Residents and 9/11 families share common ground
By Rachel Snyder
When the nine Lower Manhattan Development Corporation proposals for the World Trade Center site were released to the public in December 2002, I, like many Downtowners, headed over to the Winter Garden to take a look. While there, I filled out one of the comment cards. Besides leaving a few lines for feedback, those cards contained a list of categories such as Relative of a Victim, Lower Manhattan Resident, Lower Manhattan Employee, and so on. Beside each choice was a small box, and respondents were asked to check each box that applied to them.
The way this was done left me with the impression that the legitimacy of a persons opinion was based on how many boxes they were able to check. (For the record, I checked three.) In a way, it is sadly appropriate that our identities on those cards were reduced to a series of checked and unchecked boxes. After all, havent we all been placed in our own separate boxes? One box for the families of the victims. Another box for the survivors. A box for the rescue workers. And of course, a box for Downtowners. Each of us in our own group, segregated from each other based on where we were and who we knew that day; each group assumed to have its own agenda completely separate from every other group.
Those of us Downtown have been justly frustrated by the way our particular box has been treated. Whether pleading for information on access to homes and neighborhoods, demanding that our buildings be properly tested for toxic chemicals or watching with growing frustration as one rebuilding deadline after another has gone by without being met, Downtowners have all too often been made to feel as though the very people who should have been helping us were in fact hindering our recovery. And while much of the world continues to feel great sympathy for the families of the victims, comparatively few people are even aware of the fact that anybody lives near the World Trade Center site.
We can and should feel outrage. But we must also be willing to accept that we are not the only ones to feel this frustration. More importantly, we must stop thinking about people in terms of whatever box theyve been identified with, and begin to see each other as individuals who happen to be part of what I have come to think of as the 9/11 community.
The media has portrayed the families as being of one mind when it comes to the World Trade Center: giant memorial, little if any commercial space. Therefore, anyone who lost a relative in the attacks was automatically pegged as being anti-development, and those of us who supported rebuilding the lost office space were accused of being against the families.
I have always felt that the only way to appropriately rebuild the World Trade Center is to rebuild the Twin Towers. Some of you surely agree with that statement; undoubtedly, others of you do not. But what may surprise many of you to learn is that some of the most ardent pro-towers activists are relatives and spouses of 9/11 victims. Dont believe me? Ask Rosaleen Tallon, whose brother was a firefighter from Ten-Ten House on Liberty St., or Lynn McGuinn, whose husband worked for Cantor Fitzgerald; both of these women are board members of the Twin Towers II Memorial Foundation.
In Lower Manhattan, we need to understand that most of the families are now equally as frustrated as we are. We were ignored from the beginning; the families, on the other hand, were shamelessly exploited. The members of the L.M.D.C. were all too eager to pander to the families as long as they perceived a benefit for themselves in doing so. Once a family member stopped toeing the official line, however, he or she became a persona non grata at One Liberty Plaza. We were ignored, and they were used.
It is true that a few of the 9/11 relatives have, in the past, said and done some things that were very hurtful to Downtowners. We have a right to be offended, but we do not have the right to hold nearly 3,000 families responsible for the unfortunate actions of a few individuals. And we certainly do not have the right to allow our resentment to hinder us from having an open, respectful dialogue, one that acknowledges that while we will not always agree, we can have a truly compassionate understanding of each others point of view.
Recently, we have heard much regarding the controversy surrounding the International Freedom Center. The objections of the families to the I.F.C. have been erroneously portrayed by some as one more example of an ongoing effort to turn the entire site into a giant mausoleum. Nothing could be further from the truth. The families opposition to the I.F.C. centers not on its existence but its content: Why should there be a non-specific museum about human conflict on the site of a specific event? Would you place an exhibit about the Battle of Gettysburg at the Hiroshima peace memorial? Would you expect to see a discussion of Apartheid at Pearl Harbor? The families, joined by many of us in the pro-rebuilding community, are merely saying that any memorial or museum at the World Trade Center should be about 9/11 only, and not about other topics that, while worthy subjects of discussion elsewhere, would not be appropriate material in this context. Whether you agree with this or not, it is important for all of us to understand the point these people are trying to make, rather than relying on inaccurate assumptions about their intentions.
We can look back on past disagreements with bitterness, or we can instead learn from the mistakes of the past and resolve to go forward with a commitment to mutual respect and compassion for each other. As far as the World Trade Center is concerned, we probably will never find a plan that satisfies every last one of us, but if we truly resolve to work together to find compromises and solutions, we will all be the better for it. For this goes beyond simply planning the future of a 15-acre site.
We are all individuals, each with our own unique 9/11 story. And while we have each been affected in different ways, the fact is that what happened that morning had a profound effect on all of us and continues to be something with which we must live every single day. What do we have to gain by dwelling on our differences? Arent they ultimately much less significant than the common ground we all share? Isnt the fact that we have all been hurt by 9/11 the most important fact? I didnt lose anyone that day, and most of the people I know who did are not themselves involved with daily life in Lower Manhattan. Our experiences are different, but that does not need to stop us from offering each other mutual sympathy and support. I want the Twin Towers rebuilt, but that will not stop me on the anniversary from giving a hug to my friend who wishes to turn the entire site into a park.
We truly are one community, made up of 9/11 families, Downtowners, W.T.C. survivors, rescue workers and anyone else who is close to it in some deeply personal way. We are a very large, very diverse and very passionate group of individuals, but when its all added up, our differences pale in comparison to all that we share. Now is the time to have a truly open dialogue about the future of the World Trade Center. But more importantly, now is the time to reach out to each other, helping one another to look back on where weve been and to move forward with courage and hope.
Rachel Snyder, a member of the Coalition for New Twin Towers, has worked near the World Trade Center site since 9/11 and is a member of the Trinity/St. Pauls parish.