9/11 events: Our grief is not a cry for war

NEW YORK – As events marked the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, New Yorkers, in all their diversity, turned out to remember those who died, to honor those who rushed to the aid of the World Trade Center (WTC) victims and to call for peaceful solutions to terrorism.

On a day when the only war rhetoric came from the Bush administration, moments of silence, religious services, candlelight vigils, concerts, poetry readings and photo exhibits attempted to capture the enormous human tragedy that has changed this city, the country and world. On Sept. 10, 3,000 people gathered in Washington Square Park for an all night candlelight vigil, called by the Sept. 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and the War Resisters League.

Andrew Rice, who lost his 31-year-old brother, described why WTC victims families joined together as Peaceful Tomorrows. “It is not our intention to be self righteous,” he said. “When we say our grief is not a call for war it is our call for non-violence as an alternative. It is not an act of condoning what happened or indifference to accountability.”

Rice called for “justice that restores what was tragically broken on Sept. 11 for us, personally, for the city and the nation; not one that’s going to create more tragedy.”

Megan Bartlett, an emergency medical technician who works with a group of Ground Zero rescue workers for peace, told the crowd, “Our grief is not limited to Americans but extends to all those who’ve been victims of terror and war around the world.”

She said, “It’s important that you know how grateful we are for the immensely important support our country has shown us. [Yet] our efforts and suffering have been used as an excuse for further violence. ... we do not believe that war will make us safer.”

Others at the rally focused on some of the economic problems facing New York City workers and its relationship to the war on terrorism.

Sultan Saleen, a father of four who had been a banquet waiter at the WTC’s Windows on the World, said, “The government didn’t want to extend the unemployment insurance. On the other hand the government is spending $48 billion on military. ... War is not going to give us security.”

Since the Bush administration’s response to Sept. 11, many have been moved by the erosion of democratic rights here at home. Martin Luther King III, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said, “We preach to others of peace and democracy but we make war, and erode our civil liberties at home.”

One of the most moving events was the Fire Department-led bagpipe and drum procession through the city’s five boroughs to Ground Zero, starting at 1 a.m. The march – filled with firefighters and their families, iron workers in their helmets and boots and city residents of many nationalities – honored the thousands of working-class heroes who responded to the terrorist attacks and ensuing crisis, risking their lives and health.

People on the sidewalks quietly stepped off the curbs to join the procession as it wound its way in the darkness through Manhattan. At each fire station along the way, on-duty firefighters stood at attention as we passed.

One participant, moved by the solemness of the whole event, told the World, “I came out of my apartment at 106th St. to see the parade, but once I heard the bag pipes I knew I had to join.”

Another said she felt this was the only way she could say thanks to the thousands who died and tried so hard to rescue people.

Remembering the efforts of working men and women last Sept. 11 International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers President Thomas Buffenbarger told one commemoration, “Some draped massive chains over their shoulders. Others brought torches and tips to cut steel. Still more carried little more than a union card. They knew instinctively where their duty lay – at the epicenters of the tragedy – and they raced toward it.”

The united action of people in a crisis was echoed by many of the construction workers who gathered to enter Ground Zero, the site of the city’s tribute. Many were looking for coworkers they had worked with in the early days of the crisis.

A construction worker told the World, “We worked together here and now we must work together [again] because the problems haven’t passed.”

He was very hesitant about the Bush rush to war with Iraq. “We can’t rush to do something that could destroy our world. We have to make right what is wrong.”

The Sept. 11 events and the serious times we live in highlighted the importance of discussion and dialogue on the future of our country and world.

“The climate after Sept. 11 has been very closed and we want to open a dialogue,” Rice told the Washington Square vigil. “We are the ones who have to deal with the effects of our leaders or fanatics’ wars. This day is our day ... as the people define it, as a sacred day. Not a day for retribution.”

The author can be reached at jleblanc@pww.org