DAN Jones starts to cry. He's in the middle of Union Square in New York City and he's trying to explain how his children felt when they lost their favorite uncle - his brother-in-law - on September 11, 2001. Jones is one of the founders of the September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows organization and it's been a rough week for him.
His brother-in-law, he feels, has been wrapped in the Stars And Stripes and his death expropriated by the Republican Party, which has come to town just days before the third anniversary of the attacks on America for its pre-election convention.
The decision to hold the convention just a few blocks from the site where nearly 3000 people died in the World Trade Center attacks has been condemned by many opponents of the Republican Party as a gross exploitation of America's suffering. Each day of the convention has invoked the memory of 9/11 as a reason to "never forget and never forgive"; each day delegates have called on September 11 as a reason to justify war.
If the convention and the memory of his family's loss has made this a harrowing week emotionally for Jones, then it's also been a hard few days for him physically too. He's just completed the mammoth task of dragging a 5000lb tombstone - inscribed with the words "to the unknown civilians killed in war" - from Boston to New York in time for the convention. The "Stonewalk" saw some 500 people, led by Jones, pulling this hulk of granite along the same route that the planes which crashed into the twin towers took when they were taken over by the 9/11 hijackers.
The Tombstone now takes Center stage in Union Square. This usually bohemian, bustling little patch of ground has now been turned into a shrine for all those who have died since 9/11. Surrounding the tombstone are 978 pairs of boots - a set for every soldier who has died in Iraq. Hundreds of kids' shoes and women's shoes and the shoes of men are there as well - each pair representing a dead Iraqi. The names of all those who have died during the invasion and occupation of Iraq are being read out as Jones tries to describe the pain and anger his family has felt - pain at losing his children's uncle, Bill Kelly, and anger at the Bush administration for using their suffering, as they see it, as an excuse for war across the globe.
Bill Kelly was at a breakfast meeting at the Windows on the World restaurant at the World Trade Center when the first plane struck. His body was never found. "My children lost their favorite uncle," says Jones, a 39-year-old social worker in the New York school system. "We didn't want to see any other family going through what we did. My children are still very afraid. The shock and horror hasn't left them. No other children anywhere in the world should go through what they went through. The city in which they live saw planes crashing into buildings and the buildings falling down.
"We knew that if our country waged war that other families would be put in the same position that our family was put in - children would lose uncles and parents, people would lose their brothers and sisters, parents would lose their children.
"We wanted justice, not war. War is no way to get justice. It took a long time for the man who blew up the plane over Lockerbie to come to justice, but it happened in the end. We wanted this pursued as a crime, not to be considered as an act of war. The war in Afghanistan has not brought those who plotted my brother-in-law's murder to justice. And the war in Iraq has certainly not served that purpose either."
The tombstone that he and the other members of September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows dragged to New York is meant to quietly and symbolically show their President what they think of his foreign policy as he staged his party's national convention.
Not every protester is as eloquent as Jones and the 200 or so other families in his organization, but nearly all share his sentiments.
Since last Sunday - the day before the convention started - New York has been a sea of protest. Sunday alone saw some 200,000 people take to the streets in a demonstration aimed solely at one man - George W Bush. The poor, the homeless, military veterans, former police officers and firefighters who responded to 9/11, the gay community, the unemployed, anarchists, hippies, Muslims, Christians, soccer moms - someone from every segment of the myriad ways of life in America - has taken to the streets of New York this last week to tell their President to stop what he is doing and to let him know that they want him out of the White House this November. Most have been dignified and some have been silly - such as the panty protest down at Battery Park where women flashed their knickers bearing slogans like "F*** Bush". Only a very few have been violent and a handful have been pointless - there was more than a couple of wasted stoners desperately wandering New York looking for something to protest about but unable to locate the nearest demonstration.
The police arrested more than 2000 people, many for the slightest infractions. The NYPD has operated a policy of pre-emptive arrest, cracking down hard on anyone who so much as steps out of line. But although draconian, the police were mostly not too heavy-handed with the protesters. That's not surprising.
Few would have had the guts to test the patience of the police in a city that looked as if martial law had been declared. Giant spy blimps floated over the city as helicopters patrolled the skies. On every street corner in Manhattan there were dozens of police officers. Streets were blocked off in all directions by anti-car bomb barriers. Flotillas of motorcycle cops sped around as officers on horseback and with batons drawn idled in the streets. Madison Square Garden itself looked as if it was under siege, ringed by secret service agents, the National Guard and thousands of police officers armed to the teeth. This was not a city taking any chances. New Yorkers were sure that there was going to be a terrorist attack.
The Republicans have delighted in disparaging the demonstrators as a bunch of leftie hippies who have cost the city a fortune in security.
The response from the demonstrators is that the Republicans should have taken their convention somewhere else. But Jones is not the type of protester that the Republicans are likely to pick on. He's their worst nightmare - a victim of terrorism who is also a pacifist and an opponent of America's wars. As bells ring in Union Square for everyone who has died in the Iraq war, Jones says: "The philosophy of our organization is to highlight civilian deaths. Our family members went to work, got on airplanes, went to breakfast, responded to an emergency and were killed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We don't want our loved ones used as an excuse to start war. Yet the death toll of the innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan just keeps going up. Like our families, these people were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"We just want peace and justice. Our organization takes its name from something that Martin Luther King said - 'wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows'. That's all we want - a peaceful tomorrow, and these wars we are involved in are no way to bring that about. The stone that we've brought to New York is a compliment to the tomb of the unknown soldier. It is a mark of respect to the suffering and anguish of the families of soldiers who have lost loved ones overseas. It's a reminder about the human toll of war.'
As Jones speaks the names of Iraqi children are read out. "Some of them were just two years old," Jones says. "I have children and it is horrible to think of the one day of terror that we lived through in New York.
"But the nightly bombings in Iraq is terror raining down every day, and the soldiers over there wondering each time a car passes whether or not it is going to blow them up are living with a constant threat of death."
American politics, Jones says, has become a "fiery cocktail". "These wars haven't made my country safer," he adds, "and even if they had, the means aren't justified. The entire world is a far more dangerous place, due in large part to the actions of my government."
Jones believes that what is happening overseas is an act of revenge. He quotes an old college buddy of his - a navy veteran - who told him that it was military doctrine that no army should take part in a war for the sake of vengeance because it is dishonorable and the military lives or dies by its honor.
"If the horror of those pictures from Abu Ghraib prison hasn't shocked us into admitting that we have no moral authority any more, then I don't know what can stop this," he says. "The genie is out of the bottle and I don't know how to get it back in. I wish I did."
Jones hasn't lost hope though. He says he and all the other millions of protesters around America have to keep on protesting for their children and the belief in a "peaceful tomorrow".
"My children miss their uncle greatly," he says, coughing as his voice fills up with tears. "Their experiences have prepared them for life at much too young an age.
"It's painful for them, very painful. It's painful for all of us - both here and abroad. The pain has to stop."
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