Why I came out to protest on 9/11

September 14, 2010

WHEN I heard the Tea Party was holding a rally on September 11 near "Ground Zero," I knew I had to come out to speak truth to their lies, to protect my Muslim brothers and sisters' religious freedom and civil rights. As citizens of New York and the world, we all have a responsibility to stand up to bigots and racists.

I moved to New York City 20 years ago from Kentucky to attend graduate school and ended up staying here. What I found here was a wonderful tapestry of people, people of all colors, multi-cultural and multi-ethic. Christian, Jews, Muslims, Black, white, Latino, Asian; all lived together, worked together and made this city the place I wanted to call home.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, after dropping off my child at school, I quickly voted, it was primary day. On my way to work, I ran into a co-worker who told me a plane hit the World Trade Center. I hurried to work, and as I got off the elevator at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, I saw the second plane hit the building.

An hour later, the towers had collapsed, and the world as we knew it changed. It was surreal, and no one who witnessed the events of that day remained untouched. I can't even imagine the pain of those who lost their loved ones that day.

That morning, thousands of workers went to work in the World Trade Center. Workers, like me, who day after day, work together, cooperatively to create, maintain and run the world we all enjoy. They did so without the vile, disgusting bigotry that the Tea Party represents.

Even during the horrific events of that day, workers didn't survive because they pushed each other out of the way, but because they helped each other to safety. Firefighters, police officers and medical personnel didn't stop to ask people if they were Muslim or ask for a worker's documents before rescuing or offering first aid.

I would like to believe that those who didn't make it out comforted each other to the last moment before the towers collapsed. On that day, the best we can offer as human beings held the city and world as we knew it together. In the weeks that followed, New Yorkers weren't crying for blood, but lighting candles, holding vigils and saying "not in my name."

BUT BECAUSE a small minority of people in power saw this tragedy as an opportunity, that all changed. They saw this "New Pearl Harbor" as an opportunity to push through an imperialist agenda that, without the events of 9/11, would have been impossible.

September 11 became the excuse for everything. An excuse for invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq. An excuse for torturing prisoners in Guantánamo, Iraq, Afghanistan and in the U.S. An excuse for "extraordinary rendition." An excuse to trample on civil rights and shred the Constitution. An excuse to persecute, scapegoat and hate anyone who is different.

Thus began the "war on terror." U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan followed by Iraq. Like the communists of the 1950s, Muslims became the "enemy" under every bed. Muslim communities in the city were under attack. Homes were raided and people were ripped away from their families. Hundreds of Muslims were detained and disappeared, all in the name of security.

Benjamin Franklin said, "Those who would trade in their freedom for their protection deserve neither."

Today, immigrant communities across the country are experiencing the same horror. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in workplaces snatch parents from their American-born children. Students who were brought here as small children are pulled from class and deported to countries they don't even remember living in. Capital is not limited by borders, why should people be bound by them?

We are told that 9/11 happened because they hate us for "our freedoms." Freedoms that the U.S.-backed dictatorships in the Middle East and around the world don't extend to their people.

What freedom? The freedom to work until you die, so a small minority of people can capitalize on the value of your labor. Even today, to dissent, to exercise our freedom of speech, we are penned up like animals and herded by police as we march.

The lesson of that day was not learned, and therefore we are doomed to repeat it. The actions of our government, in our names, do not come without consequences. Real terrorist are trained and bankrolled by the U.S., to rain terror around the world. Did we really believe there would never be any blowback?

The Tea Party's racist attack on the planned Muslim community center at 51 Park Place and the Muslims of New York City could not go unanswered. Ironically, the World Trade Center provided a "prayer room" for Muslim workers. Muslims were among those who died.

These corporate-backed bigots, instead of focusing on the real enemy (Wall Street), instead prey on people's fears and frustration. Instead of blaming a system that bails out bankers while kicking out homeowners, they blame "those who aren't like us." The real enemy is a system that benefits a small minority at the expense of the majority.

One of the chants at the rally in defense of Park51--"Racists, bigots, get off out streets, you planned a Klan rally but you got no sheets"--really hit home for me, having grown up in the South. But, unlike the Klan who hid their faces, the Tea Party spew their hatred and bigoted lies with pride.

This is why I couldn't stay home on 9/11. I had to come out and say no to "racist fear." To not stand up to the Tea Party and their lies would be to dishonor the memory of the workers who died that day nine years ago.
Cindy Klumb, New York City

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