Sunday, September 11, 2016

15 years, today.

15 years ago today, I was getting a frantic phone call from my boss about making notes to put in the hallway of our dorm saying that school was closed today. Not fully understanding in my half-sleep, I looked out my bedroom window to see the sky turning black with smoke from the south, but the source of the fire was blocked by other buildings. I complied with my boss’s requests, made a sign, printed a few copies, put them by the elevator of each floor and ran down the marble stairs to go outside. Union Square had become a crowd of awestruck South-facing gawkers, and I realized why as I turned right to see the background to my city on fire. You think of big buildings as indestructible, the backdrop of the city almost like a canvas propped up behind skyscrapers.
I tell this story every year, usually in front of students who are decreasingly aware of why this day is important. I talk about the change in trajectory of my life because of this day, how it brought forth bad poetry, but solid motives to teach and work for social change. To use my privilege to speak truth to power, to fight against oppression, in all of its forms. To recognize our role in history and why others might “hate our way of life”, which seeks to convert everyone to capitalism and profits over people.
I was looking at the annual memorial of lights in photos last night. Covers of newspapers asking if we will ever be that united again... and I’m thinking of the parts to the story that I don’t often tell. Of Muslim friends who experienced such horrible backlash while wearing hijab, of hate crimes in Queens supermarket parking lots, of New York City coming together over those lost, but simultaneously opening fire upon its Muslim population. While we organized teach-ins, taught about Islam, these fires burned. When it turned into invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, these fires grew. Syria, ten years later, Palestine and Israel, ongoing, our silent propping up of regimes, the fires intensified. “A war against terror” is a shapeshifting enemy, that conveniently moves beyond borders while we raise our flags.
I hear their names again this year, and want to remind you that protest is patriotism (as Shaun King said this morning), that we can simultaneously mourn those lost on our soil with those who were lost in retribution for the biggest anti-Capitalist symbol falling down, in front of my eyes. I was there, and I remember, that we were anti-war here in New York City, right away. That family members of those lost said, “War is not the answer, not in their names”. I want you to hear these stories, too.

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