The W.T.C. as a backdrop to the G.O.P. convention


By David Stanke

A number of individuals owning apartments at 114 Liberty St. have placed signs in their windows opposing the Iraq war and the tactics used to justify it by President Bush and his administration. These windows have a prominent place at the World Trade Center site and are easily visible to anyone casually looking at the surrounding buildings. Are people to promote personal agendas using the disaster site?

As one of the individuals placing signs in my windows, I have seen 9/11 and the W.T.C. used to promote personal agendas for three years. My goal in this action is to demonstrate to our fellow Americans, the Republicans visiting New York for the convention, that the view from ground zero isn’t as clear as they would like to see it.

The signs were the idea of Russell Simmons and his friend, Glen E. Friedman. While Mr. Simmons lived in the building before 9/11, I have not seen personally seen him in the three years since. I have as many disagreements with him as agreements. But these signs resonated with my own concerns about the direction of the country. And while Russell funded the signs, the participants in this peaceful protest selected their own signs and messages. Opinions about the messages differ within our condo and within our families. But for me, these signs accomplish the most important goals of a demonstration. They peacefully present the notion that a number of U.S. citizens respectfully and firmly disagree with current direction of this government in the war on terror.

The power of the W.T.C. site is its ability to recall the stark division between good and evil as contrasted between people who flew airplanes into buildings to kill and those who fought to survive and to help others survive. Vast portions of the world, even those suspicious of America’s position as a dominant super power, poured out sympathy and support for us. In this place and at that time, the world simplified into black and white.

But people soon figured out that giving speeches at W.T.C. imparted definitiveness to causes, even if the issues asserted were not so clear. The emotional power of the W.T.C. has served as a substitute for reason, a tool to wipe away opposition. Consider the causes presented at the W.T.C.: the war on terror, the war on Iraq, rebuild the Twin Towers, build a 16-acre memorial, preserve the footprints, office tower safety, pleas to Washington for rebuilding funds, calls for funding for environmental cleaning of Downtown. Every argument seems more powerful when presented with a backdrop of the W.T.C. Recently, the site was used for requesting pay increases for police and firefighters. Without any comment as to the validity of these causes, the issues are never as black and white as their proponents would like us to think or as the site of 9/11 appears to imply. Public policies should not be based on the raw emotional power of the 9/11 ruins.

One person who has broadly leveraged the images of the W.T.C. to his own agenda is George Bush. Appropriately, he played a central role in our response to a national disaster. His message of resilience and determination was an important for rallying people together and giving us hope.

But President Bush implicitly uses the W.T.C. to justify all of his anti-terror policies when he asks if we feel safer today than we felt three years ago. In the buildup to war on Iraq, he and many Republican commentators, accused opponents of the war of being ignorant or worse, traitors. Weak evidence was presented as fact, suspicions were expressed as certainties. When the facts weren’t there, President Bush hid behind a protective fog of classified information and confidently implied: “Trust me!”

When George Bush asks us if we are safer today than we were then, he is asking if we feel better than when we experienced the Twin Towers were falling. Such a comparison is meaningless. On Sept. 11, 2001 at 8:45 a.m., I felt very safe, but wasn’t. Today, he tells me we are wining the war, that we are safer. But our city is an armed security fortress for the month running up to the Republican convention. Roads and public transportation will be stopped. If we are safer today, why do we need to secure our city specifically for the President’s visit? When George Bush announces the capture of a terrorist and takes credit for preventing the next attack, can he tell us how many replacements are being recruited and trained somewhere in the world? Why does he have to go into his convention on an armored stage? Are those of us without that protection at risk?

In posting signs at the W.T.C. promoting peace, challenging the war in Iraq, and supporting the importance of dissent, am I using the site just like Mr. Bush? Perhaps. But I decided to put these signs up for the benefit of a portion of this country visiting the W.T.C. site, perhaps for the first time. Many visitors may come to justify their support for President Bush’s war in Iraq. While they feel the indignation of the atrocity executed against this country, they will see anti-war signs on a building where people suffered extensively from the attacks and are just now getting back to their homes. I hope that they will understand that we witnessed 9/11, that we live with the site every day, and that we feel there is a better way to secure our nation and our city. I’d like to sell them on ways our government can effectively spend funds to defeat terrorist enemies without alienating the world, to explain the wisdom of alternative policies. But that is not going to happen. So perhaps with these few signs, I can demonstrate even at the W.T.C. site, we do not live in a world of black and white. Regardless of what President Bush says, the world exists in shades of gray and hues of color. And seeing only black and white in a world of shades and colors is not clarity. It’s blindness.

David Stanke owns a condominium across from the World Trade Center site and is a member of two Lower Manhattan Development Corp. advisory panels focusing on the W.T.C. memorial center and historic preservation at the site.

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