Not in our name
September 28, 2001 | Page 4
GEORGE W. BUSH and his advisers looked for every opportunity to turn people's anger over the attacks in New York and Washington into patriotic fervor. That was the purpose of Bush's trip to New York to the site of the attack.
His calls for revenge were in sharp contrast to the sacrifice and courage of the rescue workers he spoke to, who risked their lives to find survivors. This spirit of solidarity and sacrifice was seen all over New York after the attack--with countless people throwing themselves into efforts to help in whatever way they could, in hospital waiting rooms, at blood drives and at emergency centers.
Today, the public squares in lower Manhattan remain filled with makeshift tributes to the victims of the tragedy. Almost unanimously, they call for peace and justice, not for war and revenge.
Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez, whose son Greg died in the attack, put these feelings in a letter to the New York Times. "[W]e read enough of the news to sense that our government is heading in the direction of violent revenge, with the prospect of sons, daughters, parents, friends in distant lands dying, suffering and nursing further grievances against us," they wrote. "It is not the way to go. It will not avenge our son's death. Not in our son's name."
Here, Socialist Worker readers reflect on the September 11 tragedies and the U.S. government's response.
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LAWRENCE HAYES, New York City:
ON SEPTEMBER 11th, I watched in utter shock as One WTC was engulfed in flames and smoke and a civilian aircraft slammed into Two WTC. My nephew, Cornelius Butler, who spent two-and-a-half years in the New York death house with me, worked in One WTC. There was no doubt as to whether he was in the building. His work hours were 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
I'm glad to say that he made it out of the building. But I'm concerned about the effect that these two brushes with death are having on him.
There's no excuse for the tragic events of September 11th. As a revolutionary, I find no honor in an assault against innocent civilians. But as long as governments support the idea of killing and death as a means to an end or a legitimate option, we will continue to witness these kinds of tragedies.
This reality was clear from the words of George W. Bush, who referred to the Old Western poster "Wanted Dead or Alive" in reference to Osama bin Laden.
In the end, the real issue is that what has been called terrorism is in fact the acts of militarily weak and desperate people against oppressive and oftentimes bullying powers that be. As long as there are no reasonable and sound mechanisms for the poor and oppressed to obtain justice, they will seek desperate means to strike back--and the powerful will call them terrorists.
Our hearts go out to the victims of this senseless tragedy and their families. I urge all those who want to end the terror mentality--by individuals and governments--to join us in our nonviolent movement to seek justice, end war and condemn "killing and death" as a legitimate option in the United States.
LEE WENGRAF, New York City:
I WORK as a secretary in one of the world's largest corporate and investment banks, in a building a few blocks from the World Trade Center.
On the morning of the attack, I was at my desk, and the phones started ringing like crazy. Someone started shouting to evacuate the building, and everyone started to run. When I finally got outside onto the West Side Highway by the Hudson River, I couldn't believe what I saw--all the flames and smoke and people running towards us.
Two thoughts kept entering my head all day. One was about the people that I knew in the World Trade Center. I worked there from 1997 to 1999, and I had no idea what happened to my coworkers (I found out later that everyone I knew got out okay).
My other thought was, "This must be what it's like every day in the West Bank." There are any number of places where people are forced to live with the constant threat of bombs or bullets raining down on them.
The idea that the U.S. would want to repeat the nightmare of the World Trade Center--and repeat it hundreds of times over--in a "war against terrorism" is unthinkable.
After the attack, what will happen next is a huge question mark for thousands and thousands of people who live in New York. There was already an incredibly insecure atmosphere on Wall Street for people who work on the support level--secretarial, tech and that sort of thing.
A number of firms had big rounds of layoffs this past spring. It was brutal the way this played out.
There were CEOs and high-level bankers who walked away with huge compensation packages. Then there are people like the secretary that worked near me on my floor, who was 60 years old and had worked there 20 years. They laid her off just shy of her retirement package, and she left with nothing.
