I still lived in Los Angeles in 2001. Tina and I were spending hours each day talking on the phone.
I used to get up early every morning for about a mile and a half walk to one of the stores where I would pick up a bagel or muffin for breakfast.
September 11, though I had a different route because it was the Los Angeles city primary and I was supporting Antonio Villagairosa, who would eventually be elected the first Latino mayor of LA in 2005 .
I had my list of candidates, knew who I was going to vote for.
At the polling place I heard people talking about a plane hitting the World Trade Center in New York City. The first thought I had was that small private plane flown by an amateur had hit it, the way one had hit the Empire State Building many years ago.
I voted and then looked at the small television the voting officials were watching. I learned that it was a passenger plane and that the other tower had been struck by a second passenger plane.
I left the polling place and called Tina on my cell phone. She had just learned the news from a man delivering a washer and dryer. I went on to the store and got my bagel.
When I got back to my apartment I turned on my TV and booted up my computer in time to hear the panic as the buildings collapsed. I listened as another plane crashed in Pennsylvania and another hit the Pentagon.
My memory of that day is a collage of horror and anger. I was caught up in the sea of outrage that anyone would have the audacity to do this to my country.
The images of people in various Arab cities celebrating by dancing in the streets made me want to turn those cities into glass.
Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell pulled out their tired gay bashing, feminist witch burning, hippie punching routine.
From Paul Krugman: What happened after 9/11 — and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not — was deeply shameful. The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.
After a life time on the left, a lifetime of dissent from US military engagements around the world, after a lifetime of skepticism regarding government infringement on the peoples rights, those guaranteed in the Constitution and those that should be guaranteed in the Constitution but aren’t I let the rage I was feeling sweep me up.
Like the vast majority of American people in the days after 9/11 I wanted revenge. Kill not only those behind the attacks but to wage war on the country that sent them.
The right wing media which is the entire mainstream media encouraged this. The so called liberal press nearly as much as the rabid right wing press.
I ignored how stupid I thought the maudlin suggestions on the part of President Chimpy to, “Go shopping, otherwise the terrorists would win.”
I was bothered by the rush to give up freedoms that had always lived on constantly challenged ground, such as the freedom to criticize the government.
As early as the week after I found the annoying thought entering my mind, “What if this were another Reichstag Fire?”
But, I was early on in my sobriety and I wanted to be like other people, to not swim against the current. A life time as an outsider and now in this moment of emotional crisis I wanted desperately to be part of the herd.
I’ve never been a pacifist. I’ve tended to view pacifists as those unwilling to actually fight for anything, no matter how important.
When I went to New York to meet Tina, who I had been in a year long phone/computer/long distance relationship we avoided ground zero. I couldn’t miss the twin towers because I had never actually seen them. This was my first visit to New York City since 1967.
When we went into the city we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. We went to the Village, I took the obligatory photograph of the Stonewall Inn. We avoided the site of the Twin Towers.
On my way back to LA I was patiently waiting to check in, to have my bags screened and then go through the metal detectors and have my carry-on bag and camera bag x-rayed. I was there at the ticket counter when a wild eyed, long haired unshaven middle eastern man in a black leather jacket crashed the line and demanded to buy a ticket. He didn’t have a reservation and carried no luggage. I decided. If he is on the same flight I am on, I won’t get on the plane.
I checked in and went to screening leaving him still arguing with the ticket people.
Conspiracy theories were already out there about the towers being blown up and how the planes couldn’t have brought them down. But as I sat in the plane on y flight back to LA a different question arose. “How the fuck did all those people get knives (box cutters which are knives) passed all those screening processes?” It is still the question that bothers me, as is the following. who let the knives through or hid them after the screening point so that they could be retrieved.
In late April 2002 I moved to Long Island to be with Tina. I gave away or mailed most of my possessions and left a lifetime behind.
I was in New York, home of the Abstract Expressionist Art Movement, home of the Village, a place I had loved as a teenager and young adult.
I started exploring the city, taking pictures, studying art at NYU and the Art Students League.
I avoided the financial district, Wall Street because I knew it was where the WTC had stood.
Then one October Day I went to an Adobe seminar that turned out to be a couple of blocks from where the World Trade Center had stood. I had a camera so I went and looked. I tool some pictures and the sorrow, the anger in me stirred a fresh.
There were already anti-Bush and anti-war with Iraq demonstrations going on but none of the media covered those voices of dissent.
I was part of the majority anyhow and wouldn’t have listened anyway.
We cheered “Shock and Awe” even though it was really “Shuck and Jive”.
But by the time 2004 rolled around with Bush’s appeals to the ultra right wing homophobes, the war that was starting to look like Vietnam in the sand, the kidnappings (rendition) the stories of torture. One crack in the propaganda wall after another.
I got my feet back under me I read the writings of people I had trusted in the past and I was filled with a new anger.
If almost all of the terrorists on those planes were Saudis why did we invade Iraq? If they were Saudis only using Afghanistan because Afghanistan was in a state of lawless chaos, why did we invade Afghanistan.
If these terrorists were extra-nationals rather than Saudis why didn’t we use our CIA/NSA/Special forces to deal with them the way Israel used the Mossad to deal with Black September, i.e. hunt them down and kill them rather than going to war with people who may well have had nothing to do with this.
How come the President said “They hate us for our freedoms.” and then started eroding the freedoms for which we are supposedly hated?
Ten years ago…
Ten years and a couple of trillion unfunded dollars pissed down a rat hole and the right wing are talking about austerity programs for the working people and the poor, the senior citizens and the disabled.
Ten years on and it seems to me that the “War on Terror” has destroyed far more than those 18 terrorists destroyed.
The war on terror has destroyed not only many of our freedoms but our economy.
Time to give us back the rights we surrendered under the PATRIOT ACT.
Time to get past this terrible moment, time to get back to our ideals…