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"I'd like to be the mouse that roared," said Mrs. Horning,
who has been pushing New York City to properly bury the ashes
that accumulated at the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island
during the cleanup of ground zero. "But I just don't see it
And some fear that pouring so much energy into the
organizations and politics is postponing the crash avoiding
grief by keeping one's Palm Pilot full.
"They lost the person they loved, then turned around and
got so consumed by everything," said Jill Anderson, who lost
her husband, Kermit. "But when that's gone, I don't know what
Other women say, let that day come. They're not worried at
"The greatest balm to your grief and your wounds is getting
justice," said Sally Regenhard, who lost her son, Christian,
and founded the Skyscraper Safety Campaign. "When we get
justice, it will change the world, but it's probably going to
take the rest of my lifetime."
A Sudden Push
A year ago, Mary Ellen Salamone, who lost her husband,
John, did not even know the names of her two senators from New
Jersey. In the wonderfully ordinary whirl of raising three
young children, she said, politics was just background noise.
But only seven months after the attacks, she found herself in
Washington in front of a bristling bank of microphones,
testifying before Congress about the need for improved border
"Everything I didn't want to know about politics, I was
forced to learn," she said.
For many family members, grief has become a steppingstone
to a deeper personal journey. Some people who never worked
outside the home have taken jobs, others have quit the jobs
they had, either to care for children or because their former
careers suddenly had no meaning. Some became more radical in
their politics, and some were filled with new faith and hope.
Some moved away and some moved back to the places where they
were born and raised.
Peter Gadiel, who lost his son James, struggled last fall
to understand the nation's immigration policies that had
allowed terrorists into the country. And what he learned
changed him. A lifelong Republican, he is now working to
defeat his United States representative in Connecticut, Nancy
L. Johnson, a Republican who Mr. Gadiel thinks has a bad
voting record on immigration law.
Other people say one change can sometimes conflict with
Patricia Reilly, who lost her sister Lorraine Lee, has
become deeply cynical about politics over her months of work
on the issue of a Manhattan memorial. Again and again, she saw
economic and political leaders trying to isolate the families
and minimize their voices by suggesting that they were
overwrought and traumatized people to be pitied but not
But that feeling was countered, she said, by the
realization that the family members now have a responsibility
to go forward questioning and challenging authority
because not doing so would amount to a betrayal of the nation.
"If we go back to complacency, then my family is going be
at risk again, and so are they," Ms. Reilly said, referring to
the rest of the country.
Ted Suarez said he sometimes felt like St. Paul on the road
to Damascus. "St. Paul was knocked off his horse he had a
vision that changed his life," Mr. Suarez said. "This event
comes close to that for me."
Mr. Suarez's son David wrote a poem a few months before his
death. The poem lives on. It has become a Suarez family
mission to have it translated and published around the world
90 languages so far, and counting.
David Suarez wrote about boundaries confronting them,
transcending them, and in the end being freed from them. His
father said that becoming the vehicle for that message might
be the one positive thing, at least in this family, to come
from the attacks.
The poem's final stanza reads:
For just a moment
you abandon your incarcerated body
wholly relinquishing your ties
to human nature
and for only an instant,
you become part of God
you are free.
Coming of Age
The Ways and Means
Of a Group
A businessman wanted the board of directors at the group,
Families of Sept. 11, to endorse his product, a set of gift
cards with a 9/11 theme that would be advertised in Playboy
magazine. That got a quick "no thanks."
Whether to join a lawsuit against institutions and
financiers in Saudi Arabia was a tougher call. One faction on
the board argued that the group, which has 900 members and a
broad agenda of support for victims' relatives, should join
the suit. Important information might emerge about the
international system of terror, they said.
The other side worried how it might look, and whether the
public would think the families were just after Saudi money
it was the "greedy family" specter all over again. The
cautious side carried the day and the board voted to take no
active role, but only provide information to members. The suit
was filed last month.
"We have to be careful who we jump in bed with," said
Thomas Rogιr, a board member who lost his daughter, Jean.
The relatives of Sept. 11 are certainly not the first
examples of advocacy rising from the ashes of grief. Survivors
from Oklahoma City, the Lockerbie flight and Hurricane Andrew
in 1992 all organized for support or protest.
But there are huge differences this time. None of those
other events, as wrenching as they were, triggered a revamping
of the nation's airline security, immigration and law
enforcement policies not to mention a war halfway around the
world. Over the last year, the family groups of Sept. 11 have
become consultants, witnesses and participants, and some
family leaders think they can go much further if they are
careful and thoughtful and smart.
And so they worry. They worry about appearing overly
emotional or strident. They worry about being pigeonholed
whether it appears that pushing for an independent
investigation into the attacks, in opposition to the Bush
administration, puts them in the pocket of the Democrats. And
they worry how to achieve political ends without becoming,
well, too political.
"We're talking about a political group whose power comes
from the fact that they're not political," said Francesca
Polletta, an associate professor of sociology at Columbia
University. "How do you play in the political arena without
becoming a traditional political entity? It's a tough
But the families are learning.
When New York City was about to release the first six
proposed plans for rebuilding Lower Manhattan in June, for
example, the groups were given a first look before the public
or the news media. The groups' leaders, according to people
who were there, hated every idea, and some firebrands wanted
to hold a news conference then and there to voice their strong
objections. But after gathering in a meeting room near City
Hall, they resolved to hold their fire and reserve
The plans were then given to the public, and the reaction
was also almost universally negative. The families got what
they wanted the proposals quickly went down in flames but
they also avoided looking out of step. When the families said
no, they did so as part of a chorus.
"The way they handled the six site plans was brilliant," an
aide to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said. "They've got some
very smart people on those committees who were never involved
in politics, but who have learned the process very, very
Anthony Gardner, who lost his brother Harvey, and founded
one of the largest Sept. 11 organizations, the WTC United
Family Group, said he believed that how the families were
perceived by the public was important. But in going forward
from here, he said, it is just as important that they actually
find a way to be back in step with the mainstream, because it
is in the center, he said, not the borderlands or the
extremes, where real change happens in America.
"We're all in this together," he said.