By John Catalinotto
September 14, 2011
People from every sector of the regional New York City progressive movement, including representatives of various religious communities, gathered at City Hall Park near the World Trade Center site on Sept. 11 to show solidarity with the Muslim community. That group has focused over the past month on condemning the racism and bigotry whipped up by the ultra-right, which was holding what turned out to be a small anti-Muslim rally a few blocks to the west.
The progressive demonstration also countered the pervasive message from the corporate media and politicians from both parties who sought to revive a 9/11 climate of patriotism and U.S. chauvinism that justified the policy of expanding wars overseas and intensified repression at home.
The protest, called by the Emergency Mobilization Against Racism & Anti-Muslim Bigotry and organized by the International Action Center, made two other main points: The movement must resist Washington’s drive to war, and working-class solidarity is necessary to fight for workers’ rights, living standards and jobs.
The pro-unity rally in some ways replayed the political confrontation that took place last year, when an even larger demonstration of progressives greatly outnumbered a heavily publicized and financed Tea Party event protesting an Islamic community and prayer center.
Political challenge to patriotic imperialist orgy
Reached by email, IAC Co-Director Sara Flounders, who chaired part of the Sept. 11 rally, compared the two confrontations. “Last year the major corporate media gave weeks of coverage to extreme right-wing groups and to the ugliest attacks on Islam and on Muslims in the U.S. The call to challenge this extreme racist attack drew many thousands of non-Muslims to our rally to stand in solidarity with Muslims under attack.
“This year the right-wing rally got less publicity, appeared to be less of a threat and turned out to be really small. The racist rally with big-screen projection and a tractor trailer of staging and sound had a small flag-waving gathering.
“Our Unity Rally this year,” contrasted Flounders, “drew many hundreds rather than the thousands of last year, but it had a crucial importance. It raised a political challenge to the entire corporate media and all the top political leaders of both capitalist parties who united to define 9/11 as a patriotic orgy glorifying U.S. imperialism.”
It would be hard to imagine a more diverse and spirited Unity Rally and march. In addition to representatives from immigrant communities from every continent and Marxist groups there were more radical, struggle-ready labor unionists and activists from anti-war and civil rights organizations who joined in shouting slogans of solidarity for four hours with their Muslim sisters and brothers.
People from Boston, Washington and Philadelphia, from nearby New Jersey and the upstate Albany area, joined the anti-racist movement that embraced young and old, people of all the colors of the city and region, gay and straight.
The message from the nearly 50 community and religious leaders greeting the Emergency Mobilization rally was solidarity with the Muslim community and unity of all the forces in the struggle against racism, scapegoating and U.S. wars abroad.
Some of the Muslim speakers made the point that their communities identified as U.S. citizens, but they wanted the U.S. government to follow the Constitution, especially when it comes to protecting the rights of religious minorities.
Confronting the official line
It was the racist offensive by anti-Muslim bloggers like Pam Geller and other neo-fascist forces that initially spurred on the Emergency Mobilization. But it was impossible to ignore the overwhelming propaganda offensive by the imperialist U.S. ruling class. The fact that Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were both at the official ceremony on the World Trade Center site showed the two parties were united on promoting patriotism as they have been on no other issue recently.
The attacks on the WTC 10 years ago, because they made the population feel more vulnerable, increased the ability of the most aggressive sectors of the U.S. ruling class to militarize the country. The Bush administration mobilized first the entire ruling class and then the population for wars of aggression against Afghanistan and later Iraq. Other countries were on their hit list, but the resistance movements in Iraq and later in Afghanistan showed that occupation was not so easy.
This year the anniversary commemoration allowed U.S. ruling circles to again exploit the widespread sympathy for the victims to carry out a broad and deep patriotic campaign.
“The memorial events,” observed Flounders, “were a carefully choreographed effort to drape the government in an aura of mourning for the victims of the World Trade Center attack — and to hide its responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of totally innocent victims of U.S. wars of the past 10 years in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and to intervene in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Most ominously, it can be used to justify continued war and repression.”
Thus the second message of the Emergency Mobilization was confronting the official line, repeated ad nauseam in the week leading up to Sept. 11, that the United States was an innocent victim of terrorism.
Some of the speakers at the rally congratulated those participating for having the political courage to confront the heavy propaganda campaign in the corporate media and from all levels of government.
The third message of the Emergency Mobilization was even more relevant this year after another 12 months of economic stagnation and signs of a new recession: Solidarity among all sectors of the working class and the oppressed is essential to beat back the relentless attack on benefits and to fight for jobs.