What Happened

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New York will never be the same
People will never be the same
America will never be the same
—“Town of Emptiness, Town of Sorrow” by Ashley Garner

A car bomb was reported to have exploded in Washington, D.C. A news item claimed that a plane crashed in San Francisco. Footage of some Palestinians celebrating played again and again. Around the world, Israeli embassies evacuated certain staff members.

A terrified Parliament Hill worker left her job early. A Windsor, Ontario, man looked across the Detroit River at the Renaissance Center, seeing it as a possible target. A Starbucks closed its doors in Vancouver, British Columbia.

So much fear, of things both real and imagined — you can still feel the edge when you read the posts.

With many of the mainstream media sites flooded by demand, rabble was the only place where some readers got their information about what was happening. But here, they could also express themselves. This day, one year ago, rabble.ca’s discussion board covered the news coming out of New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania.

The frenzied need to make sense of the day’s events, to separate fact from speculation, to not be alone, produced a rare kind of democratic journalism. And many of the posts show how personally people were reacting, no matter where they lived.

“I wonder if I will ever feel safe again.”
babble participant

There was a lot to identify with. The planes that slammed into buildings had ordinary people in them. The workers who jumped from so high up, holding each others’ hands, could have been anybody. So many rescuers — civil servants who were only trying to do good when they rushed into the World Trade Center — were never coming out of what remained after its collapse.

But the feelings of fear were perhaps about something else, too. If this could happen to the Pentagon, to the heart of the West’s economic system, to the executive producer of Frasier, was anybody safe?

“All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and men at last are forced to face with sober senses the real conditions of their lives and their relations with their fellow men.”
The Communist Manifesto

* * *

“Who would dare do this to me?”
—New Yorker Rita Seiden

Americans suddenly discovered that they could be attacked for their American-ness.

The world’s only superpower isn’t used to being the victim. Those who control its military, media and financial complexes are not used to being victimized. And yet, adjusting to the role, the decision-makers have learned one payoff resulting from their new status: the feeling that any reaction can be justified. So — in the name of saving freedom from those who hate it — democracy, equality and justice are sustaining serious damage.

The campaign in Afghanistan has killed thousands of civilians, but the country remains unstable. Iraq might be the next on the hit list, even though much of the world is cautioning the U.S. that such a move could do more harm than good. And, to destroy the enemy within, The Department of Homeland Security encourages neighbours to rat on each other.

“Who can truly understand this greatness that is America, unless they have lived it? And who would dare to try and destroy us?”
Brian Shul, American Patriot

In other places around the world, regular people living their regular lives didn’t have the luxury of asking who would dare. They knew. They could do nothing about it. In the West, their deaths are rarely televised; the anniversaries of such slaughters rarely receive much notice in the news. Here are a few:

  • Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, Lebanon, September 16, 1982: at least 800 people are murdered.
  • Northern Iraq, 1988: an estimated 100,000 Kurdish men disappear, 4,000 villages are destroyed and sixty more villages are attacked with chemical weapons.
  • Guatemala, 1954-1990s: a program of genocide includes the deaths or disappearances of over 200,000 persons and more than 600 massacres.
  • Rwanda, 100 days in 1994: more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus are slaughtered.
  • Sahanici, Bosnia-Herzegovina, July 14-16, 1995: as many as 5,000 Muslim prisoners are executed.
  • Freetown, Sierra Leone, January, 1999: roughly 4,000 civilians are massacred over three weeks.
  • East Timor, 1999: approximately 1,000 people are murdered after a referendum vote for independence from Indonesia.

* * *

“The worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil was committed on September 11, 2001.”
U.S. Department of State

The above claim was made within hours of the attacks last year. It is still made today. On that golden autumn day, what did Native Americans feel when they first heard it? What did the descendants of enslaved Africans feel? Perhaps, for some reason, the suffering of their ancestors doesn’t count as terrorism.

“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream ... ”

Black Elk was talking about the December 29, 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. It marked the end of the U.S. Army’s “Indian Wars,” which began in 1865.

Before Wounded Knee — during the forced march of the Trail of Tears — an estimated 4,000 Cherokee children, women and men died. At Wounded Knee, a whole way of living died after this twenty-five year assault by the United States of America, breaking its own treaties throughout that time.

As a young man, Black Elk saw a massacre. As an old man, he understood that more than the people at Wounded Knee were murdered. With any loss like this, one year is too soon to know what really happened, and where it will finally lead. History twists and turns. It shifts shape with points of view.

In 1910, a Copenhagen conference of socialist women declared March 19 International Women’s Day (it’s now marked on March 8). The next year, disaster struck six days after the first IWD marches.

“The survivors were left to live and relive those agonizing moments. The victims and their families, the people passing by who witnessed the desperate leaps from ... windows, and the City of New York would never be the same.”
the Triangle Factory Fire

On March 25, 1911, near the end of the workday, a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York City. It killed 146 employees in less than fifteen minutes: mostly women, mostly immigrants, many under the age of fifteen.

About 100,000 people came to the funeral march that followed. The disaster forced changes in labour conditions and strengthened the union movement in the U.S., and it brought increased attention worldwide to the oppression of women.

Six years later, in 1917, Russia’s Women’s Day March for bread and peace started a revolution.

And nothing was the same again.

* * *

Further Reading

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