If you’ve walked past the Beta Bridge sometime in the past few weeks, you probably saw “NEVER FORGET 9/11” painted in big, green letters. You’ve probably also seen the “& slavery, police brutality, Vinegar Hill, Jim Crow, Trail of Tears, drone strikes, segregation, stonewall, ICE detention” painted in black right next to it. The first message was painted on Sep. 11 of this year, and the second one was painted soon after as a direct response.
While this message is technically correct — as you should care about 9/11, slavery and police brutality — the main impact that this addition likely had for most onlookers was not to re-emphasize the importance of these events, but rather to detract from the importance of 9/11. Listing off things other than 9/11 worth caring about on its 19th anniversary communicates to pedestrians that “you should be thinking about this, and not 9/11.” This response is neither liberal nor progressive. Any political ideology that requires its adherents to diminish 9/11 or refuse to take a moment once a year to remember it is morally bankrupt. Luckily for progressives, progressive ideology requires neither. Remembering 9/11 should not be considered a conservative tradition, and by treating it as such, those on the left are digging their own political graves.
Perhaps the addition would be merited if the media had been focusing on 9/11 exclusively and at the expense of the other issues listed, but that could not be further from the truth. It also might be more appropriate if lamenting these issues and mourning the anniversary of 9/11 were somehow at odds with each other, but again, they are not. This faux progressive response simply makes no sense. It creates a divide where one does not actually exist and makes light of one of the greatest tragedies in American history.
Imagine if 20 years from now someone wrote on the bridge “Never Forget COVID-19” and next to it in black were the words “and the swine flu, the Spanish flu and AIDS.” Obviously this would make no sense, and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t find the addition to be stupid and uncalled for. There is no difference, however, between this and the message that was on Beta Bridge. Both make light of tragedies, and both imply the existence of a zero-sum game between the mourning of separate tragedies.
Ironically enough, this response also echoes the same faulty logic behind the “all lives matter” slogan. This slogan, a notorious strawman, is supposed to be a retort to #BlackLivesMatter, but it ultimately fails to contradict the movement it is supposed to be attacking. Bringing attention to the fact that Black lives matter does not in any way imply that other lives do not, so to respond to #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter is to miss the point entirely. The same is true for remembering 9/11. By remembering 9/11, one is not refusing to remember slavery, police brutality, Vinegar Hill or Jim Crow. Bringing attention to one issue should not be viewed as taking attention away from something else. If it were, then it would be impossible to talk about any particular issue without detracting from others. If focusing on 9/11 is ignoring slavery, then focusing on slavery would also have to be ignoring 9/11.
Ultimately, there is no limit to the amount of issues that people can care about. Moral people have an obligation to care about both slavery and 9/11, and the fact that anyone would view the two to be in conflict is very worrying. Responding to “Never Forget 9/11” with a list of other issues that also matter is not proof that one cares more about these issues than everyone else. All it demonstrates is the presence of a toxic partisanship, which has depleted one’s sense of common decency to the point of feeling compelled to diminish the significance of thousands of people dying. Progressives should not be hesitant to mourn the killing of any innocent people, and they should not interpret others doing so as a moral failure.
Sam Mattingly is a Viewpoint Writer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.