Volume 17 • Issue 14 | August 27 - September 02, 2004

Anti-war signs overlook the W.T.C. site

By Josh Rogers

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert
Visitors to the W.T.C. site now see anti-war signs in building windows owned by Russell Simmons and two of his neighbors.
Convention delegates and tourists who venture down to the World Trade Center site to pay their respects to the victims of 9/11 will also see a series of anti-war signs in condominiums owned by rap mogul Russell Simmons and two of his former neighbors.

The signs at 114 Liberty St. were the idea of Simmons’ friend, Glen E. Friedman, a photographer who has published several books and is known for his portraits of rap stars.

“I do not agree that this war was fought because those buildings came down and there is a hole in the ground,” Friedman said in a telephone interview.

He calls the display, “Liberty Street Protest” and said that Simmons insisted that they not be seen as being anti-Republican. “He didn’t want it to be partisan, but he wanted it to be strong,” Friedman said.

Simmons coincidentally moved out of the building a few weeks before Sept. 11, 2001, but he still owns the space, David Stanke, a neighbor, said.

Simmons and his spokesperson did not respond to two calls for comment. According to a press release provided by Friedman, Simmons said: “Freedom of speech is an unalienable right, and there is nothing unpatriotic about protesting a war you do not support.”

A recent visit to the site revealed a few people offended by the signs, a few more who cited the First Amendment, and one or two who liked the signs.

“They obviously don’t support the president or this country,” said Paul Kokot, a middle-aged man from West Virginia, who came with his wife and their two children. Janet Kokot, his wife, said, “the president did what he had to do.”

A financial risk manager on a break across the street said he didn’t have a problem with the signs. “That’s what we’re fighting for — so people can put up signs like that,” said the man, who declined to give his name.

In Simmons’ windows on the top floor, the signs say things like “no more lies,” “dissent is patriotic” and “no war.”

The signs could make Republican Gov. George Pataki a little uncomfortable. Pataki, a strong supporter of President Bush and the Iraqi war, included Simmons in the infamous “three men in a room” Albany legislation negotiations earlier this year. Simmons joined the governor, Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno in another unsuccessful attempt to repeal New York’s harsh anti-drug laws.

Friedman said he has heard mostly positive things about the signs and he is surprised when he hears criticisms. “I didn’t think it would offend people except for the most rabid warmongers,” he said. “Who is against peace?”

Each tenant could pick the signs or pictures conceived by Friedman and made by graphic artists Chris Habib and Shepard Fairey. Friedman thinks the sign that comes closest to being partisan is the “oil war” sign in Stanke’s window.

“Like it or not, [the W.T.C. site] has been used for thousands of purposes, and it has been used to justify this war,” said Stanke, who had his signs installed a few weeks ago.
He and his neighbors are only now beginning to return to the building, which was badly damaged and contaminated by toxic chemicals as a result of the collapse of the Twin Towers.

Even though he has a “no war” sign in his window, Stanke said he did support the war in Afghanistan. Since the Iraqi war is on the forefront of people’s minds, he said he was comfortable with his signs.

Friedman said he opposed the war in Afghanistan because he didn’t think the case was made that the Taliban played a role in the 2001 attack.

Josje De Vries, 18, a Dutch tourist, said she thought the signs belonged near the W.T.C. “It’s a good expression,” she said. “It’s just a memorial. It explains a lot.”


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