Not even a week after the twin towers were struck down by two hijacked planes on Sept. 11, 2001, people were repeating this phrase everywhere around the nation, in newspapers, on TV, bumper stickers, posters, banners.
And as then-President George W. Bush visited the devastated city of New York and mourned the losses with thousand of others at ground zero, we knew we wouldn’t forget. It was all we talked about.
As a senior in high school in Fishers, Ind., at the time, I could grasp the gravity of this tragedy. So could everyone around me. Suddenly, our differences were very small. As a nation, we weren’t divided. We were Americans, and we were proud. We were united.
Not 10 days after that fateful day, I was getting in a workout at a local gym when John Lennon’s “Imagine” came on the radio. Almost on cue, nearly all of us stopped what we were doing. We looked around at one another, listened and wished that such a world existed. We were touched and saddened, yet aware that—at least for the moment—we were living as one, and we hoped it would last.
Sadly, it didn’t. Fifteen years later, reflecting on this tragedy that killed nearly 4,000 people (including those who died of illness after being exposed to debris), we’re in the middle of a heated political campaign, divided as ever, and perhaps even more divided than we were before the fateful day.
That unity is lost. We aren’t just Americans anymore. We are Republican or Democrat, we are black or white, we are Christian or non-Christian.
Last month, when Ziggy Marley played at the Magic City Blues festival in Billings, he called us out on it, seemingly surprised that things hadn’t changed much since it was his father on stage singing “Get Up Stand Up.”
“Why are you so divided?” he asked. “You must not be divided. We must unite. We must have peace.”
Ziggy’s concert—which started late after an intense thunderstorm—was a show meant to bring peace, joy and love, as he sang “Love is my religion,” “Be Free,” “Could You Be Loved” and “Is This Love.”
He wanted to lift us up, but it was clear in his words, in his tone and in his energy that he was saddened by what he was seeing in our country. It wasn’t like hearing “Imagine” in the gym, although that feeling would have come back tenfold if it was the fall of 2001.
We haven’t forgotten, but the train of society has kept rolling. We’ve been through a lot in the last decade and a half, and now we find ourselves somewhere we didn’t anticipate. The surprising presidential campaign is one thing, the relationship between police and African Americans is another. ISIS is attacking us on our soil, attacking Christmas parties and LGBT nightclubs.
Now there is more tension with our American Indian brothers and sisters. Hate and fear are dominant emotions. More than anything, it appears what we need is love. Love, peace and understanding.
Of course, it’s not that easy, but it’s a start, and it’s the kind of harmless uprising we need to not only protect ourselves but to protect our country from potential civil unrest.
I appreciate Ziggy’s words and take it upon myself to respond to the Rasta. I hope others will do the same. Let’s let love be the supreme emotion moving forward.
Charlie Denison is a reporter for the Lewistown News-Argus and a singer-songwriter and guitarist.