Right now, the companies are saying that they'll help their employees. But the whole framework for them is profit. I can't imagine that they won't try to take the expense of rebuilding and regrouping out on their employees.
HÉCTOR REYES, Chicago:
AS I sat in a daze at work on September 11, trying to understand the enormity of the human loss at the World Trade Center, I also began to develop a sense of fear.
As I told one of my coworkers, I feared that, once people's confusion began to dissipate, their feelings would give way to anger--a blinding anger that some people would misdirect against Arabs and other immigrants. Sadly, on the same day of the tragedy, press reports confirmed my fears.
I felt very uncomfortable as the "day of prayer and remembrance" declared by Bush approached. On that day, red, white and blue ribbons were distributed to each employee where I work, and we were asked to go at noon to the conference room.
I pondered whether to skip this event, since I was aware of how several supposed vigils and remembrances had turned into patriotic frenzies of people waving flags, chanting "USA, USA!" and calling for war and bloodshed.
I told one of my coworkers about my misgivings and said that I wanted to mourn with everyone else--but not if it was in those circumstances.
As for the red, white and blue ribbon, I took the pin and hastily made a ribbon with black fabric. I put it on and went to the conference room. When another coworker asked me what I was wearing, I told him that black is the color of mourning.
I felt then, as I feel now, that any condemnation of terrorism that in the same breath doesn't oppose the racist scapegoating of Arabs and the turning of the senseless deaths of 5,000 people into the senseless deaths of hundreds of thousands of other innocent people in Bush's insane war is using our grief as a cover to legitimize the U.S. government's monstrous plans.
I feel bad because my mourning has been cut short. I have to attend to the urgent matter of organizing against this senseless war and defending my Arab and Muslim brothers and sisters.
LUCY HERSCHEL, New York City:
WHEN MY union, New York City's 1199 SEIU, planned a September 20 all-delegates assembly at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, we thought we'd be discussing the big hospital contract coming up this fall. Little did we know that the event would become a memorial for one of the most horrific disasters to hit New York.
In a heart-wrenching moment, the families and coworkers of 1199 members killed in the attack--as well as members who had lost family themselves--went on stage. We mourned the loss of our union brothers and sisters and all the victims of this terrible tragedy.
Then 1199 President Dennis Rivera discussed the U.S. government's response to the attacks. He announced that the executive board had agreed on a platform that condemned the attacks, called for those responsible to be brought to justice, spoke out against discrimination and opposed Bush's war drive.
"We cannot declare war against nations for the acts of individuals," Rivera said. The platform was overwhelmingly endorsed by the assembly.
I was relieved and proud that my union had taken a stand against further carnage through war. This statement by one of the biggest unions in the state of New York is an important step toward building an effective antiracist, antiwar movement that can save lives here and abroad.
PRANAV JANI, New York City:
LISTS OF the dead and the missing from the World Trade Center tragedy are updated daily as New York City mourns the victims. But we may never know the full length of another list--the undocumented workers killed on September 11.
The Twin Towers had a massive "informal" economy--and an army of casual workers. Many of these casuals were undocumented immigrants, often supporting families elsewhere with their jobs.
Window washers braved great heights to keep the buildings gleaming. Delivery workers transported food to the offices above. There were workers making pizzas, washing dishes, delivering flowers, staffing delis, cleaning rooms, operating elevators--all kept the WTC running.
A spokesperson for SEIU Local 32B-32J reported that it was missing 26 of its members, including janitors, secretaries, elevator operators and maintenance workers.
But Esperanza Chacun, director of Urgent Services at Tepeyac Association, a community-based organization for Mexican workers in New York City, said that finding out the exact number of undocumented workers killed would be hard.
And their families--both here and abroad--will be hit even harder by the tragedy. "Undocumented workers' families won't get the same help as other families," Chacun said, "because they won't have supports like life insurance."
Under pressure, state and city officials have promised to distribute public aid without discrimination. "All families of victims are getting support, regardless of status," Chacun said. "We don't know how long this will last, but we hope it will continue."