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The 9/11 terrorist attacks on America have been dissected and examined in myriad ways political and civil. Reports, papers, articles, op-eds, books and documentaries have each endeavored to explain the many aspects of the tragedy that befell us that day. Only one attempt has been made to tell all of the human stories from within New York’s World Trade Center.

102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers is the telling of the chronology, events and personal stories occurring between the striking of the first airliner on the North Tower and its collapse. In that time, another plane assaulted the South Tower, and thousands of both buildings’ occupants fled to safety while thousands more did not or could not.

Authors Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn support their book with now-proven truths about the building codes, construction and maintenance of the towers both for context and silent advocacy for greater design safety. But in the main, this book is about people from the inside.

This book impresses throughout with the massive volume of work put into it before fingertip ever touched keyboard. Testimonies public and private, transcripts of 9-1-1 calls, voice-mails left for loved ones, were assembled to paint thousands of pictures of lives at ground zero.

Not all are candidates for sainthood, however. Along with the many stories of bravery and heroism are accounts of poor judgment and of the dysfunctional relationship between departments charged with emergency response; of communications breakdowns and of the resulting — and stunning — absence of awareness of most rescuers regarding the dire conditions surrounding them. We, who were watching on television, knew volumes more than almost all of the people in peril.

It would have been overwhelming had the writers used emotional terms to describe these personal experiences. They did not, opting instead to respect the reader’s ability to overlay emotion upon the facts presented. This is by no means a dry read; quite the opposite. It’s a page-turner that requires occasional pause to process information and one’s own emotions.

Originally published in 2005, the version released in 2011 is supplemented with fresh information in a newly-written postscript. 102 Minutes stands as an exhaustive portrayal of human experiences on an American day that gripped all the world. It has my highest recommendation.

I remember learning about The Boston Tea Party in grade-school American History class.  This was a protest against the reach of Britain into the lives and pockets of the colonists who then dumped three shiploads of tea into Boston Harbor rather than pay a tax on it.  This event was a precursor of the American Revolution, and of the tempestuous creation of government of, by and for the people.

The King referred to the colonists as “rebels” among other things.

Suns vainly will rise, showers vainly descend, if we are to drudge for what others shall spend.

The Liberty Song, John Dickinson of Delaware, 1768

I remember a time when a large number of Americans trusted their government; my parents among them. I also remember a time when a generation spoke ‘loud and proud’ against a government unworthy of trust.  That would be my generation, and I was among them.  Civil disobedience became the order of that day.  There were marches and protests and burnings and speeches all crying out for reform; for a government working for its people.

We were called “communists” among other things.

What we now know as the ‘Tea Party’ was born in 2006 of Libertarian ideology.  It died ingloriously on election day, 2008, and was immediately resurrected by the oil-billionaire Koch Brothers and others who’s intent seems only to be the stirring of hornets, fomenting of chaos, and weakening of government.  This artificial support lends itself to the term “astroturf.”

And the hornets are being called “neo-Klansmen” among other things.

There’s somthing happenin’ here; what it is ain’t exactly clear…

For What It’s Worth, Buffalo Springfield, 1967

I don’t know what to think about what’s been happening for the past few weeks. There are hundreds of protesters; sometimes thousands. They’re pitching tents in city parks and marching through New York’s Financial District.  They’re calling themselves the “99 percent” and “Occupy Wall Street”. Unions are adding to their number.  Environmental groups and others are considering their positions.

They’re demanding that government support education, infrastructure, and jobs; getting rid of corporate tax loopholes; strengthening democracy; fighting climate change. They want a lot.  But they lack a tidy, headline-making ‘hook.’

Other such efforts are being mounted in cities across the nation. How? Who’s in charge?

No one is in charge.  Their structure is not hierarchal. The “top” is flat: no leader; no spokesperson; no single theme.  They seem intent on maintaining the purity of individuality, even amongst the many; even if it means molasses-slow decision-making. They seem intent on building heft through the universality of their message(s). This is both “grassroots” and a true “movement,” having only spontaneous formation.

They are a growing bunch of disaffected people who want to make a statement. Or many statements. They see a government overtaken by special interests: all power accruing to the few; shrinking benefit to the many. They’re as angry with the president as they are with Congress.

This generation’s got no destination to hold.  Pick up the cry.

Volunteers, Jefferson Airplane, 1969

I worry that mal-intents will jump into the mix and turn thus-far-uncertain public sentiment against the movement. I worry that this nascent organization will collapse for lack of structure.  I worry that leadership will enter or emerge and give unwanted focus to those who are uncertain of the movement’s motives. I worry that civil disobedience — and the resulting damage and massive arrests — will be seen as merely rebellious. I worry that dressing like zombies will not be clearly understood as a message about corporate greed.

But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao,
You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.

Revolution, The Beatles, 1969

I wonder if the movement will grow; or, even, if it should grow. I wonder which types of individuals will join; which groups. I wonder if my standing back is cowardice; if my joining would add only to futility; if it’s the only right thing to do.

These people are being called “dangerous” “anti-Capitalist” “anarchists.”

—–

If history teaches us anything, it is that we infrequently learn from it.  The colonists seeded the birth of a great nation, but it was a delivery of great agony. The Constitutional convention was highly contentious and produced a document with many flaws. Blame the Constitution for the protests of the 99%.

My generation did do some good; did affect some change to the betterment of most.  But we then became the people who ran things, ultimately, as badly as any before.  Blame us for the protests of the 99%.

The Tea Party-hijacked Republican Party is — right now — gerrymandering election districts to favor their will over the collective will of the people; to sway politics and policy for generations to come. Blame them for the protests of the 99%.

Whatever the causes, whichever the influences, the integrity of our nation’s future depends, I think, on the success of the 99%.


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