I’d prefer not to say anything about today. Earlier this week I filled out the New York Time’s interactive map pinpointing where I was on September 11, 2001 (17 Union Square West in my freshman college dorm) and my reflections 10 years on. I chose “unmoved.” I’m not unmoved in that I don’t feel empathy for those who lost friends and loved ones that day. At the most basic, I wish that today didn’t become a big patriotic hullabaloo. I upsets me that it’s just another chance to put our hands over our hearts and say “God Bless America,” and forget about the rest of the world. I’m tired of how this day was turned into an excuse for war, a grab for power, a justification for racism, and a suppression of human rights and civil liberties in the United States and abroad.
Ten years ago I had arrived in New York an idealistic, moody activist ready for her freshman year at a liberal arts college and ready to fall in love with New York (or at least give the city a chance). September 11th didn’t change that, but it changed my focus. Before the struggle against globalization and the need to undo the injustices of colonialism seemed abstract. September 11th brought them into focus and made me think about the consequences of centuries of oppression. It also made some struggles and concerns pale in comparison.
Maybe it’s because I was in Union Square on that morning and I looked downtown and saw the smoke and heard the sirens (and breathed that scorched , chemical laden air for weeks afterwards), and remember the collective gasp that went up when the towers collapsed, but I always felt that September 11th was a tragedy centered in New York.
Ever since that morning I’ve also been both proud of certain responses in this city and ashamed of others. I remember drawing on sidewalks with chalk the night of September 11th 2001, writing, “An eye for an eye makes the world blind.” I remember the huge memorials of candles set up in Union Square. I remember clearly rallies every Saturday at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn (my neighborhood) to demand the release of immigrants detained after 9/11 that were held for months without trial. At the same time, New Yorkers raised huge opposition to bombing Afghanistan and later Iraq. Most people were speaking out against racism, even while immigration authorities were acting on it. I think the New York Time’s op-ed said it best in the piece What New York Didn’t Loose After 9/11. The larger impulse was towards helping those impacted by the tragedy, not towards revenge, but towards community, openness, and reflection. This is a stalwart city, tough, but one that stands up for its own and (in the best of cases) doesn’t discriminate between who is and who is not a New Yorker.
September 11th made me determined to love this city and stick with it through all of the challenges it posed. Ten years later here I am. Today is not one for ceremonies and listening to those in power, and it looks like I’m not alone in this. Today is time for enjoying the life I’ve built here piece by piece, despite the tragedy, despite eight years of the worst president this country has ever known, and despite my own personal roadblocks and frustrations. One of the comments on the New York Times’ map called the past ten years “a lost decade.” I disagree. This decade has been hugely significant to me personally. I went from a teenager to an adult, I struggled, I built my life, and I spoke up, even with such dreary politics and global realities as a backdrop. Today I’ll have brunch with friends, ride my bike along the waterfront and maybe drink a beer brewed right here in Brooklyn. Here’s to you, New York! To your diversity, acceptance, your resilience, and to the people of this city and the world!