Ten Years Later: The September 11 Attacks
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Families of Victims of September 11

Title: Family members of 9/11 victims testify
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Soon after September 11, 2001, the families of the victims began to organize into support groups. At first the families underwent a period of mourning. Many of the families did not even have the opportunity to give their loved ones a proper burial and achieve closure. Next, the families had to deal with the real-world repercussions of their loss in the form of financial liabilities and uncertainty. Government programs were available, but dealing with government bureaucracy was confusing and troubling for many of the survivors. Some family members were unable to cope without help. Various organizations and support groups were formed to help the families cope with their losses and to teach them how to handle their new responsibilities. Later, these organizations set up a formidable lobbying group to compel Congress and the George W. Bush administration to examine how the events of September 11 could have happened and how they could have been prevented. The group's other endeavors include the Building Bridges Project, launched in 2004, and the Living Memorial Project, launched in 2006.

The largest and one of the most active groups in the families of victims of 9/11 movement is known as the Voices of September 11th. It is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded by its current director Mary Fetchet in October 2001. Fetchet, a clinical social worker from New Canaan, Connecticut, lost her 24-year-old son in the collapse of the South Tower of the World Trade Center complex on September 11. Headquarters for the Voices of September 11th is in New Canaan, with a satellite office in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Fetchet and Beverly Eckert, an insurance specialist, began by setting up an Internet clearinghouse for disseminating information about all aspects of September 11 for the families of the victims. The goal of the Voices of September 11th group has been to serve as an advocate for the 9/11 families. As one of the largest of the support groups for the 9/11 families, with around 11,000 members, it has proven to be a potent lobbying force. Fetchet and her colleagues in other groups fought hard for the creation of the 9/11 Commission. Fetchet has testified before several committees of Congress on the need to investigate what happened on September 11 and to understand why it happened.

Another leading 9/11 family group is the Families of September 11 (FOS11), a nonprofit organization founded in October 2001 by Donald W. Goodrich and Carie Lemarck. Both founders lost relatives on September 11. Families of September 11 attempts to be highly inclusive in its membership by admitting to membership families of the victims of September 11, survivors, and anyone who will support its mission. The primary goals of FOS11 are to support the families of the victims of September 11 by providing information on topics relevant to their situation and to engage in lobbying efforts on issues relating to the domestic and international efforts to combat terrorism. Representatives from FOS11 were active in lobbying for the creation of the 9/11 Commission, and they have campaigned for the Congressional implementation of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations.

The World Trade Center United Family Group, or WTC United, is another important member of the families of 9/11 movement. This nonprofit organization was established shortly after September 11. Its goal was to ensure that the memories and the legacies of the victims of 9/11 are protected. Members are also active in lobbying the U.S. Congress on issues important to them. The current board chair is Patricia Riley, whose sister, Lorraine Lee, died on September 11. This group has been active in working for the 9/11 Memorial to be built on the former World Trade Center complex site.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg appointed Christy Feret as New York City's liaison with various organizations representing the interests of the relatives of the victims of September 11. Her husband had been the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and he died on September 11. It has been a stormy tenure in office for Feret because the families have been critical of many of the decisions made by the mayor's office. A major source of contention has been the proposed memorial to the victims of September 11 that is to be constructed on the World Trade Center complex site. The 9/11 families wanted the memorial to be built first, but the decision to build the One World Trade Center building (formerly known as Freedom Tower) first was made by Governor George Pataki for financial and political reasons. Although the major decision had been made by Governor Pataki, the details of the decision became a source of contention between the mayor's office and representatives of the families. Other issues have also caused friction.

Where the families of 9/11 movement made the biggest impact was in the creation of the 9/11 Commission and the passage by Congress of most of that commission's recommendations. For almost two years representatives from the various groups formed by 9/11 families lobbied the halls of Congress and the White House for the establishment of such a commission. The Bush administration tried to stonewall the request, but eventually President Bush gave in and agreed to cooperate. Bush's selection of Henry Kissinger to be the cochair of the commission was unsatisfactory to the families because of his business dealings with prominent Saudi families, including Osama bin Laden's family. The newly formed Family Steering Committee made it a condition of its support for the commission that members of the committee disclose their business ties, and Kissinger consequently resigned from the commission. Throughout the remainder of the activities of the 9/11 Commission, there was constant agitation by the Family Steering Committee and its subgroup, the Jersey Girls. Their biggest concern was that nobody was being held accountable for what had happened on September 11.

Regardless, the Family Steering Committee and the other groups lobbied Congress for passage of the necessary legislation to implement the 9/11 Committee's recommendations. Victims' families were also instrumental in pushing for other 9/11-related legislation such as the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which was signed into law on January 2, 2011.

The fact that the families of victims of September 11 are represented by such a variety of organizations means that there is no consensus on certain controversial topics. For instance, plans in 2010 to build Park51, an Islamic community center and prayer space near the site of the World Trade Center have sparked intense debate among victims' families. Some individuals and groups, including the 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America, oppose the building, which has been referred to in the media as the Ground Zero Mosque. They argue that constructing the building so close to Ground Zero is insensitive to those who lost their lives in the September 11 attacks at the hands of radical Islamic terrorists. Other family members of victims, however, support the project, countering that opponents are motivated by intolerance and baseless fear and hatred.

Stephen E. Atkins


Further Reading
Braun, Bob. "Kean Feels the Wrath of Irate 9/11 Families." Star-Ledger, February 12, 2004, 1; Chaddock, Gail Russell. "A Key Force behind the 9/11 Commission." Christian Science Monitor, March 25, 2004, 3; Kean, Thomas H., Lee H. Hamilton, and Benjamin Rhodes. Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission. New York: Knopf, 2006; Zremski, Jerry. "Families of 9/11 Victims Urge Action on Report." Buffalo News, August 16, 2004, A1.
 

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