“Are we ready for another disaster?”
I have seen it all. I have seen two of the four hijacked planes that morning hitting the Twin Towers. I have seen ordinary, working men and women — American and non-American — jumping off the burning skyscrapers to death. I have seen the towers collapse.
I have seen complete chaos where school children were evacuated of their buildings, and driven to walk aimlessly up north, for miles without any official plans or instructions. Asbestos-dust-covered Chinese residents few blocks away mandated by our leaders not to include their neighborhood in arbitrarily-mandated disaster zones. I have seen total system failure of a Giuliani administration as well as a Bush White House, with total lack of coordination, to inform the ordinary people in New York and across the U.S. about the nature of the disaster and prevention and safety measures.
Nobody knew what was going on!
Of course, ordinary firefighters and countless volunteers and low-paid workers — American and non-American — worked in exemplary manner to save lives and property. Some gave their lives too; I personally knew a couple of these heroes.
And of course, very important, elite people were airlifted and safely shipped away as quickly as possible. That group of elite included Dick Cheney and sheikhs visiting from Saudi Arabia.
I did not forget anything.
But in spite of blanket censorships and media spins and distortions for years, followed by a brutal genocide on Iraq on a phony WMD pretext, ordinary people like us who lived through the horror and its aftermath cannot forget what we saw in our neighborhoods. We saw poor, innocent people dragged out of their homes at gunpoint in the middle of the night — many on false terrorism charges — yanked from their families and loved ones, to be held in prison indefinitely, only to be summarily deported, without due process. We have seen hate crimes on Muslim and Sikh immigrants from Arab and South Asian countries, committed by violent, ignorant xenophobes. We have seen a climate of fear created by the people in power and their mouthpieces — that planted and perpetuated hate and mistrust even across the immigrant communities and people of color.
Suddenly, people I never suspected started suspecting me, as perceived enemy!
We have also seen police, FBI, Homeland Security and other powerful law enforcement agencies warning us relentlessly, sometimes on baseless, unverifiable information, to keep us on the edge — with the pink, orange and red color-codes, for years. The warnings came and the warnings went, baselessly.
Yet, we have never seen any serious, meaningful, pro-active plans and programs undertaken by the leaders — to assure us that they have learned a hard lesson, and that next time, God forbid, should another disaster happen, the damage and the deaths and the detentions and deportations would be brought down to zero.
We have had one zero action on one Ground Zero of a lifetime. We do not want to see another one, in the lifetime of our children.
In my years of intense work as a grassroots community organizer in New York and New Jersey, I have seen how poor, innocent communities — mostly immigrants and people of color — have lived in worries and uncertainties, in increased poverty and hopelessness. I have seen how in the sudden absence of the head of the family who was detained and deported on meaningless charges, the rest of the family languished in desperation, with no love or compassion received from mainstream America, in times of grave needs (ah well, those peace and justice groups were few and far between). I have seen how countless immigrant families finally ended up returning to home countries, heartbroken along with broken dreams of their U.S.-raised children.
I have seen how America, a once-inclusive land of immigrants, overnight turned into a land of non-compassion, non-tolerance, and loathe.
I keep asking my simple question to anyone in a position of power. I ask them to make some meaningful changes. I ask them, please tell me, are we as a country different now? Have you learnt any lessons at all from the terrorism and tragedies that changed America forever thirteen years ago? Have you done anything since then — to assure us that God forbid, should another disaster happen, we the ordinary, working men, women and families — non-American or American — going to be, not punished, persecuted and prisoned, but protected and preserved? Have your began any elementary education on diversity, tolerance, and peace?
(And I already know your answer.)
In case another terrorism happens, God forbid, is America going to rise up to the occasion this time around, and reclaim the country of inclusion that it is supposed to be? If not, can you make plans now? Please? We are here to help.
Because this is our country too. We share our common beliefs, goals, and responsibilities.