It's unlikely that many of the hundreds of people at last Wednesday's city-sponsored “Patriot Day” public ceremony commemorating the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 knew that five hours later, there was another event that sought to do the very same thing.
At the second event, unlike the first, there was no rousing brass band filling the air with patriotic music, no dignitaries or special guests and no attention from the mainstream media. The second event showed there was more than one way to remember the terrorist attacks and reflect on the present U.S. course.
This Sept. 11, at Balboa Park's Organ Pavilion, Mayor Dick Murphy presided over a festival of love for the United States of America. As the crowd, heavily accessorized with red, white and blue, filed in to the baking-hot pavilion at high noon, the U.S. Navy Band Southwest tooted and honked its fanfare. Volunteers passed out paper American flags-courtesy of Clear Channel Communications and Viejas Casino and emblazoned with an inspirational quote by President Bush.
Occupying seats on the stage were the entire San Diego City Council, three members of the county Board of Supervisors, a couple of state legislators and top brass from the Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, National Guard and Coast Guard.
The U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard marched in, and the mayor invited Herb Klein-a former White House director of communications, editor-in-chief of Copley Newspapers (parent company of the Union-Tribune) “and a great American,” the mayor said-to help those assembled “pay tribute to America's symbol of freedom.”
Before leading the Pledge of Allegiance, Klein said, “A year ago, we realized that we're in a new war, one with no guarantee of a quick ending. Let us leave here dedicated to our country and dedicated to the patience it takes to win a modern war on terrorism. This is a battle for the future, and with your undying support, we will win it.”
At 6:30 p.m. that same evening, roughly 200 people gathered at Balboa Park's Pepper Grove, also to reflect on the past year's events, but the glasses through which the speakers were looking were decidedly darker.
Flags of 29 different nations stood in a small circle. A few people carried flags with peace symbols. Nearly everyone wore white to signify a call for peace. Lacie Watkins-Bush of the San Diego Mennonite Church and a member of Activist San Diego led her audience in a quiet version of “We Shall Overcome.”
A male-female duo calling themselves “Fermenting Citizens” gave a whimsical theatrical performance that depicted a never-ending cycle of violence between the United States and its enemies. And throughout their short play, they led the crowd in a chant: “Our grief is not a cry for war.”
“Someone wanted revenge on the United States, and they got it,” shouted the man before he pantomimed stabbing the woman three times.
“Now it's America, lashing out in revenge,” the woman said as she stabbed him back three times.
“Will it ever end?” They took turns stabbing each another, groaning melodramatically with every thrust. “We must sow the seeds of peace and justice and pour water on the fire,” they said in unison. “Our grief is not a cry for war.”
Earlier, at Patriot Day, the large throng stood for the National anthem, and Rabbi Martin Lawson and Muslim Imam Sharif Battikhi gave a dual invocation. “Grant us courage that when the darkness of hatred surrounds us, we will find the strength to choose freedom, justice and tolerance,” Lawson asked God. “Out of the chaos of destruction, help us build a world of understanding and compassion.”
Battikhi followed, asking Allah, “Oh, God, help us to stand together through this anniversary to promote peace, tolerance, love over violence and hate.”
Mayor Murphy hushed his audience for one minute of silence to remember the 2,800 people who died in the terrorist attacks. Then, to dramatic effect and resounding applause, San Diego's police officers and firefighters streamed in to their standing positions flanking both sides of the stage.
“In the year that followed Sept. 11, we have seen a renewed spirit of patriotism and unity in America,” Murphy said. “We can take great pride in the strength and courage of our military personnel. We are painfully reminded that the price of liberty is constant vigilance. But we have also proven once again that good will triumph over evil.”
Then the San Diego Children's Choir sang “This Land is Your Land.”
Later, at the alternative memorial, Kelly Ferguson, a member of the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice, also asked for remembrance of innocent lives lost “in those unconscionable acts. Yet, as we stand here today one year later, we must also think about the actions undertaken in the names of the victims-new perpetual war, an escalation in violence and the resulting deaths of many more innocent people.”
