Tuesday, September 11, 2007


“I opened my eyes but couldn’t see anything. Everything was completely black. My eyes were burning. I couldn’t breathe, and I wondered for a second if this was what death was like.” Ruth Fremson, New York Times, September 16, 2001

Reading a photojournalist’s memory of September 11th this morning reminded me that there was a BEFORE. Before this endless war against phantoms, before the Patriot Act, before the Bush regime bullied their way into the space left by the American passivity to politics, to participatory democracy.

Make no mistake, the American scorecard before 2001 wasn’t great, wasn’t anything like stellar. From Reagan’s “little wars” to Clinton’s glad-handing of corporations, there was much to be ashamed of at the top echelons. But I believe it is significant when darkness comes out into the open as it has during W.’s term: pre-emptive war set down as a foreign policy, legislation in the name of bald greed, untruths of great consequence proclaimed from the highest pulpits, international laws ignored, human rights stripped from “suspects” not convicted of any crime, people detained for months and years in the name of Our Fear, freedoms removed from every citizen—the very freedoms this country built its ambitious vision on.

A sentimental part of me wishes to be back in New York today, seeing people I spent time with in those most strange weeks that followed 9/11. But here I am, out in the provinces of America, wanting change for this country, and I am not the only one. I am reporting from out in America to say, I am by far not the only one who sees with naked eyes. I have met teachers, janitors, waitresses, librarians, nurses, retirees, accountants, McDonald’s cooks, video editors, technical writers, administrative assistants, recovering alcoholics, grocery-chain meat-slicers, switchboard operators, health-clinic volunteers, mothers of eight, and countless others who know, Mr. Bush, what goes on.

And yet there is still a collective silence, a depression, a sense of being crushed.

When I remember the feeling of BEFORE, it is relative to the feeling of SINCE, and I remember that I still feel like someone has been standing on my chest for six years. Is this the grieving I haven’t done, that we haven’t done? Or is it the feeling of living with the aggression that the Bush Administration released, the lies they perpetuated, the twisted reality they began to implement, and the uphill battle it has been to speak past that, the uphill battle to breathe past that? Or are these one and the same? Aggressive stance-taking as denial, as refusal to grieve?

Is the SINCE feeling I speak of only perceptual? Not without origin, but perceptual because I have held on to it, paid too much heed to the feeling itself? What is a country (a democracy) made of? Is it the leaders we elect, is it a sum of our votes, is it the shape of our voting districts, is it the victims of our bombs, is it the collection of our stories, is it the fact of our daily good deeds, is it the acknowledgement of the many people who have not gone blind or mute or deaf or dumb in the face of insanity at the top?

America, I am crying for you today. But I am in you, I am one of you. I am not flying a flag today. But I am waking up and remembering that we can’t move backwards—I can’t reach the BEFORE by wishing in that direction. I can only move forward. We can only move from this point, forward. We can only work with what we’ve made, what they’ve set into motion, I can only respond and write and keep responding and writing, speaking, making room to imagine new ways to respond, new ideas to set into motion.



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