I did not write this letter, nor do I know the individual who did. It seems to be something floating on the ether, but I’m happy to give attribution if someone can tell me who to give it to. John Stewart said last week that being in New York he clearly knew nothing about terrorism and he was glad that the red staters were there to tell him about it. This letter is much more eloquent. Just for the record, my mother used to work in the WTC – thankfully she moved out long before 9-11 happened – and I spent many summer days there. I was born in NY and never knew NY without the WTC.
I am writing this letter to the people in the red states in the middle of the country — the people who voted for George W. Bush. I am writing this letter because I don’t think we know each other.
So I’ll make an introduction. I am a New Yorker who voted for John Kerry. I used to live in California, and if I still lived there, I would vote for Kerry. I used to live in Washington, DC, and if I still lived there, I would vote for Kerry. Kerry won in all three of those regions.
Maybe you want to know more about me. Or maybe not; maybe you think you know me already. You think I am some anti-American anarchist because I dislike George W. Bush. You think that I am immoral and anti-family, because I support women’s reproductive freedom and gay rights. You think that I am dangerous, and even evil, because I do not abide by your religious beliefs.
Maybe you are content to think that, to write me off as a “liberal” — the dreaded “L” word — and rejoice that your candidate has triumphed over evil, immoral, anti-American, anti-family people like me. But maybe you are still curious. So here goes: this is who I am.
I am a New Yorker. I was here, in my apartment downtown, on September 11th. I watched the Towers burn from the roof of my building. I went inside so that I couldn’t see them when they fell. I had friends who were inside. I have a friend who still has nightmares about watching people jump and fall from the Towers. He will never be the same. How many people like him do you know? People that can’t sit in a restaurant without plotting an escape route, in case it blows up?
I am a worker. I work across the street from the Citigroup Center, which the government told us is a “target” of terrorism. Later, we found out they were relaying very old information, but it was already too late. They had given me bad dreams again. The subway stop near my office was crowded with bomb-sniffing dogs, policemen in heavy protective gear, soldiers. Now, every time I enter or exit my office, all of my possessions are X-rayed to make sure I don’t have any weapons. How often are you stopped by a soldier with a bomb-sniffing dog outside your office?
I am a neighbor. I have a neighbor who is a 9/11 widow. She has two children. My husband does odd jobs for her now, like building bookshelves. Things her husband should do. He uses her husband’s tools, and the two little girls tell him, “Those are our daddy’s tools.” How many 9/11 widows and orphans do you know? How often do you fill in for their dead loved ones?
I am a taxpayer. I worked my butt off to get where I did, and so did my parents. My parents saved and borrowed and sent me to college. I worked my way through graduate school. I won a full tuition scholarship to law school. All for the privilege of working 2,600 hours last year. That works out to a 50 hour week, every week, without any vacation days at all. I get to work by 9 am and rarely leave before 9 pm. I eat dinner at my office much more often than I eat dinner at home. My husband and I paid over $70,000 in federal income tax last year. At some point in the future, we will have to pay much more — once this country faces its deficit and the impossible burden of Social Security. In fact, the areas of the country that supported Kerry — New York, California, Illinois, Massachusetts — they are the financial centers of the nation. They are the tax base of this country. How much did you pay, Kansas? How much did you contribute to this government you support, Alabama? How much of this war in Iraq did you pay for?
I am a liberal. The funny part is, liberals have this reputation for living in Never-Neverland, being idealists, not being sensible. But let me tell you how I see the world: I see America as one nation in a world of nations. Therefore, I think we should try to get along with other nations. I see that gay people exist. Therefore, I think they should be allowed to exist, and be treated the same as other people. I see ways in which women are not allowed to control their own bodies. Therefore, I think we should give women more control over their bodies. I see that people have awful diseases. Therefore, I think we should enable scientists to try to cure them. I see that we have a Constitution. Therefore, I think it should be upheld. I see that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Therefore, I think that Iraq was not an imminent danger to me. It seems so pragmatic to me. How do you see the world? Do you really think voting against gay marriage will keep people from being gay? Would you really prefer that people continue to die from Parkinson’s disease? Do you really not care about the Constitutional rights of political detainees? Would you really have supported the war if you knew the truth, or would you have wanted to spend more of our money on health care, job training, terrorism preparedness?
I am an American. I have an American flag flying outside my home. I love my home more than anything. I love that I grew up right outside New York City. I first went to the Statue of Liberty with my 5th grade class, and my mom and dad took me to the Empire State Building when I was 8. I love taking the subway to Yankee Stadium. I loved living in Washington DC and going on dates to the Lincoln Memorial. It is because I love this country so much that I argue with my political opponents as much I do.
I am not safe. I never feel safe. My in-laws live in a small town in Ohio, and that town has received more federal funding, per capita, for terrorism preparedness than New York City has. I take subways and buses every day. I work in a skyscraper across the street from a “target.” I have emergency supplies and a spare pair of sneakers in my desk, in case somethng happens while I’m at work. Do you? How many times a month do you worry that your subway is going to blow up? When you hear sirens on the street, do you run to the window to make sure everything is okay? When you hear an airplane, do you flinch? Do you dread beautiful, blue-skied September days? I don’t know a single New Yorker who doesn’t spend the month of September on tip-toes, superstitiously praying for rain so we don’t have to relive that beautiful, blue-skied day.
I am lonely. I feel that we, as a nation, have alienated all our friends and further provoked our enemies. I feel unprotected. Most of all I feel alienated from my fellow citizens, because I don’t understand what you are thinking. You voted for a man who started a war in Iraq for no reason, against the wishes of the entire world. You voted for a man whose lack of foresight and inability to plan has led to massive insurgencies in Iraq, where weapons are disappearing into the hands of terrorists. You voted for a man who let Osama Bin Laden escape into the hills of Afghanistan so that he could start that war in Iraq. You voted for a man who doesn’t want to let people love who they want to love; doesn’t want to let doctors cure their patients; doesn’t want to let women rule their destinies. I don’t understand why you voted for this man. For me, it is not enough that he is personable; it is not enough that he seems like one of the guys. Why did you vote for him? Why did you elect a man that lied to us in order to convince us to go to war? (Ten years ago you were incensed when our president lied about his sex life; you thought it was an impeachable offense.) Why did you elect a leader who thinks that strength cannot include diplomacy or international cooperaton? Why did you elect a man who did nothing except run away and hide on September 11?
Most of all, I am terrified. I mean daily, I am afraid that I will not survive this. I am afraid that I will lose my husband, that I will never have children, that I will never grow old and watch the sunset in a backyard of my own. I am afraid that my career — which should end with a triumphant and good-natured roast at a retirement party in 2035 — will be cut short by an attack on me and my colleagues, as we sit sending emails and making phone calls one ordinary afternoon. Is your life at stake? Are you terrified?
I don’t think you are. I don’t think you realize what you have done. And if anything happens to me or the people I love, I blame you. I wanted you to know that.