How we remember - 15 years on
On the 10th anniversary on 9/11, I worried we hadn't lived up to the sense of "shared fate" that we felt so powerfully in the days after the attack. I'm afraid it's even worse now. Today, as I again join the Children of Abraham Peace Walk, and the families of lost Windows on the World Workers at the Restaurant Opportunity Center memorial, I pray, as I did five years ago, that "we can remember and build upon that sense of shared fate, that we are all New Yorkers now as we were then, that we honor our first responders individually and also as a symbol of the beauty of serving community, that we should dream and work together for a city where healing is bigger than killing, that honors the work and sacrifice of firefighters, investment bankers, and dishwashers, that recommits us not simply to a memorial, but to a living city that honors their memory."
I’ll be seeing many of you at memorial events around the district today, thinking about those we lost 10 years ago today – people like FDNY Squad 1’s Dave Fontana, PS 321 parent Scott O’Brien, Alfred Vukosa who lived in Kensington and worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, and Manuel Asitimbay, an immigrant from Ecuador and cook at Windows on the World, whose family was able to re-unite after his death thanks in part to an affordable apartment in Sunset Park. They and their families have been extraordinary inspirations to us.
As we gather, I’ll also be thinking about the powerful, common feeling that took hold in our city over the days and weeks after September 11th. We were scared and angry. But we also found a spirit of community that I had not seen before. We came together across lines of race, class, and religion. The ghastly, inhuman, evil attack laid bare the fundamentally equal suffering of the families — from investment bankers from Cantor Fitzgerald to dishwashers from Windows on the World. For a few weeks, we saw that we truly have a shared fate.
We wanted justice, to be sure, but not simply revenge. We wanted to provide comfort together, at the scale we had felt pain and loss. We honored first responders not only for their deep losses, but because they represent our collective effort to protect and take care of each other. We wanted to build a city and a world where that kind of pain do not exist. That is impossible, sadly … but our heartfelt desire brought us together, and made us dream about it and try to do a few things to get us closer. In those moments, I believe we saw the true potential of our democracy.
Unfortunately, I sometimes have been feeling that too little of what we’ve done together – in the name and memory of 9-11 – truly honors that spirit of shared fate. We have rightly worked to make sure that we are safe, and we must of course continue to do so vigilantly. But we fought a costly and misguided war that did not make us safer – while cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans, making a mockery of shared sacrifice. And too often our efforts to make our country and city safer have come at the cost of our civil liberties and by targeting Muslim communities. And, I fear, we have not done enough to build a more compassionate and more equal world – the kind of world that we must work for every day if really believe that stockbrokers and dishwashers are truly equal, and that our fates are entwined.
Fortunately, many of the memorial events recapture that spirit, and I hope they can help us reconnect and recommit to it.
- On Thursday evening, I attended an event sponsored by the Restaurant Opportunity Center of NY, an extraordinary organization created by survivors from Windows on the World. Over the last decade, as a tribute to their fallen co-workers, they’ve created an organization that fights for better working conditions for all restaurant workers, established Colors Restaurant (which provides good jobs to displaced Windows workers and many others, and serves delicious, diverse, and sustainably-sourced food), and launched a new guide to “high road” restaurants.
- At noon, young people living around Brizzi Playground on the Borough Park/Sunset Park border, an extremely diverse area, will spend some time together cleaning up and improving the playground, and helping make it a place
- This afternoon, the “Children of Abraham Peace Walk” will again bring together Jews, Muslims, and Christians together to walk together for peace and better understanding. This is the 8th walk, and I’m pleased to have joined many of them. Today, we will walk together past a local mosque, synagogue, church, and firehouse, before heading over the Brooklyn Bridge.
- This evening, I’ll see some of you at an event sponsored by a new group “Friends of Kensington,” who organized a moving vigil in July in memory of Leiby Kletzky. They are working to bring people together in a neighborhood where long-time Brooklyn residents, Catholics, yuppies, a large and growing Bangladeshi Muslim community, immigrants from Central America and Central Europe, and many Orthodox Jewish families live together, but often don’t know each other.
There are no simple answers, of course. But as we observe the 10th anniversary, I hope that we can remember and build upon that sense of shared fate, that we are all New Yorkers now as we were then, that we honor our first responders individually and also as a symbol of the beauty of serving community, that we should dream and work together for a city where healing is bigger than killing, that honors the work and sacrifice of firefighters, investment bankers, and dishwashers, that recommits us not simply to a memorial, but to a living city that honors their memory.