From 9-11, a Decade of War and Impoverishment
In September 2001, I wrote for La Lutta Dispatch: “From the roofs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, stunned residents watched two planes crash into the World Trade Center, then a black cloud of smoke. Immediately, the television coverage went into full mobilization and the realization of an evolving wave of terror with massive casualties began to take hold. Office workers covered in ash fled across bridges into Brooklyn, anxiously bent over cell phones. As the connections went dead, their faces were stricken with panic. Accounting sheets and files rained down on Brooklyn as a volcanolike ash settled on cars for nearly two miles around the World Trade Center.”
I was 26, living in Brooklyn and working at poorly paid but pleasant job at the Hunter College bookstore in the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
All these years later, it’s tempting to look for a silver lining to the tragedy. There is perhaps one: the social solidarity that pervaded the city in the weeks after the attack. The 10 years that followed can be chalked up as a lost decade characterized by war and widening class inequality.
In the past 10 years I’ve psychically distanced myself from 9-11. I didn’t know anyone who worked in the World Trade Center. I didn’t have any family or friends who were directly affected. I wasn’t in close proximity to the carnage and chaos. In many ways, I experienced 9-11 the way everyone else did — as a televised media event.
I did witness and participate in the exodus — office workers made refugees — across Brooklyn Bridge as the city temporarily suspended transit service.
I learned about the attacks hearing an elderly Jewish man standing in line at the bookstore exclaim angrily: “Those bastards did it. They flew a plane into one of the towers.”
I went back and told the store manager about the rumor, and she turned on the radio. The rumor was true. She closed the store and sent us home for the day.
Naturally, I headed downtown, towards the towers, before steering east into Brooklyn via the Williamsburg Bridge. I saw temporary idled city workers grimly listening to news on a portable radio and witnessed a man staggering dazedly up Broadway with a fine dusting of ash on the shoulders of his suit jacket.
When I finally made it back to Red Hook and walked across the pedestrian bridge that traverses the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, I looked for the familiar site of the towers, like sentries at the foot of Manhattan adrift in the split between the Hudson and East rivers. Their absence, like a missing tooth, gave me the same feeling I’d had when my best friend’s mother was killed in an auto accident when I was 8 years old. I would momentarily forget and each time I remembered the news was as unbelievable as the first time I had heard about it.
Sept. 11, 2001 shaped me into a peace activist. Some readers will likely take offense at the sentiments in my article. There’s an unflattering term for this tendency of thought: “Blame America first.”
“In New York City, the financial capital of the American imperium, a particularly ruthless protocol has taken hold in recent months as managers blithely trim employees from their payroll and freeze capital expenditures, all the while naively hoping that consumer spending from debt-ridden median-income workers will pump life into the played-out economy,” I wrote for La Lutta Dispatch. “The broad workforce, from temporary office workers to grocery store cashiers, has taken up a manic pace of production where atomized self-interest prevails across the class spectrum. This is the city that, with no psychological preparation, finds itself in the midst of war.”
I also wrote: “Now, surely, the poor and working class would be asked to make the biggest sacrifice to secure American domination in the Middle East.”
Three days after the Sept. 11 on a day of national mourning, my friend Antonino D’Ambrosio and I walked through an impromptu demonstration at Union Square that mixed patriotism with pacifism, talked with cab drivers and visited Canal Street to look at memorials at the barricade that demarcated the restricted zone.
A year later, as a graduate student at Columbia University, I gravitated to the peace demonstrations, where hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers protested the impending US military invasion of Iraq.
In September 2001, I wrote, “President Bush has promised an open-ended, broad ranging military campaign while the Senate unanimously granted him power to use ‘all necessary and appropriate force’ even though the victims of this attack — as yet — have not asked for more bloodshed as a means of closure. It’s still too early for most in this city to process their grief, but the mood in the streets is more somber than bloodthirsty. Americans in other parts of the country may not appreciate the deep desire for peace that comes out of such a devastating attack on human life.”
I still feel the same way.