September 16, 2011

Who Else Wanted to Do Away with the World Trade Center. (Updated to Include the Arabs – But it's not what You Think.)

There’s a lot to tease out of this Corbis file photo leading off a Spiegel “History of the Trade Center” slideshow.

Here’s the caption:

A 1962 protest against plans to construct the World Trade Center in Manhattan. A cardboard sign on an open casket reads: “Here lies Mr. Small Businessman – don’t let the Port Authority bury him.” In the end, the protests of these “Radio Row” businessmen helped little. Soon thereafter the wrecking ball arrived, and a total of 325 businesses were leveled to make room for what at the time was the biggest construction project in the history of the United States.

Besides the casket and all the death allusions, which are macabre to consider given all the corporate and Wall Street workers that perished on the spot long after the radio shops were buried, consider the argument being made. Small business owners are appealing to Congress to save them from a city colluding with huge corporate interests, evoking not just the Constitution but actually likening their battle to America’s tea parties. Thank goodness, given a proper appreciation for the free market, and the Constitutional enlightenment of conservative Republicans, we’ve got it all straightened out now.

UPDATE: First, thanks to Glen for his comment below. I somehow didn’t know (and am saddened, but not surprised to realize I never tripped upon this during last year’s “Ground Zero mosque” brouhaha) that the Trade Center was directly adjacent to what was known, for about fifty years, as New York’s Syrian Quarter. (Here’s the Wikipedia entry; a post of wonderful pictures drawn from over 1,000-related images owned by the Library of Congress; a write-up with video at LA public radio’s KPCC; and a NYT piece from the NY section published last year a few weeks before 9/11 while the protests were fomenting.)  Considering that the (mostly Christian) Arabs were forced off the land by the city in the mid-40’s to accomodate the Brooklyn-Battery Tunney, the photo above echoes a previous community (and constituency?) buried and dispossessed.  With this history in mind, perhaps a more telling sequence of photos might look like this:

(photo 2: Chris Hondros/Getty Images. caption: Opponents of an Islamic cultural center and mosque planned to be built near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan gather during a demonstration on August 22, 2010 in New York, New York. photo 3: Bain News Service. Pastry counter — Syrian restaurant. undated. Aproximately 1900? )

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Michael Shaw
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