More than ten years ago now, at the beginning of the month of September 2001, I was preparing to go to DC to participate in what was expected to be powerful and significant demonstrations against the IMF meeting there. It was about two years after the "Battle of Seattle" and the anti-globalization movement was firmly on the scene, challenging complacency and consumerist greed - questioning the very system the world economy is based on. Young activists angry at the impossibility to completely extricate ourselves as individuals from a world-wide network of sweatshops, super-exploitation, and environmental destruction planned large marches and dramatic disruptions in the capital city. A world in which more than half the planet lives on less than $2 a day was looked at as unacceptable, and changeable, as we chanted, "a better world is possible - a better world is needed."
After 9/11, though, plans were changed. People were told to "watch what they say" and that protest wasn't acceptable under the new conditions. Many who had ridiculed Bush as stupid now looked to the government in fear for direction: and were clearly told "you're with us or the terrorists." Some groups bailed from the protests. Others persevered. I still went, with friends - and got to catch a few whiffs of tear gas and surprise myself by my naivete in not realizing that a club to the ribs was meant to hurt, not just move us. The protests were a fraction of the anticipated size, but they did go on in any case.
For some time, though, people living in the US by and large came together under Bush's umbrella. A moment of questioning, "why do they hate us?" quickly closed as the Bush team invaded Afghanistan. Some of us still protested... the world was still fraught with injustice, inequality, unnecessary suffering - all presided over by this country. We called out the invasion of Afghanistan as aggressive and illegitimate - no matter how many people or countries lined up behind George Bush and his swaggering threats. We protested, and pointed out that bin Laden, if he was indeed the mastermind of 9/11, was a long-time CIA asset. It all happened so quickly - now we know that many villagers in Afghanistan, living without much connection to the world's mass media, first found out about 9/11 through the US invasion, when their families were killed. When Iraq was invaded in 2003 (in defiance, this time, of global and domestic condemnation), I distinctly remember a woman walking with us that night towards Lake Shore Drive who silenced our joyous chants as we anticipated taking over one of the most important arteries of the city with thousands of marchers. She shouted, with tears streaming down her cheeks, "They're killing people right now! Right now they are bombing innocent people!" She was right, of course; and that was just the beginning. One million Iraqis are now dead, tens of thousands of Afghanis, and millions made refugees. Statistics just don't capture the horror the way that woman's voice did, though.
Frederick Douglass wrote, "When I ran away from slavery, it was for myself; when I advocated emancipation, it was for my people; but when I stood up for the rights of women, self was out of the question, and I found a little nobility in the act." Ten years after September 11th, as millions of people watch the thousands occupying Wall St. and other places, cheering for this amazing, refreshing, and utterly needed expression of outrage, I am pleading with all those involved, and everyone inspired by the bravery and hope captured in this resistance movement to stand up for the 99% of the world: those who cannot even imagine the possibility of healthcare or college degrees... those penned into open-air prisons in the middle east, toiling in factories and farms that feed and clothe us here, for those who live under the omnipresent threat of predator drones operated via remote control from US military bases. Yes, we are the 99% and yes we are screwed by the 1% - but we are also living in the empire, and must take responsibility for the crimes carried out in our names. In doing this we regain our own humanity.