Very soon after the September 11 attacks we took to calling the former World Trade Center site "Ground Zero." Ground Zero for what wasn't clear. Brave souls like Susan Sontag pressed for a tough examination of why so many people hate America. But most people, starting with President Bush, presented Ground Zero as the first front in a never-ending "War on Terror." New York Governor George Pataki initially proposed calling the new building the "Freedom Tower," in a further statement of the moral correctness of the U.S.
Ten years later the jingoistic phrase Freedom Tower has been replaced by the more muted 1 World Trade Center. 1 World Trade is currently rising, and the 9/11 Memorial is now open to the public. 1 World Trade will peak at 1,776 feet, a symbolic height if there ever was one. And it will be in the shadow of Wall St, where the vibrant occupation of Wall St continues.
We were downtown the other day, and the juxtaposition of the memorial, the new tower, and the protest--all within 1/10 of a mile--was jarring. The protestors are taking aim at nothing less than the global capitalist system, which was formerly epitomized by the Twin Towers and is still symbolized by Wall St.
I have mixed feelings about the protests. Their organization is impressive, right down to the weekly newspaper and the growing library. Their democratic ideals are admirable, even if it means that their assemblies--sans PA and mic--are hard to manage. From the New York Observer: "The general assembly, which now attracts a thick crowd...is becoming comically inefficient. The group has no sound permit for a PA, so each committee's proposal must be amplified by the 'human mic,' in which a speaker says a few words at a time that are repeated by the audience seated immediately nearby, then echoed in concentric rings."
On the other hand, utopian dreams often become dystopian realities. Jim Jones promised an equitable world too, and his followers ended up literally drinking the koolaid. Sad as it is to say, economic self-interest really does grease the skids of human societies. Selfishness is ineradicable, so we might as well use the invisible hand to our advantage. The protesters have presented a legitimate critique of capitalism but an unreasonable solution--redistributionism never lasts except under the iron heel of government.
Not that the Republican Presidential candidates, with their various flavors of regressive flat taxes, have the right answer either. This is the same party that exploited the pain of New York City to justify a trumped up war in Iraq. It's the same party that bandies about terms like "Freedom Tower" as a means of squashing dissent. And it's the same party that now wants the rich to become even more fabulously wealthy, by trotting out lies about the supposed trickle down effect of supply side economics.
If the protesters are too radical, the Republicans are pernicious. Meanwhile 1 World Trade rises defiantly, and we seem to have succeeded in avoiding a real conversation about America's vexing role in the world or of our economic polices. In some ways the attacks at "Ground Zero" didn't change anything at all.