New Yorkers to GOP: Don't Breathe the Air
The Republican Convention opens in New York on Monday with the theme of "building a safer world." But at the site where the World Trade Center Towers once stood, demonstrators are holding a daily vigil to inform the nation that the area is still contaminated with toxics spread when the buildings collapsed in the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
The event is sponsored by the Sierra Club, 9/11 Environmental Action, the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, and New York Environmental Law & Justice Project.
"While the country is focused on the city during the Republican Convention, we want to make sure that New York's real story is told," said Suzanne Mattei, Sierra Club's New York City executive.
"President Bush needs to hear the stories of those who were not protected in the aftermath of September 11th and take action now to meet their needs, and to protect those who would be put in harm's way at future national emergencies."
The 2004 Republican National Convention will be held for the first time in New York City at Madison Square Garden from August 30 to September 2. The city is alive with anti-Republican demonstrations of every type and description, but the one at Ground Zero speaks directly to the Republicans' stated theme of "Fulfilling America's Promise by Building a Safer World and a More Hopeful America."
Participants will gather daily on the corner of Liberty and Broadway one block from Ground Zero, to hand out stickers that say "I support the Ground Zero Community. Toxic Cleanup, Health Care, & Answers." Each day will honor and advocate on behalf of a different constituency of the Ground Zero community.
Today the demonstration advocates on behalf of people who worked near Ground Zero, the hole left by the collapse of the World Trade Center (WTC) towers when they were struck by two hijacked airplanes, killing nearly 3,000 people and sickening thousands more..
"Thousands of workers are sick today as a result of the respiratory hazards caused by the attack on the World Trade Center (WTC). The government agencies that had the responsibility of protecting them failed to do so. We must make certain that such a failure never occurs again," said Jonathan Bennett, spokesperson for the New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health.
Many of the demonstrators say that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency failed them by not disclosing the true extent of the contamination and by not providing them with the tools to clean their homes, offices and even their firehouses.
"It's ironic that EPA refused to clean the firehouses downtown, that the firefighters were forced to clean up their own WTC-contaminated stations without even having the proper equipment to do so. These are the same fire stations that protect Wall Street and all of the government buildings in lower Manhattan," said Joel Kupferman, New York Environmental Law & Justice Project and Environmental Counsel to the Uniformed Firefighters Association (NYC).
On Saturday, the Ground Zero demonstration will honor local residents and parents, and on Sunday the difficulties of small business owners will be in the spotlight.
Ariel Goodman, president of From the Ground Up, an organization representing small businesses, said, "Shortly after the tragic events of September 11th, we were told that the air was safe. Not only did the EPA's misinformation put our health in jeopardy, it was used by insurance companies to deny coverage for damage."
"The federal government should step up to the plate and do testing and cleaning not only in residences but also in businesses – which were completely left out of its program. Also, the small business owners who were exposed should be included in the medical monitoring program. Right now, we're excluded," Goodman said.
The situation is no better for unionized employees. Bob Gulack, union steward with the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents federal employees in 30 agencies and departments, said, "It is now three years since Al Qaeda attacked us and EPA is still refusing to clean up the lethal contamination left behind by the original terrorist attack."
"As a union steward, I have seen the suffering of my colleagues in our contaminated office building, and I have personally suffered repeated bronchitis and pneumonia and have been left with permanent lung damage," said Gulack. "As matters now stand, the EPA's plan for cleaning up the WTC dust is to have the people of NYC inhale the dust into their lungs."
On Monday, when the Republican Convention opens several miles north in Madison Square Garden, the Ground Zero demonstration will honor the cleanup workers and employees of a local community college. On Tuesday, the spotlight will be on the Transport Union Workers who labored to clean Ground Zero, and on Wednesday, the stories of volunteer rescue, recovery and cleanup workers will be featured.
The Republican Convention has a Ground Zero spokesperson too, but she will not be at the demonstration. New York delegate Lolita Jackson was in a business meeting on the 70th floor of Tower Two when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Currently, she serves on the board of New York's Children's Aid Society, finding homes for city orphans.
Kimberly Flynn, spokesperson, 9/11 Environmental Action said, "The September 11th attack was a time when the people of New York City needed to depend on their government as never before, for their safety and security – and this administration failed them."
"People who live and work downtown were put in harm's way by being told the air was safe and by being denied a proper cleanup; many of them who now suffer serious health effects have nowhere to turn. They have an important message for the president. Mr. Bush, you need to fix what went wrong in New York right now," Flynn said.
"If there is another terrorist attack – here or anywhere – which fills the air with dangerous substances, Americans must not be lied to and left in the dust as they were here in New York."
Read the Sierra Club report, 'Air Pollution and Deception at Ground Zero: How the Bush Administration's Reckless Disregard of 9/11 Toxic Hazards Poses Long-term Threats for New York City and the Nation': sierraclub.org/groundzero.