Ferguson steered the event toward discussion of what he and others believe has been a slippery slope of civil liberties erosion. Linda Williams of the First Church of the Brethren in San Diego, picked up the torch by reading the words of writers Patricia Gonzalez and Roberto Rodriguez.
“In the last 12 months, a sharpened intolerance has [emerged] among our nation's body politic,” she read. “Government rhetoric has created an environment in which the right to debate is now seen as an act of disloyalty and dissent as an act of treason.
“Government officials do have a duty to protect the nation, but at the same time, we, as citizens, have the full right to oppose anything we believe is outside the law. This is a healthy dynamic. However, in the present debate, when people resort to questioning the loyalty and patriotism of those who question the government's actions, that signals a very unhealthy society.”
At Patriot Day, San Diego Police Chief David Bejarano, rallied the celebrants with words of praise for public safety officers, and he noted the resilience of the United States and its citizens. “The murder of innocent citizens going about the business of freedom reminds us of the darkest periods of modern history,” he said. “But from the Great War to Desert Storm, we, as a people, have shown a much a greater capacity-a capacity for good, a capacity for justice.
“Property can be repaired; buildings can be rebuilt, but we cannot replace the innocent lives destroyed by the messengers of hate and evil,” Bejarano said. “The terrorists have challenged us as a nation, and during the last year we have risen to the challenge as a nation.”
Then it was Fire Chief Jeff Bowman's turn: “While I stand before you today and salute those who died as part of their duty, I believe a spotlight should also be turned on the other, less publicized acts of courage performed on Sept. 11 and the days thereafter. Some of those are the parents in this country who got up on Sept. 12 and sent their kids to school, assuring them that everything would be OK; and the teachers who provided the emotional security and leadership to those same children; the postal workers who handled the mail not knowing whether it was hazardous; our military and National Guard who responded without question or delay; and everyone of us who refused to freeze our lives in the harsh light of terrorism.”
Accompanied by Arno Kimsey on guitar, Robyn Adams then sang a ballad, written after 9/11, to the cops and firefighters who died in New York, called “We Will Remember You.”
Later, as the sun set on the alternative memorial, Larry Christian of the Coalition for Peace and Justice, angrily decried the treatment of Arab Americans detained for the last year on immigration violations and as material witnesses in the war on terrorism.
“In the last year,” he said, “we've seen that people are now held in prison indefinitely, without charges, with no access to counsel or hearing; that secret evidence, secret detentions, secret hearings are commonplace in immigration matters; that the right of confidentiality between attorney and client has been abrogated; and that we haven't stopped merely at attacks on rights within our own country, but we have rejected rights that have been enshrined in the Geneva Conventions and other international agreements.
Then the attendees sang John Lennon's “Give Peace a Chance.”
At Patriot Day, Rear Admiral José Luis Betancourt, whom Murphy announced as “the Navy mayor of San Diego,” cited a speech by the Commander-in-Chief. “President Bush said... whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done,” Betancourt said.
“As I look into the faces every day of sailors, marines, coast guardsmen, army, air force, reserve and guard units every day, I witness... that tenacious determination to protect democracy, to protect freedom-that freedom that we Americans cherish that many do not understand, but that freedom that stands as the beacon that draws us all and gives us the strength and the great diversity that we have.”
Then Leonard Tucker shook the Organ Pavilion with “God Bless the U.S.A.,” that “proud to be an American” song that became so popular during the U.S. war against Iraq in 1991. As he sang, people in the audience waved flags slowly and swayed to the music.
At the rally for peace, Marjorie Cohen spoke emphatically about how a unilateral push by the U.S. for war in Iraq would run afoul of the Constitution and the United Nations Charter. She read from the U.S. War Powers Resolution, which says the President can go to war with Iraq only if Congress has declared war or if there's been a specific statutory authorization to go to war or if Iraq has attacked the U.S.
