Monday, September 13, 2004

A Post-9/11 Timeline

This weekend, I said prayers for the spirits of the victims of the 9/11 World Trade Center bombings--both the attackers and those that were attacked. My Buddhist training has taught me that separation and refusing to see past our differences is its own kind of violence, and has helped me find compassion in my heart, even when all I want to do is scream and cry, enact vengeance on those that cause me suffering. And the aftermath of 9/11--felt deeply every day since for so many of us--is no different. If we continue to see the 'terrorists'--on either side of this war--as separate from us, as not us, we will never be able to come through these dark times into the light.

I woke this morning thinking of what has happened in the world and in my life since 9/11. I told H. the other day: "So much has happened since then, and it's only been three years. Think of what could happen next?" I was speaking more about the sweeping political and social changes that have occurred as a result of 9/11, but on a deeper level I was also speaking about my own journey, the changes I have experienced intimately. So much has happened, indeed, that these past three years have felt like a short lifetime in and of themselves, and while I fear the painful things that are sure to come, I am trying to look past my fear to the blessings that lie ahead as well.

So here, then, is one perspective on post-9/11 life:

9/11/2001-Terrorists use commercial airplanes to fly into NYC's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington DC, killing thousands of civilians and transforming the Twin Towers into dust and rubble.

9/11/2001, 7am: I wake to hear Larry Bensky on KPFA on my radio alarm clark, frantically reporting that a plane has crashed into the Pentagon, and another plane has flown into the second Twin Tower. I am still half-asleep, nearly dreaming. I cannot believe what I'm hearing is true, think I must be hallucinating. I get out of bed and go to the television--pictures sometimes are necessary for us to believe--and see the now-infamous images of the Twin Towers collapsing, one after another, onto the earth.

I call every close friend I have. I even call my my ex, with whom I have a tenuous but charged relationship, because he was just returning from a trip to NYC and I am terrified that he was on one of those planes. I speak to him and find out that he just returned the night before, only hours before the planes were hijacked.

I am almost delirious with confusion, grief and rage. But I am not angry with the terrorists, not really--I am angry at the US government and military, and the corporate interests that control them, because I know, deep down inside, that they caused or at least allowed this to happen. My speech is peppered with many profanities, with panic and worry about the many friends I have in New York, and about the many people I have never known who are now dead, dead, dead. And for their families and friends who will never see them again.

I spend the day in a state of shock, drifting mindlessly to work--no one was there, too many chaotic reports that the Bay Bridge might be the target of another attack--connecting reflexively with the men in my life--I needed their solid strength, and even their vulnerability was a comfort--eventually taking the Transbay bus back to Oakland with JL. We walk around downtown Oakland, dazed and confused by all that was going on.

That night, Kali class at Pusod for discipline, community and warrior-training, and drunken revelry afterwards across the street with all who had flocked there for warmth, grounding and balance.

October 2001: The US bombs and invades Afghanistan, allegedly because the country is harboring Osama bin Laden, who has claimed responsibility for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Americans right now are a bloodthirsty lot. I hear vengeance in people's voices, on the news. An eye for an eye. Blood for blood. Arab-Americans and Muslims are detained indefinitely with no legal recourse, for no reasons other than paranoia and racism. I am afraid and pray often.

I start work at the Youth Empowerment Center as its Executive Director, driven by my passionate belief that the organization will need my leadership in this fiercely jingoistic and reactionary post-9/11 period. All my activist and organizer friends are psychologically and organizationally brace for the worst. From funding cuts to the PATRIOT Act to the media and journalists ignoring our campaigns because of the overarching urgency to cover all things "War on Terror", we are not disappointed.

12/04: I celebrate my 30th birthday with three parties (one a beautiful surprise party thrown by my close friends). I am determined to exit my 20's with a diva-ish flourish and lots of music and dancing. People at my big bash in January tell me it's the best party they've been to in forever, and when am I going to throw another one? I smile knowingly--we all need the healing that gatherings like these bring, especially now.

1/02: I meet and hook up with H., 'The One.' We quickly form a close bond, and he is there for me in every way I need him to be. Especially when, late in the month, a mysterious and devastating break-in takes place at my job. We suspect that people who don't like us--not just random 'kids' from the neighborhood, whom the police dismissively blame for the crime--have targeted us in order to intimidate us. A new anti-war group has recently found refuge in our organization, and we do not think this break-in is a coincidence. A week after the break-in, an unknown man comes to my apartment--I could see part of his face through a crack in my blinds--and urinates on my doorstep, then runs away after I come to the door to confront him. I live in the back of the third floor of my building. There is no through traffic on my floor except for that of neighbors.

2002: A busy year. My relationship blossoms, but some old friendships are lost. Work is demanding. I start dancing again, performing with Alleluia Panis Dance Theater/Kularts in Heroes. It is good to be on stage again. I have missed the lights, getting ready backstage, the makeup, costumes and artistic cameraderie.

March 2002: The US invades Iraq, enraging longtime allies such as France, and setting a dangerous precedent for pre-emptive strikes against small and relatively nonthreatening Third World nations. A wave of direct action hits the streets of San Francisco and all over the world and is met with police aggression, further radicalizing a whole slew of young people who want to change the world. Over the next two-plus years, ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice stage marches, rallies and actions, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of people into the streets to protest this unjust war. But is war ever really just?

