Honoring the Past and Engaging a New Generation of Activists
Each September 11, members of the NYPD and the NYFD and their families gather at the Firefighters Memorial right outside the front door to my apartment building. Preparations begin early, with the sounds of bagpipes entering each apartment here, letting us know it is this day again, this time to remember.
As I left my apartment yesterday morning, I took a moment to stand among those gathered pre-ceremony, and noticed how, on the face of it, the demeanor of the entire scene had changed over the years. This is how grieving becomes public ritual, I thought. An action repeated over time seems less of the response to the immediate event and more of a prescribed process. Fair enough for an observer but not so much for those who continue the real work of grieving. So, while we come together as a community to honor those lost, we remain somewhat separate in how we experience our grief over that day of loss.
We came together after that, for quite a while, and we come together when things happen as they have in Boston and Orlando, for example. As a nation, we face continuing, unfathomable threats in our schools and our neighborhoods due to gun violence. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Charlottesville, and too many others.
We come together. And yet, we come apart.
And today we are seeing a threat from within our own executive branch and in response to that a resurgence of social protest such as has not been seen since, well, the last century.
The vehemence and the cruel intent with which the current administration seeks to destroy the legacy of the Obama years, to close our borders, to expel this nation’s immigrants, to strip us of our right to healthcare and to choose, to a safe and clean environment; all of this certainly does feel like an attack from within.
We started living in a new world on September 12, 2001. It was a world of fear and new vocabulary in the form of orange alerts, first responders, TSA, and Homeland Security.
Sixteen years later, I don’t think that any of the fallen would recognize our current world. And not only because of added airport security or new technology.
We’ve made so much progress. And yet, we have regressed to a place I no longer recognize.
As is the case with any passing from one generation to the next, my kids grew up in a different world than I did, and in many ways, better. My kids, cognizant of their own mixed race, grew up in a world with diminishing racial bias and with increasing acceptance around gender identity and fluidity. There had been fewer lines drawn in their world. Until 45.
So, the bagpipes do bring me back, and they do trigger reflection. After so many years of effort to heal this nation, to move past the hatred and extremism of the early 2000s, we find ourselves struggling against not only rebooted rhetoric but an invasion of what should be ancient and outdated political theory and action. A new wall and new Nazis. We did not envision these things in 2001; we did not anticipate them in 2008, either.
The current administration has the potential to cause harm for years to come, and the threat of this has engaged the spirit and intellect of our young people like nothing before it. Despite experiencing the catastrophe of 9/11 as schoolkids, many did not suffer any personal loss. It was part of their world but once removed. Not so with 45.
My respect to the families of 9/11. As a nation, we will continue to honor those who were lost in the attacks and their aftermath. And as we work to protect our immigrants, our right to choose, to love, to drink clean water, to preserve our national monuments, to safely attend our local schools, our right to health care, and the basic tenets of living in a civil society, we’ll be aspiring to a way of life that our kids should feel proud to defend.