One of the most interesting things about this convention is that there hasn’t been a GOP-orchestrated trip to Ground Zero. Even though the rhetoric inside Madison Square Garden has invoked and evoked 9/11 over and over, convention planners perhaps didn’t want to endure the kind of criticism some 9/11 families lobbed at Bush when he ran those campaign ads with the 9/11 images.
The Iowa hotel is a long way away from Ground Zero, so it would be a long walk. A few of the Iowa delegates, earlier in the week, made their own pilgrimages. This morning, a group of about 20 got on the subway and went to the site with a tour guide, a person from or near the fire department, I’m told.
I didn’t go (I had to file a story and then interview Tom Vilsack at that time), and the delegate I’d asked to call me down to the hotel lobby when the group returned didn’t call, so I don’t know their impressions. I can share mine.
I’ve been to Ground Zero. It was last October. The space was a vast nothingness. All the debris was gone. Nothing had been erected yet to replace the Towers. A fence had been built around the site, to keep people out.
As I stood there, I couldn’t help comparing it to the bombing site in Oklahoma City. I was there on a business trip, and a friend who was news director of the Oklahoma News Network gave a guided tour. My trip to Oklahoma City came a couple of years after the bombing, but family & friends of the many who died there were still going to the site, placing teddy bears, beads and pictures on the fence — treating it both as shrine and burial ground. It was a sacred site.
When I visited Ground Zero last October, there was nothing on the fence — the fence that kept people out, a fence that was perhaps patroled by folks who removed those remembrances. I stood at the fence in silence, to offer my own remembrances. I thought of my friend Marti who had gone to New York after 9/11 as part of the corps of crisis counselors the government sent in to help the victims. I thought about the Havilands of Ames, who lost a son that day. I thought of the Newton man who went on a business trip to New York and didn’t come home.
Not far away from Ground Zero is a spherical sculpture that used to be at the World Trade Center. It survived, but bears scars. My friend Susan told us it was a sculpture named “Peace” Its new, dented and gnarled form speaks of all the complexities of that day. It’s the image and the message of that small sphere that remains my touchstone memory of Ground Zero.