A day on which everyone can remember where they were is seldom a good memory. On September 11, 2001 we added another day to that list of days we’d rather forget. I was in an optimistic frame of mind when my radio alarm woke me that morning. My first real print publication, the pamphlet “Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand,” had just been accepted by Red Lion Press. The first cool front of September, my favorite time of year, had just come through, so I looked forward to a day off enjoying the crisp, cool weather. My optimistic mood quickly dissipated.
The first thing I heard on the radio after it woke me was that the first tower of the World Trade Center had been struck. As I lay listening, the report came in of a plane crashing into the second tower. It was clearly no accident.
My first thought was that Bush would get a grant of executive power rivaling the Enabling Act passed after the Reichstag fire. The FBI and intelligence community would once again drag out their Christmas wish list of surveillance powers they didn’t manage to get rubber-stamped after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Bush would get a blank check to fight wars anywhere in the world under the pretext of fighting “terrorism,” just as previous Executives had fought endless illegal and undeclared wars in the name of combating “communism” and “narco-trafficking” in previous decades. But this time public gullibility would be fueled by outrage, and Bush’s ability to wave the bloody shirt would get his wars approved with even less scrutiny than Vietnam and all the other dirty little American wars during the Cold War era. I figured I’d be lucky if my Red Card from the Wobblies and the anarchist circles I hung out in online didn’t get me held without charge in a detention camp.
The Al Qaeda attack came two years into the heady atmosphere of the post-Seattle movement, part of the upsurge in global networked activism sparked by the 1994 Zapatista uprising, in which multilateral agencies like the G8 and WTO couldn’t meet without being disrupted by anti-globalization protesters. I thought it likely that the post-9/11 war hysteria would result in this wave of resurgent radicalism being marginalized or suppressed, much as the hysteria during WWI was used to suppress most of the American Left. At my job (a VA hospital), I’d worked hard to drive a wedge between management and my fellow workers, and to promote a resentment and willingness to fight back. I feared that the wave of “patriotic” sentiment after the terrorist attack would result in a “we’re all in it together” attitude, and drown our workplace activism in a sea of red white and blue ribbons.
Much of this came to pass. Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act, the NSA expanded illegal wiretapping, the military and CIA created a detention camp at Guantanamo (and tortured detainees at Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and Baghram), Bush immediately went to war in Afghanistan and then in 2003 used fear over 9/11 to get approval for the war in Iraq. To this day, supporters of Obama’s new war on ISIS are denouncing opposition as a “September 10 mentality.”
The atmosphere of waving flags and yellow ribbons in the ensuing weeks seemed like bedlam to me. The nurses enthusiastically handing out homemade lapel ribbons at work reminded me of Red Army political officers. And the post-Seattle anti-globalization demonstrations did indeed slow to a trickle and then stop.
They didn’t open internment camps on US soil for American citizens or suspend habeas corpus, but most of my expectations came to pass to some degree.
But it wasn’t the end of the world. The past few years have been the time of Chelsea Manning, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden. If the Seattle movement fizzled out, the Arab Spring, M15 and Occupy have since taken place on an even greater scale. Far from class consciousness being buried in a wave of patriotism, labor activism has come back with a force I couldn’t have imagined, in the form of Coalition of Immokalee Workers boycotts and networked campaigns by Walmart and fast food workers.
The capitalist state and its security apparatus gave it its best shot after 9/11 and still couldn’t take us out, or even slow us down very long. We’ll bury them.