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september 17, 2001 //notes from the eastside #1//

email from d.

Notes from the eastside #1

since the beginning of my first return to nyc and my residence in "loisaida" [lower east side], i've been chronicling various thought pictures and ideas that i wanted to savor in hindsight - stuff about how the men in my neighborhood say "god bless you" when they talk to me on the street, how i can find dollar bottles of st. ides at my corner store and the supermarket next to it, the name of the elementary school adjacent to my building: the roberto clemente school, etc… yet another project not started and unfinished: a collection entitled "notes from the eastside," to be circulated in my small universe periodically.

in my relationship with writing [the important kind, since my academic writing isn't where i think i'd like it to be in my landscape of significant things] i only break out of my normal state of being paralyzed by the disease of muteness during moments of crisis, of various kinds, when i can't do anything except focus on channeling my internal world into words [for those of you who've been on the receiving end of that expulsion, you know how i do]. it seems like this week's events are creating a similar impulse…

neither political analysis nor emotional witness testimony, this is just what's been on my mind:

1. i have a direct view of lower manhattan when i look out the window from my bed, which is high up in my room on a bed / desk loft. the last image i saw before i closed my eyes to go to sleep on tuesday night: a huge cloud hovering over where the towers used to be. i kept thinking about all the souls embodied in the smoke.

2. when i first moved in to our apartment i discovered that i couldn't take the cordless phone into my room - too much static, impossible to get a dial tone. after tuesday morning, the phone works fine. must have been the huge antenna on top of one of the towers.

3. words on the street
on the wall of a building on Avenue B, a white sticker:
"If Timothy McVeigh bombed the World Trade Center, would we bomb Michigan?"

flyers on lamp posts, two blocks away from my apartment:
"Islam is not the enemy"
"War is not the answer"
"Question U.S. foreign policy"

4. saturday: the smell of smoke no longer giving me a headache, i walk a few blocks to the tompkins square park. the weekly play presented by a street theater group has been cancelled; an afternoon of singing and open mic instead. but first, a dance routine performed by the cast members, choreographed to a remix of "survivor" [if you haven't seen a lot of community dance performances, recall the music video for fat boy slim's "praise you"]. the song session begins with "god bless america," continues with "amazing grace," broadway classics / children's songs / old time feel good songs follow ["new york state of mind," "this land is your land," "we shall overcome"].

then the procession of people stepping up to the mic.

a man who had been in one of the towers recounts his escape, thank god he had his roller blades on. he confesses that he's one of those anti- government shit talkers - i guess he spent the whole gulf war period being lost in a diatribe. then he says that politicsis the last thing he wants to talk about right now, having been numbed by what he experienced. maybe in a month it'll be different, but people just need healing right now, he says. i don't know why the call for healing sounds should be any different, coming from someone who is critical of amerika, but it was something i thought about for the first time this week.

a woman who starts talking about tuesday's city election that never materialized - you can tell that she's a lefty because she's talking about money for schools and her voice goes up a few decibels when she utters the words "racial profiling." she stresses that we need to check out emotions, check the powers of the man whose presidency does not represent the will of the majority of this country's voters. even for those who understand what she's trying to communicate, is this what they want to hear right now? she continues with her republican bashing when a man in the crowd yells, "shut the fuck up!" [several people clap]. when she talks about how it was so wrong for the japanese to be nuked, a man riding a bike [so obviously disgusted] yells, "EVERYONE got nuked!" the familiar argument that equalizes all casualties of war and renders them without political significance.

an old veteran man, "proud and honored" to have served in two wars. was so angry at how people treated vietnam veterans, and the woman who just spoke reminds him of those people. tragic, isn't it? you experience hell on earth not because you wanted to but because the government told you that you had to, and when you come home all these people hate you. the man insists that all this has absolutely nothing to do with politics: if there is a war, honorable and courageous citizens will answer the call of duty. it's so difficult to reconcile what he believes with all the mess in my head - how the whole idea of war becomes incoherent when you think about the problem of defining which nation-state can be held responsible, the history of u.s. relations with the islamic world which makes me say "yeah, i understand why it happened," the babble goes on… the same impossibility of having a dialogue with people who are ready to "kick some ass" and bomb all those palestinian kids they heard were dancing on the streets.

5. my roommate's mom just moved to an elementary school to be their new principal. meeting kids on the playground, she asks a girl what her name is, and having received a non-American name as an answer, she asks the girl where her family is from. the girl's reply: "Afghanistan, but we love America." wouldn't you have instructed your kid to do the same?

6. and finally, something that was forwarded to me:

Taken from the New York Times:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 - ...[The] 98-to-0 vote in the Senate... [gives] President Bush the power to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to respond to the terror attacks on the United States this week.

The House approved the use of force resolution late today by a vote of 420-1.

President Bush said after the House voted: "I am gratified that the Congress has united so powerfully by taking this action. It sends a clear message - our people are together and we will prevail."

The lone member of Congress to vote against the measure, Rep. Barbara J. Lee, Democrat of California, said the nation risked entering an open-ended war without a clear target. She said in a statement, "I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States."

After reading this article, I wrote to Rep. Lee, (California's Ninth District, which includes Oakland, Berkeley, Piedmont, Emeryville, Albany, and Alameda) commending her integrity and clear-thinking. I urge others to show their support.

In this time of inflated rhetoric, of reflexive patriotism, and Facile dichotomies of good versus evil, it takes courage to stand for one's convictions. Thankfully there seems to be at least one member in Congress willing to do so.

The URL to Rep. Barbara Lee's web page is:

Thank you,

Sonya Philip

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