I remember feeling confused eleven years ago today, even frightened, as the city I loved trembled around me and our nation held its breath. Then I remember a day later as we emerged from our homes to discover a mourning city was still our city, and a wounded nation was still our nation.
I remember coming out into Manhattan's comparatively quiet streets. Passing strangers exchanged supportive nods. The guy behind the coffee counter -- Arab by background, a New Yorker through and through -- asked after his customers' loved ones. Little American flags were fluttering from fire escapes, and photographs were appearing on community bulletin boards, lamp-posts and in store windows.
The experience of September 11th made me love my city even more -- its diversity and resilience and compassion -- even as the political consequences of 9/11 have too often contributed to fear, division and suspicion.
We saw new standards suggested for what people could say, new barriers placed around public institutions, new surveillance imposed upon regular citizens. In the years that followed, one President tuned his reelection effort to the memory of that day, and other candidates attempted to leverage the nation's collective pain into a political campaign. Rather than galvanizing the respect and love for our fellow Americans that was on display in the aftermath, politicians seized upon the traumatized confusion to heighten our security state apparatus, taking the same liberties that we imagined the terrorists wanted to eliminate.
Eleven years later, these memories are fresh and the emotions simmer just beneath my surface. Gratefully, politics has changed enough that this year's candidates aren't running on or away from 9/11. It isn't an issue owned by one side or another, and the two major party Presidential hopefuls don't need to jockey for meaning. They -- and we -- can remember together.
Unfortunately, the security state enhancements live on -- forgotten or accepted as part of our lives. We are watched and tracked by our government and by vast corporate monitors more than we care to think about. We have allowed a suffocating hold to squeeze free speech, free press and free movement. Police actions limit the commons. Security needs push protest to "free speech zones." Bottomless corporate money transforms the public square of political debate into a private courtyard. From indefinite detention to military tribunals to extraordinary rendition to assassination, we allow policies that would not make our Founders proud or make sense in our civics classrooms.
A year ago, I recalled the role that public spaces played in healing New York City. These common areas -- physical and metaphorical -- were key on September 12th, 2001, and are just as integral to how we build community now. That column was posted six days before Occupiers demonstrated the vitality of public spaces by setting up camp in Zuccotti Park; and before their subsequent months of inspired citizen engagement challenged the commitment of the city and the country to public space and public discourse.
In the overnight crackdowns, orange netting, pepper-spray incidents, mass arrests and pre-emptive raids that followed, we saw the city was not as committed to the commons as we had hoped. It was a reminder that the public needs to create and defend the public institutions it yearns for.
On September 12th, 2001, I found myself at another occupation -- a gathering of seeking, engaging, mourning New Yorkers who had turned Union Square into an encampment. The vigil was full of candlelight and photographs and music and tears and discussion as well as silence, and it was the New York I needed to find the day after we were attacked. No authority tried to remove any New Yorker from the park that day.
We heal together. We grow together. We move forward together. Not just on September 11th, but in all the challenges we face as a city and nation. So we continue to create the society that allows us to work together, gather together, trust and rely on one another and respect and love each other. And we turn to the Commons, as we pursue these common goods.