Bush's lawyers, she noted, have cited a 1991 congressional resolution authorizing war in the Persian Gulf and a 2001 resolution authorizing force against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. But, Cohen said, the 1991 resolution was aimed at getting Iraq out of Kuwait, and there's no evidence that Iraq was connected to the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Iraq has not attacked this country or any other country in the past 11 years. None of Iraq's neighbors have appealed the [UN] Security Council to protect them from an imminent attack by Iraq because they do not feel threatened,” Cohen said. “Cheney and Bush cite the possibility that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction as the rationale for a preemptive strike. Iraq is in violation of [UN] Security Council Resolution 687, which requires full cooperation with UN weapons inspectors, but this issue involves the Iraqi government and the United Nations, not the United States. We're on the edge, on the brink of an incredibly frightening period in the history of our country, and it's up to us to stop it.”
A woman wearing all white then rang a “solemn bell toll” 50 times for the 50 countries whose citizens died in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The crowning feature of Patriot Day was a speech by Joy Shepard, a former math teacher living in north San Diego County who happened to be on the 61st floor of Tower 2 at the World Trade Center when the terrorists struck. She repeated her talk two other times on Sept. 11, 2002.
Before she spoke, the mayor called Shepard's recollection an “incredible story of terror and triumph.” She drew a standing ovation from the assembled patriots before she uttered a word. “I love San Diego and I love America,” she told them.
From Tower 2, she recalled, she could see the fireball near the top of Tower 1. She said she ignored a voice over the P.A. that declared Tower 2 secure and urged people to stay put. Shepard had descended to the 44th floor when the second plane hit Tower 2.
Her speech-sometimes humorous, sometimes teary-included lots of talk of prayer in the stairwell, much discussion of how the human spirit soars in times of trouble and, in keeping with many of the other speakers at Patriot Day, references to good and evil.
She spoke of valiant firefighters showing people the way out of the building. And she said it must have been the “grace of God” that allowed her to get away from the building without being struck by anything in a shower of bodies and debris.
Anchoring the peace rally was activist Lacie Watkins-Bush, who delivered a stirring and highly philosophical speech about how, maybe, there's another way to respond to Sept. 11 than the one the U.S. has chosen.
Watkins-Bush talked of people such as the patriots who filled the Organ Pavilion earlier that day. “‘We are afraid', they will tell us. ‘And you can recite your little spiritual and ethical fairy tales all you want. We don't have time to listen to any of that. Don't complicate what we need to do,'” she said.
“And so a whisper of a new paradigm gets drowned out in the shouts and the shelling and the mortars and the thunderous earthquake of thousands of foot soldiers marching. But, my friends, the whisper continues right here and in New York City and in Afghanistan and in Iraq-there is a whisper of a better way.
“This is not the time to narrow our vision of who we are and who we love and deem worthy of protection,” she said in urgent tone. “And who are we, exactly? I have made it my life's work to wrestle with and work through what it means to be family, to be community to one another. The frustrations and miracles of this past year in my life, in terms of 9/11 and on a personal level, have affirmed that call like nothing ever had before or probably ever will.
“In thinking about family and community, though, there is also the subtle trap of thinking of these terms only in the rosiest, most Hallmark card kind of way possible. But to do a thorough analysis, we also have to have the discipline to look at those concepts from another angle-frankly, a less glowing one. It's all to short a leap to go from a feeling of family to a feeling of insularity and exclusiveness. The line between family and cult is a fine one indeed.”
She continued: “I have found myself asking myself, what would it look like if Americans actually acted like they believe the Constitution they say they love so much-in freedom, if they believed in love, if they really believed in authentic honor, in authentic family, in sustainable and real community. What would happen if we found the courage to expand these definitions rather than contract them?”
Then the peaceniks lit candles and sang “Amazing Grace,” the very song that helped launch Patriot Day some eight hours earlier. ©