Nearly ten years after Osama bin Laden enacted his plot to destroy the World Trade Center, a throng of jubilant New Yorkers flocked to the site of the wreckage to celebrate the terrorist’s death. Things got loud. The noise leaked down into nearby subway stations and as the cranes shadowing ground zero got closer the songs became audible. It sang, “God Bless the U.S.A.,” “America the Beautiful,” “Na-Na-Hey-Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” and a rousing accordion-led rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“USA, USA!” they chanted. “Yes we can!” they chanted. “Yes we did!” they chanted.
The sprawl extended for several blocks surrounding Ground Zero, anchored by a pole at the corner of Church Street and Vesey Street, which men and women took turns shimmying up, clutching American flags and waving them over the crowd below.
“We got him!” bellowed one such successful climber. Out of his furled-up stars and stripes he revealed a bottle of champagne and, as the revelers below scrambled for camera phones, popped the bubbly, launching its fuzz onto the heads and mouths underneath.
NYPD officers in the area ignored the brown-bagged Budweiser tallboys and, judging by some fleeting odors, joints. (“While we’re at it,” one onlooker said intoducing his own chant, “legalize it!” “Don’t get ahead of yourself, man,” his friend responded) but routinely entered the crowd to pluck the cheer leaders off the pole.
The congregants were contained to south of Murray Street by police barricades until around 1:30 am, when officers relented and dismantled them. A crush of revelers sprinted through, cheering.
“We figured it’d be better to just let you guys in than have a riot start,” one of the officers told The Observer. He had been serving in Navy on September 11, and was on the first boat deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11. It feels great to celebrate, he said.
A few paces ahead of him a retired NYPD lieutenant was filming the celebration on a camcorder. He showed The Observer his sweatshirt, which was navy blue and had the Twin Towers and NYPD insignia embroidered on it.
“I normally only wear this sweater one day a year, September 11, but today I decided to put it on,” he said.
“I hate to put it this way,” he said, “but today we rise from the ashes.”
“It’s great to see so many young people out here,” he added.
The crowd did skew young. Blame it on the hour of Obama’s announcement or the proximity of Pace University, but it had the feel of a college homecoming weekend.
A young woman sitting on her boyfriend’s shoulders turned around to the crowd behind her.
“I’m sorry my crack is showing,” she said, hiking up her jeans.
“Hey, it’s OK. Osama’s dead. Anything goes!” a male onlooker offered.
A lanky man in glasses addressed a circle of friends.
“This is like when they tore down the Berlin Wall,” he said. They continued staring into their raised iPhones. “Except I think there’s more people here.”
Many of the celebrators were of the generation born after the wall came down, for whom the September 11 attacks were a defining moment of their childhood.
“I was in fifth grade,” one young partier recalled, “everyone was getting pulled out of class, it was just a surreal day.”
“I was taking a math quiz and a girl got a text and started crying,” said his friend.
Much of the same generation first became politically aware during Obama’s youth-driven, energetic Presidential campaign, only to see it deflate under back-to-back financial and congressional meltdowns. Tonight seemed a moment for which they could revive the spirit of 2008.
“When Obama started talking I couldn’t help but cry,” another said. “He’s amazing, if he doesn’t get re-elected I’m gonna kill myself.”
“What if Obama had killed him personally, like with his bare hands?” a young woman joked. It’s what all the Barack Obama chants and “Obama: 1, Osama: 0,” signage would suggest, anyway.
“How would that have even gone down?” we asked.
“He just looked at him with his eyes,” she replied, “lasers came out of them.”
“No no, like Darth Vader, it was a Force choke,” said her friend, referring to the Star Wars tyrant’s punishment for disloyal Imperial Commanders.
“Chuck Norris jokes are so passe, now it’s Obama jokes,” said another.
For example: “When Barack Obama goes swimming, he doesn’t get wet, water gets Barack Obama.”
The Observer asked if this will be the x-factor that wins Obama a second term.
“He’s got a much better chance than Donald Trump now,” one said.
“Donald Trump’s off the ballot,” another young man yelled, “get out of here.”
A mustachioed 20 year-old had a more nuanced take.
“It’s ironic. Barack passed health care, financial regulation, those things made him wildly unpopular,” he said, “And then he kills somebody, and everybody loves him.”
One bearded 28-year-old strolled past with a large, shabby American flag. He’d toted it from his Upper East Side apartment down to the bottom corner of Manhattan.
Did he too see this as a turning point for the Obama presidency?
“We’ll leave the politics for tomorrow and later days,” he said placidly. Tonight was for celebration.
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