Wednesday, September 01, 2004

THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION: A TRIP TO GROUND ZERO

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Sept. 1, 2004


NEW YORK _ A white-bearded man with a flute played a slow, sad version of "Amazing Grace," while just up the sidewalk by a subway entrance, an Asian man bowing a one-stringed instrument played a whimsical "Oh! Susanna." An angry woman marched up and down the sidewalk chanting, "Bush and the CIA attacked America," provoking a man in a Bush-Cheney hat to walk up to her and tell her to "shut up."

A short man in a NYPD T-shirt was selling photo albums titled Remember the Heroes with pictures of the World Trade Center before, after and during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "It's still deeply embedded in New Yorkers," said vendor David Sterton, pointing to his heart. "It's like it happened yesterday."

Just like the photo albums Sterton was selling for $6, the program the night before at the Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden was designed to evoke memories of Sept. 11.

As the Democrats did at their convention in Boston in July, there was an emotional musical tribute featuring the song "Amazing Grace." There was testimony by family members of those who died in the attack. And the night was capped off by a speech by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who became known as "America's mayor" for the way he handled the aftermath of Sept. 11.

The message was reflected in the local headlines Tuesday "It's9/11,"creamed the headline of The New York Post above a large photo of Giuliani.

It's obvious that both major parties will be trying to use Sept. 11 for their own political advantage.

Speaking with those who gathered towers had been Tuesday morning -- tourists, convention delegates and even a few locals -- it became apparent that people are split on the implications of Sept. 11.

"I think the politicians are using 9/11 as a political stepping stone," said Sterten, the photo album man. "Especially (John) Kerry. I'm not sure about him with all his off and on. I would rather have Bush running the country."

Jamie Walker, 44, of Seattle agreed.

"I think Sept. 11 is a legitimate political issue,' said Walker, who said he was making a "pilgrimage" to Ground Zero.

Considering that it's the biggest attack ever on American soil it is right for us as a nation to make this a political issue," Walker said.

But Kim and Mary Lou Ratz of Minneapolis, who were in the city on a business trip said they don't like how Bush has used Sept. 11.

"I kind of wish politicians would focus on domestic issues," Mary Lou Ratz said.

Specifically, they said, they don't believe Bush is correct in using the attack on the World Trade Center to justify the war in Iraq.

"I don't think war is the right way to fight terrorism," Mary Lou Ratz said.

The Ratzes said they are backing John Kerry for president.

So is Connie Demidio, a New York interior decorator who was at Ground Zero with her sister, Petra Gleich of Germany.

"I think George Bush is wrapping himself in a blanket of Sept. 11, which I think is wrong," Demidio said.

Eliine Bagshau, 74, of Sydney, Australia, said she believes both Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard use the image of Sept. 11 to "keep people more afraid." And both leaders used the threat of terrorism as a reason to invade Iraq, she said.

"I think it's starting to backfire against our prime minister," she said. "It certainly had nothing to do with terrorism. It was all about oil."

A convention delegate from Florida, Bob Waechter of Sarasota visited Ground Zero with his wife and another couple.

Not surprisingly, he said Bush is right to stress Sept. 11 in the campaign. "It's an irrefutable issue since it's the most significant thing to happen in the last 10 years.

But Waechter had a personal reason for being there. He's a retired New York City firefighters.

"I was here three weeks after it happened," he said. "I volunteered to help out a little."

Waechter said this is the first time he’s been back to the scene since the fall of 2001.

"The main thing I notice is that it looks so much smaller," he said. "Before, when it was a big pile of rubble it was just overwhelming. It seems so much smaller now."

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