Letter From New York-Ground Zero
By Jim Scanlon
It is hard to tell what people thought might happen during the Republican National Convention which ended a week before the third anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center. There seemed to be a cringing, unacknowledged anticipation and fear of a bomb going off somewhere --- or something! The time and place seemed too perfect for an attack.
But after watching Zell Miller, the born again Republican renegade democrat turncoat give his down home Dixie hell fire and brimstone attack on the Democratic Party, a friend referred to the RNC as the expected terrorist event in New York City.
There were nagging worries that anarchistic, anti Bush, anti globalization, anti whatever, demonstrators would infiltrate NY like so many cockroaches and cause trouble as they did in Seattle, Berlin and Italy. When the big demonstration the day before the convention went off without problems, TV experts and Talk Show blowhards seemed genuinely hurt and disappointed.
It is hard to tell how many people demonstrated, but the crowd was very large, very patient and well behaved, composed of thousands of ho hum New Yorkers mostly young people. It was really kind of boring. Almost all the signs and banners were home made and not mass produced in a commercial print shop! "I Say No -No To The Bush Agenda" and "Bush Lies" and "Lick Bush, Beat Dick" and that sort of thing. One woman had "Stop the lies and deceit" written in glittering letters across her tank top a motto good for daily wear anywhere.
From the point of view of the demonstrators, the demonstration was badly organized. The leaders wanted to march past Madison Square Garden next to Pennsylvania Station on 34th Street and 7th Avenue, and end in Central Park north of 42nd Street, but the Bloomberg administration would not allow that route and destination, claiming, among other things, the potential damage to the grass. City negotiators offered West Street. The two sides settled on the march starting at Union Square on 14th Street, going cross town to 7th Avenue, up to 34th, then east and south and back down to Union Square.
The chosen route was a mistake which would certainly have been disastrous had there been any kind of violent disruption. There were just too many people for the route and the crowd which got off to a brisk start a little after noon on Sunday soon stagnated in streets too narrow for the flow of human beings.
There was little music, just a few groups of Brazilian style "bateria" samba drummers, and no marching bands of any kind that I could hear.
After spending a half an hour stuck in one spot, I spent another half of another hour snaking myself up one block through the crowd packed across 7th Avenue, where I finally wormed myself past wildly exuberant and gorgeous cheer leader girls doing a dump Bush routine on a not so crowded part of 17th Street.
The demonstrators didn't seem to have any idea of what was going on and just waited patiently for some movement. Had the demonstration been held on West Street it would have been less constrained, and might have appeared more focused and powerful.
I walked back towards Union Square in time to see the demonstration moving south when most of the southern end I just left was still not moving.
At last there was something that looked like a demonstration, but it was very quiet with just endless rows of ordinary people with funky signs.
There were just a few home made floats. The most elaborately dressed groups were "Billionaires for Bush" in evening cloths and several contingents of "Women In Pink" dressed, as you would expect in pink, with signs like "Give Bush The Pink Slip", a double pun.
Anyway, hot, thirsty, sweating and exhausted I descended into the sauna like subway station to catch the N train to lower Broadway which was jammed with people and sidewalk vendors selling every kind of junk imaginable, "I Heart NY", NY Yankee baseball hats and photos and paintings of the now gone World Trade Center, WTC kitch.
The Nine Eleven ceremony which started at 8 AM on 9/11, was it's usual somber, but impersonal self. The small crowd was mostly casually dressed tourists with a swarm of photographers with expensive digital cameras prowling through it. You could tell the members of "The Families" [of the victims] by the flowers they carried and their being more formally dressed. The fire fighters in uniform also stood out.
The PA system was excellent and, as I walked around the circumference of the sixteen acre open space with a partially filled hole , I could hear the names of some sequence of the 2,700 victims being read by teams of relatives.
The rhythmic naming was hypnotic and when occasionally the spell was broken as a voice suddenly faltered, choking with emotion pronouncing the name of a son, or a daughter, a husband, a wife or a grand child, it was deeply moving and I found myself suddenly choking up in empathy with the disembodied grief.
The site is finally coming back to life and the first replacement building, 7 World Trade Center, the last building to fall, is now the first one to going up and up. I didn't count the floors but it is tall and it looks like it will be completed next year. From what I read in the newspapers, the building has safety features that exceed NY City requirements. The fallen towers didn't meet minimum city requirements.
It is not well known that the contractor whose firm applied the fire retardant to the steel used in the twin towers, was murdered in 1991 and his bullet ridden body dumped in the parking garage below the North Tower. Buried in an article in the NY Times recently was a comment that the original design for the Towers called for 6 fire escapes, but this number was reduced to 3 to provide more rental space. Ah yes, might have been! This is the sort of thing that upsets "the families."
But just a block away on Broadway, by City Hall life went on as usual seemingly unconcerned. New Yorkers and part time New Yorkers [tourists], just living their lives and maybe resenting collective grief being forced on them.
The monuments all say "we will never forget", but they will, that's New York, that's us. We don't really live in history. Our history is in the future. Unless, or course, we all wind up in dream time together.