What I remember most powerfully was the common feeling in our city over the next few weeks. We were scared and angry. But we also found a spirit of community that I had not seen before. For a few weeks, we saw that we truly have a shared fate. The ghastly, inhuman, evil attack laid bare the fundamentally equal suffering of the families — firefighters like Squad 1’s Dave Fontana, parents like PS 321’s Scott O’Brien, investment bankers from Cantor Fitzgerald, dishwashers from Windows on the World.
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 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, we saw the true potential of our democracy.
Unfortunately, too little of what we’ve done together since 9-11 honors that spirit of shared fate. We fought a costly, senseless war, while cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans, making a mockery of shared sacrifice. The so-called Patriot Act undermined the basic liberties we were supposed to be defending; indeed, we recently learned that the NYPD has engaged in a secret intelligence program targeting our Muslim neighbors. New buildings gleam in Lower Manhattan, but they mostly reinforce old patterns of inequality. Our politics are more polarized than ever.
There are no simple answers, of course. But I hope that as we observe the 10th anniversary, we can remember and build upon that sense of shared fate, that we are all New Yorkers now as we were then, 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 alike, that recommits us not simply to a memorial, but to a living city that honors their memory.
Brad Lander is a City Councilman representing Park Slope.