A coalition of 9/11 families’ groups held a press conference at the World Trade Center today to call for exactly what I hoped they would when I spoke with Debra Burlingame last week: Do not build the International Freedom Center here. Do not distract from the 9/11 memorial and bring politics and polemics to this place. Let the memorial speak for itself.
I went into the city to attend the event. As I got there, Debra and other organizers were strategizing about the Port Authority, which had tried to move the group off World Trade Center property under the argument that the PA does not allow PA systems on its land. In other words, it doesn’t allow speech. Now that’s a fine lesson for an International Freedom Center, isn’t it. But the leaders decided that they would go ahead — let them kick us off in front of the TV cameras, a few said — and Debra brought out a small, portable speaker and microphone from her purse. She’s amazing.
The families, always with the pictures of their lost loved ones, began changing: “9/11 memorial only” and “take back the memorial.” And then a few family members spoke.
One appealed to the American people to join with them and take back the memorial. Anther said that lessons of a freedom center would be fine, “but not here, not on sacred ground.”
“Nobody is coming to this place to learn about Ukranian democracy and be inspired by the courage of Tibetan monks,” he said.
Another spoke for many when he said that the remains of his family member were never found. “We have no place to go,” he said, “we have no place to grieve” — other than this place.
The sister of a firefighter pointed to her 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter and asked whether the lesson of what is to be built at the World Trade Center will be that “9/11 is something to be ashamed of.”
“We will make sure this site is not violated a second, time,” she said.
Another warned that the Freedom Center will make the site a “magnet for protesters.”
“The IFC msut go elsewhere,” he said.
Edie Lutnick, sister of the Cantor Fitzgerald heads, one of whom died, said she was not comfortable speaking and the first time she did so was at her brother’s funeral. But she was most eloquent here, thanking Americans for their shows of support — their children’s letters, their flags, their quilts — and said this was not the families’ tragedy but our tragedy.
“Now we have another tragedy — forgetfulness. 9/11 is being buried underground.”
The event did what it was supposed to do: It brought out the press and made the International Freedom Center an issue.
On the way back home, I heard Mayor Bloomberg dismiss the concerns expressed there. Tonedeaf, that man is tonedeaf.
Riding Sun also has some pictures up of the protest.