that to win back their trust. /12
And so that's how that meeting went in 2007, to my recollection. And when it was done, a parent of one of the students came over and thanked me for being there to listen. I felt guilty about my place there, but that's what they wanted: for people to hear their testimony. /13
From this back to the present, I don't know what help that gives our consoler-in-chief, other than confirmation that that is indeed one of his duties some of the time. (Surprise: I don't think he's especially suited for the job.) /14
But if I took anything from my years researching the play, meeting with Feinberg, and encountering those coping with tragedy, it's that, for god's sake, you can lead by listening. Action will be demanded, and that's tricky. But the listening part shouldn't be.

Godspeed. /15
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