December 2002: I celebrate my 31st birthday. H. organizes--all by himself--a small party for me at a Thai restaurant in the Richmond district. Birthdays are often touchy for me. Coming so close to Christmas, they often get forgotten, or I get those 'birthday-Christmas' presents that I find somewhat insulting. But this birthday is perfect: mellow, warm, full of good food and good conversation with friends. Gura M. remarks afterwards that I should hold on to H. She has never seen me so relaxed. I let him handle everything that night. I allowed myself a night off.

2003: The war in Iraq intensifies, despite Georgie Jr.'s declaration in May that major combat is over. I watch him on TV as he descends upon an aircraft carrier somewhere in the Middle East, fully outfitted in flight gear, as if he really is the Commander-in-Chief of this military operation. He is a puppet, a figurehead. But the troops cheer for him, young soldiers with families back home welcome him with embraces and smiles. I am so saddened and confused by these images. I turn off the TV.

July 2003: I go to Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade, participating in a challenge to the US embargo and its ban on travel to the socialist island nation. I wanted to go not only to be part of this act of civil disobedience against an unjust blockade, but to see Cuba for myself, see what a socialist country looks like, acts like. My trip to Cuba changes my perspective on politics and social movements, gives me a new historic lens through which to see my own activist work, and shows me that another world is indeed possible. A world where education and health care are free (although medicines are hard to come by and Cuban doctors often make less than taxi drivers due to the tourist trade), where music swirls all around you, and where corporate advertising is almost nonexistent. Where people have a clue as to what's going on in the world and don't see you as their enemy even though your country has caused them untold suffering.

In Cuba, I meet other brigadistas from Martinique and we speak a funny patois of French-Spanish-English, successfully communicating across culture and race. I tell them we have to fly from Cuba to Canada and then cross the border into the US, when Miami is just 90 miles away. They call our 'President' "un fou"--crazy.

In October, I move across the Bay to Frisco, not entirely voluntarily. I am sad to leave my beloved Oaktown, but I know I'll be back. It takes me two full weeks to really move everything out of my apartment, to say good-bye to the home that nurtured me during one of the most difficult periods of my life. I burn lots of sage, take my time cleaning up. When I am finished with my prayers of thanks, I lock the door behind me and don't look back.

Towards the end of the year, work has gotten more and more difficult. I think about moving on. In December, I take my winter holiday with H. in southern California, visit G. and family in a city by the ocean. We drive caravan-style to Palm Springs, where the quiet is pervasive and I can smell the scent of Hollywood money wafting through the air. I take my first trip to Joshua Tree, an hour or so away, and am stunned by the calming formations of rock and sand that at times look like human figures, at other times like otherworldly mountain ranges. The park is huge, and although we drive around for two hours exploring, we are only glimpsing its possibilities, its beauty.

December 2003I celebrate my birthday with H. in Palm Springs, quietly, with good wine and so-so food. The stars above us in the desert sky are mesmerizing. I don't really want to leave. The next night we spend New Year's Eve G., M. and the kids, basking in the warmth of the true family we've created for ourselves, guiltless that our blood families are far away and, perhaps, missing us.

2004: The war in Iraq continues, and recently the death toll of just American GIs has hit the 1,000 mark. I am incredulous that the humanity of Iraqis--the people we are supposedly fighting for--is so ignored in the media. Rarely do media outlets report on the total death toll of Iraqis, including civilians who are not part of the fighting. Maybe it's because the Pentagon doesn't release those figures. Doesn't anyone want to know?

In February, I quit my job. The situation at work has become untenable. I cannot continue there in good faith. I know it is best if I leave. It hurts for everyone involved, but sometimes what is healthy for us is also painful. In the long term, I know everything will be okay.

I start writing again. I vow to only work part-time, to let my writing and creativity become the main priority in my life. I begin my study of Buddhism and Buddhist meditation. Although I am resistant, I wonder about this non-violent approach to life, to one's own spirit. I find great rest in these practices, and a deepening of my understanding of myself that I had not thought possible. A new world of possibilities, like the opening of a lotus blossom, seems to reveal itself to me through meditation.

In May, I attend Movement, Detroit's free, three-day electronic music festival. I fall in love with techno music--a surprise--but am disappointed by the lack of house and 2-step at the festival. Still, it is an amazing experience, being surrounded by dancing crowds in Hart Plaza and feeling safe, like I belong here. I take a picture of H. with one of his idols, Kevin Saunderson. He is smiling like a child, spontaneous and happy.

I start this blog in July. And here I am.

9/11/2004: The RNC is over. But the "War on Terror" continues. On the homefront, over 1600 protesters (and some innocent bystanders who got pummeled by the cops anyway) were arrested at the RNC, 1400 more than were arrested during the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention. My friend Oscarchoy tells us all about it, blow by blow. The resistance gives me hope, makes me realize that people are still willing to put their bodies on the line for justice, for what they believe is right.

The Presidential elections are to take place in 8 weeks. I am frightened and excited about what the future may hold. I have been hesitant about going to a 'swing state' to register voters--wondering if that's the best use of my energy politically--but I know I must do something to make sure Georgie Jr. doesn't get elected again. I don't like Kerry, don't think he's much better than Bush on some issues, but he is not George Bush. And somehow, right now, that seems like enough. Time will tell if I--and all the other committed activists out there doing their thing to turn out voters to the polls in November--am right. I cannot fathom what another four years of George Bush, Jr. will do to this country, to the people on the streets, in our communities. I don't want to envision it. I'm not going to.

I am hopeful, perhaps naively optimistic, that truth will win out in the end. I hope I'm not wrong.


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