#NeverForget…What, Exactly?

Yeah, I remember 9/11. I remember my mom hitting the redial button every two minutes for hours after I got home from school, trying to get through to her brother who was supposed to be running Ethernet cable in *that* part of the Pentagon that day. (He wasn’t, only because that part of the renovation project was a week behind schedule.)

I remember the fear-addled Congressional Democrats joining the GOP to ram through the greatest assault on civil liberties in decades (the few who showed some backbone included then-Senator Russ Feingold, then-Congressmen Bernie Sanders and Tom Barrett, then-Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, my current Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, and far too few others)…one of those “we have to kill freedom to save it” things, I guess.

I remember the drumbeats for war. Oh dear lord, I remember the drumbeats. I remember the Taliban’s offer to hand over the hundred or so al-Qaeda militants (most of whom were Saudi nationals, and none of whom were Afghans) who were in that country, and I remember the Bush administration rejecting that offer because going after the actual culprits would’ve put the Bush family’s business dealings in jeopardy. And so, the legendary Graveyard of Empires claimed another victim.

I remember Colin Powell’s lies, and how we were all beat over the head with his service record until most of us believed him…it was obvious to anyone who was paying attention that Iraq was going to become the next Vietnam, but not nearly enough of us were paying attention until after it was too late to do anything about it. (My own political awareness first developed in the context of the 2004 Presidential campaign…yes, there was a girl involved, because this is still my life we’re talking about after all.)

I remember the chain emails, spewing lies about 7/11 owners celebrating on that day, about Palestinians celebrating in the streets, about the Virtuous Veteran knocking out a college professor who dared to say that God didn’t exist…those are still floating around, except these days they’re posts on the legions of Facebook pages dedicated to spreading that sort of cultural manure.

I remember my desperation to find something to fight for…the Democrats didn’t seem to be doing much of it (by 2006, I’d been pushed away from that party by a number of encounters with my Assemblyman and Congressman…neither seemed to be interested in much else other than playing the partisan game, and I’ve told my Dave Obey story before), my awareness of transgender people was still years away, and I was too far away from any real city to be involved with the immigrant rights movement, so I started drifting towards the military…

I remember signing those Navy enlistment papers in 2008, and my Capping Ceremony in 2009 (didn’t get a Pass-In-Review, told that story in my last article)…I thought then that I’d finally found a reason to live, not knowing that I’d be back in my nothing hometown less than three months later.

I remember the Tea Party turning the new civic religion into a death cult…I remember them hanging Obama in effigy, and I knew what the term “strange fruit” meant then…I remember trying to distance myself from those Republicans, while voting for Scott Walker and Jim Sensenbrenner and all the others who would empower them.

I remember hating myself just enough to keep identifying as a Republican, through the Act 10 fight and Occupy, through the rise of Birtherism and the murder of Trayvon Martin…there were plenty of things pushing me away from conservatism, but not much of anything attracting me leftward until I spent two nights scrolling Twitter watching the flood of updates from the Ferguson rebellion. Gamergate hit later that month, I started going to a trans discussion group the next month that was moderated by the person who would invite me to IWW and ISO meetings over the next year, and I finally remembered who I’d been before I started hating myself.

We’re 17 years on from 9/11. There’s high school seniors who weren’t even born on that day, college seniors who were toddlers on that day, all that they remember is a society at war…lately, it’s become obvious that this is a society at war with itself more than against anything else, with one side fighting for tradition and authority, the other fighting for liberty and equality (or, at least, claiming to…we’ll find out just how many truly do over the next couple of years).

We’ve been told for the last 17 years to never forget…but what does that mean to a generation that can’t possibly remember? What can “never forget” mean to those elements of our society that, at the first provocation, began stoking the fires of fear and division against anyone with skin darker than a light tan, forgetting the very values that the Founding Fathers that they supposedly revere claimed to believe in? What can “never forget” mean to the people who’ve been thrown into those flames, and never really knew an America that lived up to those values?

In the end, all that “never forget” means is “never forget who your betters want you to hate”…it’s nothing more or less than a convenient slogan, a two-word propaganda line, designed to evoke the kind of trauma response that gave us the Patriot Act and ICE in the first place. I’ve long since given up any notion along the “we’re better than this” line that I heard ad nauseam in the days and weeks leading up to the 2016 election — I knew from my time in the conservative media bubble that we really aren’t, and there’s still nothing that’s come out of Trump’s mouth that I didn’t hear from Mark Levin years earlier — but I do believe that we’re getting better, that enough people in our society have finally learned (or, in some cases, relearned) that a society is a collection of communities, not merely a mass of individuals, and that the glue that holds those communities together is the diversity within and between them…and that a society which rejects these concepts is a society that’s condemned itself to stagnation and decay.

Something worth fighting for, don’t you think?

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