Thursday, September 8, 2016

My 9-11

I’m an early riser. I get to the gym somewhere between 4:30am and 5:00 for my exercise routine. I’ve been doing it for a long time so it’s just part of my day. Fifteen years ago I lived in Los Angeles and I had finished my workout and went back to my house – the one I had bought just a few months before. My usual practice was to jump in the shower, make breakfast and start client work. It would not be an ordinary day.

It became clear to many that “The United States is under attack” after the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center. I don’t remember it being that clear – there was confusion as to whether it was a second plane or whether reports from the first plane were just getting through to authorities since they were so close together. After the plane crashed into the Pentagon the reporting indicated that more planes were headed to other seats of government – the White House and Congress. A full scale panic hit the airways.

I was living thousands of miles from the attacks. I had family in New York and outside of D.C.. Systems were down and it wasn’t easy to get information. By mid-afternoon California time, however, the daisy-chain of communications passed word that we were the fortunate – we didn’t have immediate family in harms way. In the days ahead I would learn of classmates and acquaintances who did perish – and so many friends who lost people close to them.

That night a production of a one-man play that I had produced was scheduled to go on at a local college. “The Versus of Ogden Nash” told the life story of the celebrated American poet and writer through his own words, letters and poems. It was performed by the plays author Peter Massey. We had received a number of wonderful reviews, had a sold out run in LA and at that time were now doing a touring version of the show. The immediate issue came up: Do we cancel?

  • The school we contracted with wanted the show to go on but gave us the option of canceling. We just had to decide quickly.
  • The students on campus had nothing to do as most other events were suspended.
  • The city of Los Angeles and the surrounding county put out suggestions that people should not travel unless absolutely necessary, but there was no outright ban.

We opted to do the show. Peter came out before the show started to speak with the audience. He said: “Thank you for being here. Thank you for letting us be here on this horrible day in our history. Why are we doing the show? This is a lighthearted look at Americana – and we are not inclined to laugh today. That’s ok. Live theatre allows us to feel and we want you to feel.” He went on to eloquently extol the necessity of live theatre in the face of terror.

The show hit its mark and nearly a quarter of the audience stayed to talk among themselves and with our team afterwards. We connected lives at a critical time and provided a way for the community to engage with each other. It gave me hope.
That optimism didn’t last.  

The surveillance state emerged in the last decade and a half to such prominence that what was once science fiction by George Orwell has become reality. Cameras capture American’s nearly every move. Our digital footprint from grocery purchases to paying tolls are all captured.

The concept of “innocent until proven guilty” is an anachronism as guilt is now assessed and then defendants must prove their innocence. There’s even an entire court system that is secret that is now in place to handle terrorist related charges. Defendants are not accorded attorneys and a minute number of warrants are denied. It’s largely classified and secret.

The country has been on a war footing for fifteen years, spending trillions of dollars even though Congress never technically authorized War. President Obama in the past 7 and a half years has bombed 40 countries. He continues to maintain a personal kill list – deciding who lives or dies – while having instituted a drone program that has assassinated thousands and had a far ranging impact on civilians.

The TSA was formed shortly after 9/11 to better secure the aviation system. By their own metrics they have failed at a rate of 96% of identifying outlawed items. Today Americans virtually undress and agree to have an x-ray type image taken of their body while rude workers paw through their belongings just to have the privilege of going from point a to point b. Traveling you’re assumed to be a threat.

The melting pot that makes America strong, vibrant and interesting is dissipating.  Immigration changes from Bush 43 through Obama have now resulted in record deportations.

America is a divided country. The anger and differences between political parties is as virulent as I’ve seen and experienced in my lifetime.

It didn’t have to be this way. And, in fact, it wasn’t. For the first weeks to a month after the attacks President Bush, Congress, religious leaders, secular leaders alike all calmed the nation. Retaliation was not the primary conversation. Healing and understanding and building bridges between our differences was. We spent time and energy being with each other and not fighting. The same thing we experienced in a microcosm after our performance was becoming part of the culture.

Then the wars started, the economy crashed and polarization has become the norm. As we mark fifteen years since the attacks that took 2,977 I mourn not only their passing, but the loss of the America we could have been.

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