6 year strut.
trying to make sense of what i saw and breathed, 6 years later.
(a work in progress, your comments and dialogue are much appreciated)
This will be the 6 year anniversary of September 11; it's on a Tuesday morning again and the weather in Detroit looks like it will mirror that bright and cloudless day. The only clouds we saw were the plumes of smoke encasing the city like the largest crime scene I've ever lived in. This year, I will spend it at school, but thinking deeply about what it all means now (as I do not only on the anniversaries, but frequently throughout my days), and not getting into the hype about record sales. Why do we always divert our attention from what's really important to the superficial media-fed story-of-right-now that no one will remember in a few years? I know that albums always drop on Tuesdays, but have some respect.
Here's some numbers I want to throw your way. 6 years later, 4 and 1/2 years of war against a shape-shifting enemy, nearly 3,000 civilians killed in New York, 3,761 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq (which was not the original location for our retaliation, but a secondary locale), 3,300 of which have been since the capture of Saddam Hussein. 78,065 Iraqi people have died and while there is some military effort to stop the killing of civilians there, we still cannot own up to calling them people. We call them casualities, unfortunate “inevitabilities” of our glorious attempt to “liberate” the people of Iraq from an awful regime. Because when our royal texas son of a leader is trying to redefine imperialism and domination through ballistic warfare, when there are two sides to a binary story and folks are misinformed by the media but convinced of our patriotic rightness and “their” dark and terrible wrongness, we continue to support this war through our own inaction.
While watching ‘Sicko’ a few months ago, my friends and I mourned the ability (or desire) for large-scale protests in America. Yes, there are tens of thousands of college-aged and left-wing radicals who do participate, who are going to marches in D.C. who were at the anti-WTO rallies in Seattle, who daily use direct action to make a difference and make people think. I am not trying to undermine the important work they do, but in a country of 300 million people, the proportion of active participants in public demonstrations are extremely small. Why don’t we? Do we feel so powerless that we have become wholly futilistic? Do we think that there are other ways to act and that large protests are meaningless? Do we just not care about anything outside of the health and well-being of our nuclear families?
6 years ago today, we were chalking the streets of the West Village with “do your own research on the wtc”, and “an eye for an eye makes us both blind”. We were marching against war in the streets for months, we were conducting teach-in’s about the history and beliefs of Islam in attempt to educate and reduce ignorant hate crimes in the city. There was an urgency to each move we made, and years later, I find myself disappointed in my own inability to stay active. Where has my own zeal gone? Do you realize the intense luxury in being able to be disconnected from the political sphere that implicitly affects your daily life? The technology of war has grown so that because we are not there, we are not inundated with its daily affects (with the exception of gas costs, economic depression, and general disgust with the U.S. when you travel abroad). This makes it all the easier for us to move about our lives concerned with our own needs and desires, and not with the well-being of others across the world, whose lives perish at our hands. There is blood on all of our hands.
See, here’s the thing I’ve always believed. Each human is connected through the commonalities of our struggles and hopes. We need basic things to survive, we strive to learn, grow and understand – even if only for communication’s sake and not for scholarly endeavors. We breathe, we have hearts that pump blood through us, we believe in family and the preservation of culture. We have evolved out of an oral tradition. We have always been able to heal ourselves and are resilient and tenacious creatures. What I’m so desperately trying to understand is a more broad question: how can we value ourselves over other people in the world? When a life stops, there is great loss, regardless of the dollars or debt that the person leaves behind. Regardless of national origin, ethnicity, religion or political affiliation. Who dares to stay that one life is more important than another? Our department of state, our military and president. Despite the legacy of this being a country founded on freedom, it was never meant to be freedom for all – ultimately, that’s much too dangerous.
When I think of September 11, I have the experience of being there, of watching those boy twins burst into smoke and exhale their exhaustion all over us. It was a metaphor that my favorite hip-hop group, the Coup, had put on the cover of their album, “Party Music”, which was released the week before Sept 11th– alluding to the destruction of capitalism as a necessary catalyst to achieving equality this country. It was a grand collapse over a stunned city of survivors, and it was the first time that I went to sleep with tanks on the streets not knowing what the world would look like tomorrow outside my window. If I would be so fortunate to wake.
When I did wake, I found it incredibly devastating to see the missing posters, which were pasted on every available wall, scaffold, bulletin board and window at eye level. There was a vigil on Union Square, right across the street from my house, for two weeks solid, though many of us met there for months afterward to strategize. There, I experienced something so incongruous to many tales of visiting New York – human connection with strangers. We exchanged our stories, let each other know about upcoming events, protests, and volunteer opportunities, distributed fliers, wrote down messages to the lost, deceased and their families. We used the space as a center for trying to understand and make sense of this, tried to put everything into a historical perspective instead of joining the reactionary war-mongers, who seethed with their desire to initiate revenge upon whosoever was responsible, regardless of why it happened. Forging a community in the midst of loss, we worked to honor the loss and understand the causes – explicit and implicit. While Guiliani credits himself on creating this community for New Yorkers, he did not once visit Union Square to speak to us.
