Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Lost Decade

Every year since 9/11 occurred, the same routine has been played out at the WTC site: families gather and read all the names of the victims, political figures loom and read poems, someone plays or sings some sentimental music in an effort to help people grieve and remember the tragedy of that day. I've watched the memorial on TV most years and until this year it never really hit me that maybe it's time to just let things be. Yes, the 10th anniversary is a big deal and should have been treated as such. The 9/11 memorial officially opened today and the families were treated to the first look at this glorious tribute to their loved ones. But instead of going above and beyond, the same routine was replayed over and over again on TV for 4 hours. I understand the need for people to mourn, but have these yearly memorials really been helpful? Have they helped to ease the pain or have they belittled a tragic event in our nation's history? Families of those lost on 9/11 live with the grief every day. They remember every day. And for the past 9 years we've grieved along with them on this day. But maybe, it's time to leave well enough alone. To let them deal with it on their own, to mourn and remember in their own ways.

Do we really need to continue these lethargic monologues and canned speeches being read by former Presidents and Governors and Mayors year after year? Who are we really doing it for at this point? For the people in the Midwest who have never even been to NY, never known anyone who died on 9/11, so they can have some kind of holiday to cling on to and celebrate with their God Bless Americas and their American flags and eagles on the back of their pickup trucks and their ignorance about Muslims? Several news outlets this week asked people to share their 9/11 stories, their "where were you" stories. I'm sorry if it makes me a bitch or an elitist or insensitive, but I don't need to hear the 9/11 story of someone who was 2000 miles away - to hear that on that day they were in their pig farm or in church or in their college dorm. I want to hear stories of real people, New Yorkers, who were there, who lived it, who knew people living it, who were terrified, who knew that in that moment their lives were changing forever.


September 11,2001: 9/11 meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But most of all, it meant something major for America. It mean that American would never be the same again. It seemed for every step forward America had made in its history, it was taking so many steps backward. In the days after, people began to turn on each other. There were hundreds of hate crimes against Muslims and widespread racial profiling. The Patriot Act was passed in the month following 9/11 to help "fight terrorism" along with a military campaign in the Middle East touted as the "War on Terror". The TSA was created in November 2001 to try and secure our airports as the hijackers were able to waltz past our seemingly lax airport security on 9/11. Ironically, Richard Reid - aka the Shoe Bomber - was able to board a flight just a few days before Christmas with a bomb in his shoe which he was attempting to light and blow up a plane. (Yeah, you can thank that guy for the whole annoying process of having to take your shoes off at the airport and holding up the security line. Way to go, bro.)

The Department of Homeland Security was created in 2002 and merged with INS to try and control immigration and our borders and released that oh-so-easy to remember color coded advisory chart.

What began in 2001 as an invasion in Afghanistan to capture Osama Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda operatives strangely spread to Iraq in 2003, where we captured Saddam Hussein on December 13, 2003. (Hmm, that's funny. I don't remember Saddam Hussein having anything to do with the 9/11 attacks?)

2004: Michael Moore released his controversial documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" in what was already a very controversial election year. Hoping to sway the vote toward the Democratic party by revealing the lies and deception of the Republican party, he opened the film with the results of the 2000 election in which Al Gore won the popular vote, yet surprisingly lost the election to George W. Bush. He continues to undermine the Bush administration, drudging up Bush's lack of reaction time during the morning of 9/11 as he stuck around to finish reading "My Pet Goat" to a group of elementary school students, as well Bush's service record in the National Guard. He also focuses on the fact that Government officials were aware of threats made by Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, yet failed to act accordingly and concludes that the military movement from Afghanistan to Iraq was driven by the thirst for Middle Eastern oil reserves and G Dubya's quest to get back at the guys who tried to kill his Daddy. Moore also highlights how the war's "Patriotism" marketing campaign has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of young men and women, especially those in low income areas who were promised thousands of dollars in sign up bonuses to fight for their countries; bonuses that will never get used as these soldiers are never making it home from this war - and leaves many wondering what the real purpose of the war is for.

November 2, 2004: George W Bush, running on a ticket of religious ignorance, abortion banning and the promise to write an amendment against Gay marriage (aka the Defense of Marriage Act), is re-elected for a 2nd term on November 2, 2004, despite the best efforts of the Democratic party.

July 7, 2005: Bombings occur in London's transit system during rush hour. Islamic terrorists take credit.

