Monday, November 01, 2004

Appeal From A Blue State

Dear Swing Voters, Republicans, Disenfranchised Democrats,

This is it. The Last day. The 11th hour. Tomorrow the polls will open and the future of the nation will lie in the balance. By now, chances are your decision has been made, and very little can convince you otherwise. But if you'll allow me a final appeal, I just have one more thing to say.

The top issue in this election, as defined by the voters, is homeland security. Who can we trust to keep us safe? Who will be the best man to have in the White House when the terrorists try and strike again? Who can help us avoid another 9/11?

Perhaps there are only two groups of people that can truly answer that question with any authority. The people from the two places hit hardest on that morning. The people of New York and Washington D.C.

On September 10th, I went to bed late. It was the first week of college, and my roommates and I still hadn't gotten the summer out of our systems. I went to bed feeling nothing but some lightheadedness. I didn’t have class until 12 that next day.

I woke up to see my roommate standing next to my bed. He had just turned on the television. I opened my eyes slowly, blinking them from the light filtering in through the window. “What’s going on?”

“A plane hit the twin towers.”

At the time, none of us really knew what had happened. The newscaster was saying it was most likely an accident. I closed my eyes, disturbed, but not unsettled. Then the phone rang. It was my mother.

“Don’t use this as an excuse not to go to class,” she said.

I hung up, and looked at the tower, looking like a chimney on the television screen. I was watching when the plane cut through the second tower.

My mom called again. “Don’t go to class,” she said.

When we left our dorm, at 14th street, the sun was bright, it was warm but with a cool breeze. We left through the glass doors, out into Union Square.

I’ll never forget it.

Everyone. Everyone in the entire square was frozen. They were all staring downtown. As we stepped off the sidewalk and into the street, we saw it come into view.

The towers were on fire.

If there ever was a vision of the end of the world, chances are it couldn’t have been anywhere close to as real as that moment. Dead silence in New York City, home to taxicab horns, headset cell phones and shouting solicitors.

Silence. Only faces. Staring at the same thing.

We went inside a couple minutes later. We couldn’t say a word to one another. What could we say. All that came out was silence, some bits of denial, a feeling that we weren’t yet awake.

We were back in the apartment and watching the TV when the towers folded in on themselves.

When we went outside again, they were gone. Nothing but the largest, thickest cloud of smoke I’d ever seen and never hope to see again.

Everybody stunned. A hundred faces in Union Square, all looking at the same thing. All incapable of any thought. It surged through your body, something collapsed inside. It caused some people to crumple where they stood, as others standing nearby when over, strangers putting their arms around strangers, not strangers anymore.

When they started to come, a few at first, gray dust obscuring their faces, we stood and stared, no sure what to do. Not sure what to say. The flow picked up and soon there was a flood, businessmen without briefcases, some of their pants tattered. Everyone dulled that same shade of gray. An ambulance passed by, screaming. Shaking off that same sick gray.

You know this. You know what you saw on TV, what you’ve read. What you’ve heard from friends and relatives. Even if you’re lucky enough to have never smelled that iron laced air, you felt the loss of innocence we all felt. How could you not? This wasn’t an attack against America. This was an attack against America’s people. This was an attack against you.

But here’s what you didn’t see. People stopping together on street corners to applaud the passing fire engines. Thousands of people in the park, holding candles, crying on the shoulders of total strangers. The scene as you walked in Union Square, fences painted with the faces of the missing, people curled up in the streets and passerby curling up next to them. College kids putting 20’s in Red Cross jars, clearing the shelves of Duane Reade to send supplies to Ground Zero.

We felt angry, sure. But even more we felt together. Our sadness became our link. We suddenly had respect for one another. New York City, for almost 300 years has been a place of fierce ethnic lines, tension between police and public, and rude cabbies, cutting off traffic. In the aftermath, you couldn’t hear a car horn. You didn’t hear a fight. You saw a cop and you thanked him. In the aftermath, we were united. We talked about rebuilding. We talked about how lucky we were to be alive, how stupid we had been to care about all the insignificant little nothings that occupied our thoughts, before. We didn’t feel strong, we felt weak. And from that weakness came the need to find solace in one another, to embrace our neighbors, to appreciate our differences.

We supported the war in Afghanistan. We talked about rebuilding the towers in Kabul. We cheered George W. Bush in Yankee stadium. We cried during God Bless America. Still do.

But then. Then Bush said we had to go to Iraq. And more than a couple of us wondered why. We had just lost nearly 3,000 of our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, friends, cousins, neighbors. We didn’t feel arrogant. We felt sad. We wanted Bin Laden to pay. But Saddam? He was bad but, what did he do to us? We were confused.

And as the reports come now, worse and worse each day from the battlefront, we mourn the loss of our soldiers in a very different way from the loss of our heroes on 9/11. We mourn our soldiers with angry grief, because we know we could have stopped it. We know their deaths were not inevitable. We mourn with confusion, we mourn with protest. We lost our hearts on 9/11. Now we’re losing our minds.

Over 1,000 soldiers dead because of what? Because our President decided to use 9/11, and our grief, our loss as justification for a broader war? Meanwhile, our soldier’s sacrifice, and the sacrifice of the men and women who died on 9/11 is in vain. The murderer walks free, and gets free air time.

On November 2nd, New York and Washington D.C. will vote for John Kerry. The two places that got hit hardest by terrorism will be voting for a man our president calls “weak on terror.” The two places that learned the most about themselves, the most about each other, the most about terrorism and how it can change the course of a life, will have their citizens step into voting booths tomorrow and select a flip-flopper for Commander-in-Chief. The results will not be close. And this is from a state with a Republican governor, a city with a republican mayor, and a city where George Bush has lived for the past four years. On November 2nd, we will vote Bush out of office because we believe he has not made us safer. Not with the pitiful funds he’s given us. Not with this war that he’s given us. Not with the lies and policies that he’s given us, which have severed our bonds of unity and thrown them to the dogs of the religious right.

On November 2nd, New York and Washington D.C. will be blue.

We know what we’re doing.

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