President's Report by SIU President Michael Sacco
As our nation approaches the 10th anniversary of the tragic, world-altering attacks of September 11, 2001, I’m sure millions of our fellow Americans are or soon will be feeling some of the same powerful emotions we all shared back on that incomprehensible Tuesday morning.
On September 11 of this year (still more than two weeks away at the time of this writing), we will mourn the victims who worked in the Twin Towers, in the Pentagon and aboard the four airplanes, along with the passengers, remembering them with heavy hearts.
Those of us in the labor movement surely will recall particularly painful-yet-proud memories of the hundreds of emergency workers – many of them union members, as were the flight crews – who gave their lives while trying to save others. We also remember the first responders, construction workers, transit workers and others who raced to the scenes to secure victims.
For sure, it’s a time for reflection and for respectful remembrance. Inevitably, it’s also a period to take stock of our nation’s current security efforts and how they might be strengthened moving forward.
But the anniversary itself is no time for political agendas or partisanship or arguing about whether TWIC cards are worth it. Our countrymen who lost their lives on 9/11 deserve better, as do those who’ve gone to war to fight terrorism around the globe.
In the SIU, we remember our own brothers and sisters who answered the nation’s call on September 11. Those unfamiliar with our history may not know that SIU-crewed NY Waterway ferries evacuated an estimated 160,000 citizens from lower Manhattan starting almost immediately after the attacks. Also, the Seafarers-crewed hospital ship USNS Comfort was activated, and it assisted by transporting medical and other support personnel to New York in addition to carrying supplies and food. (Rescue workers eventually used the ship for lodging, a precious commodity for that time and place.)
Since then, thousands of Seafarers have supported our troops in the war on terror, delivering materiel to the Middle East and to other key positions and also bringing it back home. We definitely have lived up to the U.S. Merchant Marine’s historic role as the nation’s fourth arm of defense, and while I’d expect nothing less, I salute our SIU sisters and brothers for everything you’ve done in upholding our traditions. You have helped make America and indeed the world a safer place – a point that’s been made by some of America’s highest-ranking military leaders.
As an American, my memories of September 11 probably aren’t all that different from those of most others. I remember the feelings of shock and anger, the sorrow for the victims and their families, and the determination to fight back.
But specifically as the president of the SIU, I have powerful and inspiring memories of our members going to the union halls or constantly staying in touch right after 9/11, because they were eager to do whatever they could to pitch in. I heard from our port agents and in some cases saw for myself the serious, unmistakable resolve in our members even when we were all uncertain about the exact nature of our military response. Those Seafarers didn’t have to be asked if they were ready and willing and able. They stepped forward and asked, “What can we do to help defend our country?” (Some put it in more colorful terms, but the patriotic message was the same.)
It was said over and over again right after September 11 that “everything changed,” and that America would never be the same. While I think that’s proven to be true in some ways, and certainly not all of them bad, the attacks did not lessen America’s greatness. If anything, the selflessness and heroism displayed by the rescue workers that day reflected the very best of the human spirit – the very best of the United States.
We also proved that we’re capable of truly uniting as a people, and that’s something I hope comes back to the surface as we mourn together this month. Those of us in the nation’s capital when the recent earthquake struck on August 23 showed that spirit is still within us. Much of our nation’s excellence stems from our diversity. Yet, we are all Americans first. And when we stand united, no one can take us down.