August 9, 2006: A terrorist plot to use liquid explosives to blow up airplanes is uncovered. Thanks assholes. Because I really only need 3oz of shampoo on a week long vacation.

November 5, 2006: Saddam Hussein is found guilty of crimes against humanity.

December 30, 2006: Saddam Hussein is hanged to death. A grainy cell-phone video of the execution makes waves across the internet.

September 2007: Oil passes the $80/barrel mark.

October 2007: Oil passes the $90 mark.

January 2, 2008: Oil passes the $100 mark for the first time ever.

January 21, 2008: Stock markets plummet on the possibility of a US recession, fueled by the subprime mortgage crisis.

August 28, 2008: Barack Obama becomes the first African American nominee for President. His campaign promises hope and change. Many questions are raised about his background and heritage as he was born of a white mother and an African father in Hawaii and attended school overseas in Indonesia. Some questioned if he was really born in the US at all and therefore that would make him ineligible to run for president. Some claimed that he was a Muslim because of his middle name of Hussein and was in cahoots with the terrorists and couldn't be trusted. Others still simply were racist against him for being African American. However, Obama was overwhelmingly popular with the youth vote, with the minority vote and a star with celebrities - being backed by many of the biggest names in Hollywood.

November 5, 2008: Barack Obama is elected the first "Black President" in the history of the United States. He promises Universal healthcare for all the to bring all of our troops home by 2011.

January 20, 2009: Barack Obama is official inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States.

May 2, 2011: Osama Bin Laden has been captured in Pakistan and killed in a compound by Navy SEAL team 6. This is later confirmed in a public address by President Obama on live television. He proclaims that this was never a war on Islam - Bin Laden was murderer, not a leader, killing many people including his own.

The American economy is in shambles as a result of the War on Terror. Billions of dollars that were dumped into defense were siphoned from areas of our country that could have used it the most. Banks go under and President Obama attempts to try and bail them out. 14 million American are without jobs and the unemployment rate hovers at 10%. Our Government almost defaulted on its debts and America's credit rating dropped. Republicans and Democrats are at odds fighting over their own political bullshit as millions of Americans feel lost, buried in the rubble - hopeless, jobless, homeless.

Peace? Freedom? Equality? What do those things even mean anymore? They're nothing but lost symbols of what America used to be. In a year before what could possibly be an even more important election then our last, where is all that Hope and Change now? We as Americans want to believe in it, to believe it exists, that it can happen and help. That things can change so that we have hope. We hope that our Government will put our interests above their own and create change. We don't need any more buzzwords in this upcoming election - We need action. We need results. We know that it's tough but it can be done.

Tomorrow, President Obama will present his American Jobs Act to Congress which he hopes will jump start the economy. We need this, not just as a people but as a nation. America needs this to move forward, to reclaim this lost decade of progress and to make America the great nation we remember it being 10 years ago.Sure, we still have a lot of ground to recover but perhaps 10 years from now we will be having a different kind of memorial: a memorial of the day when America got a brand new start.

Side Effects

Today is the 10th anniversary of September 11th.

I'm not here to recap the "where was I" on that day; I've already done that in the past. And in fact, I've probably retold my 9/11 story dozens of times over the past 10 years. In the days following, my story was retold among friends and acquaintances. In the months following, every person at college heard the story after asking me if I had known anyone who died in the Twin Towers when I said that I was from New York. Every year since as people stop to remember that day on message boards and social networking sites, I retold my story.

But what about the story of what happened after 9/11? How has life been affected over these past 10 years?

That is the story I'm here to share today.

September 14, 2001: It was the day that I left for college. My father and I packed up a rental car and drove all the way to Boston. I just remember the eerie feeling of their being no planes in the sky, a site rarely seen in the northeast where so many major airports are in close proximity. In fact, it wasn't until the next day when they lifted the ban on aircrafts and, while crossing a Boston street, I looked up and saw a commercial jet and felt a little lump rise in my throat. Two of the planes that crashed had taken off from Logan Airport. What if it happened again? My first semester, I had a class that met in the mornings on the top floor of a building from which I could look out the window and see the top of the Prudential Building from my seat. Every day I sat in that class looking out at that building thinking, what if a plane crashed into that building right now? What would I even do? It would be a slow trickle back to normalcy.

