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New Yorkers Find Their Voice
Remarks at Times Square Rally, October 7, 2001
Protesting the Tenth Anniversary of the Afghanistan War
This is the week New Yorkers began to hope again. If you were down in Foley Square on Wednesday, the infectious spirit of the crowd, the amazing diversity of the marchers, the energy and feeling of unity —were a reminder that social justice and peace are living aspirations for most people. And they come to life when we act together.
Ten years ago our city was hijacked. But the perpetrators were not foreign “terrorists”; they were homegrown politicians and business leaders, who transformed our tragedy ---- the horrifying attack on the World Trade Center into a call for endless wars. On September 12, 2001 we were a city of grieving people, who were seeking ways to help each other. We understood with startling clarity that every life is precious –no matter what the person’s race or religion or income. And we watched the rescue workers down at “ground zero” risk their own lives, out of love and diminishing hope that by their effort they could save even one person.
But then President Bush arrived at Ground Zero with his bullhorn. And the elite of this country, supported by the mass media, decided that war was the antidote for our loss. And not just one war, but many wars! For the past ten years, we have seen these leaders multiply the 3000 deaths in New York City into hundreds of thousands of deaths abroad. We have watched the death toll for own soldiers match and then exceed the death toll on 9-11.
For the past ten years, we have seen the military send and re-send the same troops back to Iraq and Afghanistan—and to have so many of them return with broken bodies and broken spirits. And what has been the point of sending the same people back on repeated tours of duty? It was the perverse lesson learned from the Vietnam War. End the draft, make a smaller number of people responsible for all of the fighting and the war won’t come home.
But these wars have come home. While 1% of people have profited immensely from an inflated military budget, the other 99% have paid the price. You can’t spend $1.3 trillion on foreign wars, lower the taxes of the rich and expect that the rest of society will be immune. And every day now, we see the cost of militarism and greed. All the things 99% of us need and value: schools, hospitals, libraries, senior citizens and child care centers, public transportation, safe bridges, tunnels and roads –undergoing the budget axe. And all of these cutbacks have resulted in lay-offs, higher unemployment and greater poverty here in New York.
This is not the first week that the hope for peace and social justice has rippled through our city. In 2008, many of us stood on long lines to cast a vote for a new President, whom we hoped would reverse disastrous policies, which were harming people here and abroad. The new President was elected but the policies haven’t changed. We have a choice. We can complain about this or we can learn. And “Occupy Wall Street” has shown that New Yorkers are learning.
No politician is going to stand up to the corporate elite or the military and turn this country around unless the 99% of Americans who are hurt by their actions organize, mobilize, get into the streets and demand an end to the wars, an end to the corporate rip-ups, an end to slashed services. The energy and effort must come from us. And that’s what have we have seen and heard in Lower Manhattan this week—the sound of ordinary people raising their voices and acting together. That’s change we can believe in.