On one evening of last week’s Republican National Convention, I found myself needing to get to Manhattan from my home on Long Island. As I had commuted every day this summer, this would not usually be a particularly arduous journey. However, the Republican National Committee had selected Madison Square Garden (an emblem of Republican-led destruction of a national architectural treasure, the original Pennsylvania Station), which rests squarely above the only rail entry point from Long Island to Manhattan and a major one for New Jersey commuters. Commuters were advised all summer to make alternate plans. Security would be tight; delays would be lengthy. Since my route would have required me to walk down 34th Street, right through the “red zone” to get to my connecting subway, I decided to pursue an alternate route.
My mother questioned my plan to change at Jamaica for the train to Brooklyn, where I would change for another subway. Did I fail to mention this journey was taking place at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday night? But I couldn’t be safer, as I was joined on the platform in Jamaica by over a dozen NYPD officers and four soldiers in combat fatigue. (They even had the little canteens attached to their belt … and as I begin writing this on the train platform, they are looking over my shoulder.)
The only thing that seemed to catch the soldiers’ attention (besides my “frantic scribbling” – I can see it in the papers now: “Angry leftist scribe protests confiscated notebook”) was a mouse running on the tracks. One soldier joked, “I’ll get it,” and pointed at it with his rifle.
Combined with the poster urging commuters to report anything suspicious, represented pictorially by a greasy brown paper bag, my summer in New York was a lesson in terror. Working in city government, I did not meet a single city employee whose work was not altered by the RNC and “terrorism preparations.” Working in an office around the corner from the New York Stock Exchange, when information that was probably used to plan the Sept. 11 attacks was ‘discovered,’ my commute was lengthened and made tenser. The Monday after the announcement, my fellow commuters seemed more on edge when they saw a crazy guy board the train and murmur to himself. (While this isn’t that unusual in New York, maybe he had a greasy brown paper bag.)
But there was far greater terror in New York this summer. To me, the complete dominance of security and terrorism in the political agenda is a scary thing. As a nation, we are neglecting (and allowing our policymakers to neglect) all the other issues which affect a far greater portion of our nation – except homosexuals wanting to get married … we all know that is a priority. And while the federal government provided $50 million for security at the event, in addition to the $50 million-plus spent by the City, the government cut $120 million in funding for New York’s Community Health Access Program. That is terrifying. As is the place of two versions of the 9/11 Commission Report on The New York Times’ paperback non-fiction best-seller list, which both should be subtitled “Hindsight is 20/20.” The simple acceptance that the war on Iraq is tied to the events of Sept. 11 is really terrifying.
While there were no major security snafus, the Republican National Convention itself was terrifying. There were the united chants reminiscent of the Hitler Youth. There was Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who has somehow become a mythic hero by virtue of being Mayor of New York on Sept. 11, despite the fact that New Yorkers inside and outside of politics do not find him likable at all, and his own questionable “family values”. He has also become a “security expert”, for sale to the highest bidder, as evidenced by his recent employment by the pharmaceutical industry to show that there are ‘security risks’ in my grandmother’s importation of anti-hypertensives from Canada.
There was Governor George Pataki, who has become the longest-serving governor in the country by being boring and inept. The “Terminator” spoke, proving you need absolutely no qualifications to become a major political power in this country, just someone else to mess up big time and a recognizable face (and accent). He also proved that Americans have no apologies for their faith in masculinity and homophobia. And who can forget Georgia Senator Zell Miller, who proved that insane raving lunatics can get national television airtime and have influential roles in government. That’s terror.
I, like 99 percent of the American public, have not been affected by terror, but affected greatly by our obsessive-compulsive reaction to it. Little did those soldiers at the station know, but I am an enemy of the Republican Party faithful. (On that very same train ride, I was reading an indictment of the vice president in Rolling Stone with gusto.) I am an informed, pro-choice, pro-peace, intelligent liberal, who supports the separation of church and state, civil liberties, and environmentally responsible policy. I think the government has a responsibility to provide for its citizens and not its corporations.
But what makes me an enemy of the current administration, and probably has me on some sort of watch-list by now, is the fact that I write – forcefully and without fear of retribution. Also, I am not as inept as the bumbling bungling minds leading the Kerry campaign, who are losing an election that was theirs to lose and clearly have not heard the aphorism “don’t put all your eggs in one ‘Vietnam Veteran’ basket.” Oh yeah, and what would probably piss the Republicans off the most? The whole purpose of this trip was for me to get to my boyfriend’s apartment where I was spending the night … I think the American family just collapsed.
Adam Pulver is a senior majoring in political science and community health.