September Project

The September Project is an effort to encourage discussion and understanding of the events leading to the attacks of September 11, and the way forward from them. It’s also an effort to put libraries at the forefront of such an effort, to reinscribe the place of libraries in civic life in the US.

I had a chance to chat a very little bit about the project with David Silver at the end of last year. We talked about the ways in which the right had capitalized on the attacks, declaring the day “Patriot’s Day,” and scheduling the GOP convention to coincide with its anniversary. One of David’s hopes was that the day could be one that was a celebration of American values, and the idea that patriotism included deliberation and civic duty.

At the time, I warned that this could be a difficult sell. Not to say “I told you so,” but the reaction on the list for the Association of Internet Researchers (see 1,2,3,4), shows how this message can easily be misread. I suppose in some way that — if I correctly understand one of the aims of the projects as an opportunity to engage in civic discussion and deliberation — the conversation as it has played out on AIR-L is a demonstration of how the project can encourage thought and discussion.

That said, I still like my original suggestion: that the idea of patriotism — which to my mind is an antiquated and dangerous one — be pushed aside and that the day be relabled the Day of Justice. This, too, has a broad range of interpretations, but I think that most of these are positive. They suggest that what happened on September 11 was a criminal act, one that is deplored by the civilized world. It says that one of the potential solutions to the rise of terrorism in the US and the rest of the world is to make that world a more just place in which to live, it suggests that the role of the library in modern society is one that can and should support social justice, and that the process of justice is at the heart of a citizens duty as well as her right.

The goals of the project: “The aim of The September Project is to create a day of engagement, a day of community, a day of democracy. Our goal is to foster a tradition for citizens around the world to recognize and give meaning to September 11th.” I think these are extraordinarily powerful goals and ones vital to pursue. And I’ll try to get a moment to talk to the director of Buffalo libraries next week to see whether he would be interested in pursuing something (or whether he knows of something already being planned locally). But I will stick with my original suggestion: excise the talk of “patriotism.” When US troops are deployed in active conflict, the word “patriot” is a sure way of making sure people do not speak. Not only is changing those connotations a Herculean (or rather Sisyphean) task, I’m not sure what end it would serve.

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