McGovern and around a dozen others congregated by The Sphere, the sculpture ripped from the rubble of Austin J Tobin plaza in the wake of the attacks and erected in the park in memory of those who died. They looked out over the Statue of Liberty and shivered in the cold. “This is the place I like to think my mother’s spirit met the universe,” McGovern said.
Her mother would have hated the latest political rumblings, she said. “She was to the left of me,” she added. “I think she would have hated Donald Trump. I often miss her voice narrating everything, because she would have been very funny about all of this – including the misuse of her death.”
She remembered her mother as funny and irreverent: she loved the theater and was, at the time of her death, hugely excited about her new seven-week old grandson. “She would be really unhappy with the way [her death] has been used, all these years,” McGovern said. “I think we’ve really just reached the tipping point. It’s been used politically so often, but now, to use it to actually ban the people from countries that have serious refugee issues, serious war…”
The victims of 9/11 have been appropriated for many political aims, McGovern said, and she has grown numb to it. But this was different. “I think this one really pierced a lot of us, because it’s blanket discrimination – which is exactly what the terrorists did in just killing Americans.”
John Sigmund, a 38-year-old artist who lost his 25-year-old sister Johanna on 9/11, clutched a large banner he had made which read ‘United Against The Ban’. “I don’t know if these are emotional tears or just the wind,” he said, laughing and wiping his eyes. “It might be a little bit of both.”
Sigmund and McGovern said they felt an obligation to act, after 9/11 was cited three times in the text of Trump’s executive order, and so they rallied together other friends and family members of victims. The ban, they said, would not be in their loved ones’ names.
“We constantly deal with our loss being exploited for political agendas,” Sigmund said. “And, in this case, it is a deplorable political agenda.”
Brendan Fay had come to remember his friend Mychal Judge, the Franciscan friar and Chaplain to the New York Fire Department named Victim 0001. Judge had come to the scene as soon as he heard the news to offer aid and prayers. He was in the lobby when the buildings collapsed.
“He would be appalled and saddened and outraged,” Fay said. “In a country that is really made up of immigrants, he would say that we need to be welcoming the stranger. Welcoming the immigrant.”
Members of the Muslim community also were invited to the rally. Cheikh Ahmed Mbarak, the executive director of the Islamic Leadership Counsel of New York, had driven straight from Westchester to join the group as soon as he heard about the event.
“I am very thrilled, and came to thank them,” he said. But, he added, Muslims were not the only casualties of Trump’s policies. “It’s all part of a bigger plan, against immigrants, against minorities,” he added. “But that’s not what America is about. That’s un-American.”
But there was one loud voice of dissent at the rally. Staten Island Trump supporter Gary Phaneuf, 60, interrupted the peaceful congregation to give an impassioned and sometimes aggressive rant in support of the president and against ‘illegals’ and the media.
The future of the executive order is uncertain: it is currently suspended after multiple court challenges. At a press conference Thursday, Trump promised a revised order next week.