I don’t think of this experience as unique, in fact I file it with those of people all over the world who have witnessed massive tragedy or scales of violence. It is of particular interest to me that large-scale destruction and death, in its spectacular glory of explosion, seems to outrank slow-but-steady genocide. Hiroshima (70,000 dead), Nagasaki (40,000 dead) often eclipse the Holocaust (almost 6 million dead) in discussions of WWII, because of the awesome visual spectacle and introduction of nuclear force, as well as the element of immense shame involved in such mass genocide, in retrospect. There are people who still believe that the Holocaust never happened, because it is easier than admitting that their fathers and grandfathers participated. I also tend to align events of this magnitude with natural disasters – such as hurricane Katrina (which killed 1,900 people and displaced tens of thousands), and the tsunami in Indonesia (killed 186,983 people) – but as it is with natural disaster, there is no enemy to blame except for an angry earth who is watching how we destroy her.
Despite many conservative attempts to disprove conspiracy theory and a mainstream media gag-order on divergent points of view, I will always believe in the conspiracy theory that Sept. 11th was allowed to happen by the U.S. government because our president had planned to finish a war that his father could not finish; but needed public support in order to justify it. This is to say, I believe that intelligence knew and chose inaction, that the president wagered a few thousand lives being worth the advantages of access-by-force into the middle east. I don’t see a blatant disregard for human life being so out of the question with the current administration, and in fact, find it utterly crucial to think about who passed away as important to how American grief was collected into war support. What if the planes had struck the low-income housing projects that line the East River, housing almost 10,000 people? Would we, as a nation, have reacted the same way? Would we have jumped up to support a war on terrorism in their names, too? As evidenced by government reaction (or lack thereof) to hurricane Katrina, I feel confident in saying that the outcome would have been different if it was not middle-class white business people who were mostly affected by the World Trade Center, Pentagon and flight 93 hijackings.
Being in New York at the time, I have heard countless stories of people who were called and warned the week before, were told not to fly, not to be in the area by their government-employed friends and relatives who were breeching confidentiality in order to warn their loved ones. I have heard and seen evidence on both sides with regard to the attack on the pentagon (see this video: http://www.pentagonstrike.co.uk/flash.htm and also this article from time magazine: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1531304-3,00.html ). Conservative theorists look to debunk the conspiracy theory based on “expert” opinion, usually provided by someone who is in some way connected to the FBI, CIA or current administration. The left often does not have enough information to support its claims, in part due to immediate confiscations of surveillance tapes and other evidence by the FBI, who were there within minutes to collect evidence from non-government owned local businesses for their investigation. While I think it’s important to understand and to have the American people know what really happened on that morning, I find these debates to be ego-bashing and -tripping more often than they are genuinely useful toward logical, fact-based assessment of the events.
I don’t even know how to move forward and conclude these thoughts. Rereading some of the things I wrote six years ago (http://www.meniscuszine.com/issue13/letter1.html), I realize that I’ve made a very conscious disconnect from a lot of the war coverage, in attempt to distinguish war-mongering from reality. I feel like I don’t know as much as I should right now and am quite tentatively going to publish this. But after years of processing, talking, dialoguing, commenting, re-illustrating, telling my story and listening as much as possible to the stories of others, I still believe that education for social justice is at the crux of trying to envision a world that rises above this madness and looks to value the lives of all people, not just those in power. Critically educating people to understand themselves as citizens who can have power and DO have power, in the face of a media that seeks to keep us pacified and unquestioning, is a liberatory and difficult stance to occupy.
What I know is that the depth and breadth of the patriot act, as well as the subsequent loss of our civil liberties are incredibly alarming. The argument that you must give up certain freedoms in order to eventually be free is akin to the logic that we are at war in order to preserve peace. The fact that we are setting up democracies in other countries, modeled after our own corrupt and fraught system is ludicrous. I have always highlighted the importance in continuing to do your own research about the history of the U.S.’ involvement in the middle east, and how it affects our political and economic interests there today. I urge you to begin making connections between your own life and some of these issues (war, terrorism, national security, diplomacy, imperialism, racism, religion, oil) as they do affect each of us.
There are many ways to get involved and better understand our post-s11 politics and the detrimental affect on our society as well as global culture and politics. I do not wish to be prescriptive, but rather ask you to locate an organization that interests you. I ask you to think of the importance of participating in your democracy, which is corrupt, but can still function if we believe in our own power and start using it. Vote in local elections, as well as presidential ones. And always, keep talking to one another, challenging, thinking and questioning. Critical inquiry is at the basis of change. And at the end of the day, I have to remember that change is very slow, but I believe that education is at the root of change, and this is where I will be working.