October 26, 2001: I came home for the weekend to go to a Halloween rave party in the city with friends. We took the subway downtown and got off at the Chambers street station, just blocks from Ground Zero. The thing I will remember the most was the smell; of burning debris, steel, plastic, asbestos and most of all, the undeniable smell of burning bodies. We rounded a corner and there it was: surrounded by wooden fences, smoke still rising from the ruins. Even in the middle of the night, work lights were on and workers were in the rubble working diligently in their rescue efforts.The fences were adorned with posters: some were looking for missing persons, some were memorials. There were flowers and rosaries and prayers. There was a cop car on the corner across the street. We stopped to ask them for directions and I remember just wanting to reach into the car and hug one of the police officers, to thank them for anything they might have done on 9/11.

September 11, 2003: I moved back home and was attending school in NYC. I had a break in between classes and decided to go down to Ground Zero to pay my respects. I had printed the lyrics to the song "Believe" by Yellowcard, which is a tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11. I put the sheet of paper in a plastic holder and I had found a rose on the sidewalk. I walked around the viewing area where the flower arrangements were and next to a metal memorial vigil of the twin towers, surrounded by flowers, candles and poems, I lay down my lyrics and placed my rosebud on top.

Think about the love inside the strength of heart
Think about the heroes saving life in the dark
Climbing higher through the fire, time was running out
Never knowing you weren't going to be coming down alive
But you still came back for me
You were strong and you believed
Think about the chance I never had to say
Thank you for giving up your life that day
Never fearing, only hearing voices calling out
Let it all go, the life that you know, just to bring it down alive
And you still came back for me
You were strong and you believed

September 11, 2011: Ground Zero is no more. Long gone is the rubble, the ruins in the depths of which the yearly memorial was held in its early stages. What remains is a beautiful, glorious memorial in the footprints of the Twin Towers. The beginnings of the Freedom tower and several small towers that will surround the old WTC site. I watched the families of those lost on 9/11 find the names of their loved ones on the walls surrounding giant waterfalls that pour into the footprints, leaving roses and creating rubbings of the engraved names. A memorial not just for those who were lost that day but for those who gave their lives. A memorial for those in decades to come to look at and remember what bravery occurred on that fateful day.

"We still here! And we're building four more new towers!"

I recently read an article about people who developed post-traumatic stress from the events of 9/11, even if they weren't directly in any of the buildings or in the area of the WTC; PTS developed simply from knowing, from watching the news non-stop, from worrying. All these years I thought I was being dramatic in my thinking that maybe I had developed some kind of PTSD after 9/11, but after reading their stories, maybe I was right? I can't even think about this day without bursting into tears, remembering my city in ruins, watching the people running, people jumping from buildings, people burned and covered in dust, firefighters and police officers and medical personnel simply overwhelmed. I've developed several anxiety disorders and gone through periods of social isolation, constant worrying, constant fear of the "what if" - things that have been a severe impediment on my personal growth in a time when it was needed most.

The 10 year anniversary of 9/11 has really amplified these past ten years of my life. In a year where I also graduated from high school and was going to be starting college, 2001 suddenly became this enormous cornerstone of my life because of the events of September 11th. That post-graduation decade, in which many young adults begin to find themselves and grow and come into their own with careers and families, was drastically altered by what happened that day and all the events that have happened since. I know at least 6 people who became firefighters (either through volunteer services, local departments or FDNY) because they were so touched by the acts of the firefighters that died on 9/11 that they wanted to give back. I have known another handful of young men who joined the Military to try and fight back and "get the bastards who attacked us"; one of which was my former roommate who was deployed in Iraq at the time when a fellow unit captured Saddam Hussein - to which he disclosed that they had actually captured him a month before it was announced here in the United States due to the fact that that they had to be sure it was really him because he had so many doppelgangers.

The invasion of the Middle East, the killings of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. The recession/depression/collapse of the American Economy. These are not the typical events that most high school graduates have to deal with but all of us who have become adults in these past 10 years have had to struggle with it. With deciding what to do with our lives and our futures while struggling to find jobs and stability. As children, we were promised safety and security, a solid education, a thriving jobs and housing market, a warm and welcome place to start families and raise children, freedom and equality, with liberty and justice for all. And instead, over the past 10 years, we have watched the America that we grew up with, the America that we were proud to call home, become a shell of its former self. Would things have turned out much differently if 9/11 never happened? The world will never know.