By U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett
At 9:51 am on September 11, 2001, I was working in Washington when the fire alarm sounded and the Capitol police instructed us to evacuate. Once the roads and the sidewalks emptied, the usually frantic pace of Washington was replaced with a somber, quiet city. Only the occasional siren, the roar of jet fighters, and whirling helicopter blades punctured the silence.
The U.S. Capitol, federal buildings, and landmarks were all cordoned off. Some were blocked with flares, others with more substantial barriers or squad cars positioned to let no vehicle pass. Every law enforcement officer who had ever served seemed to have been recalled for duty with an automatic weapon. At the Tidal Basin, I was struck by the sight of gray smoke from the Pentagon wafting up from behind the white marble Jefferson Memorial. Under its dome, Jefferson’s timeless words are inscribed: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
That evening, I joined fellow Members of Congress on the Capitol steps where Abraham Lincoln had long ago taken the oath to lead a deeply divided nation. We pledged to work together to resolve this crisis and raised our voices in an impromptu rendition of “God Bless America.” Now, while some leaders seek to divide neighbor from neighbor, we must remember that there is so much more that binds us.
Marking this 9/11 anniversary, let’s be both mindful of its horrors and sustained by the memory of its heroes, especially first responders who put service ahead of self. This year, Congress finally approved legislation, which I joined in sponsoring, to permanently authorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund to address their medical needs from the toxic effects of that attack.
Particularly in these times of deep divisions with leaders inflaming hate, we are stronger when we remember that the rights we all hold, and the peace that we enjoy, were so hard-won. On battlefields, in civil rights marches, and at the ballot box.
Let’s recall the words inscribed on the walls of the Lincoln memorial. To a Nation at war with itself, he urged: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
May we recommit to that mission, as we are shaken daily by attempts to hollow out our founding values. We must together speak out for our Nation’s true tenets and against encroaching authoritarianism, domestic terrorism, violence, and acts of hate, as well as the corrosive and un-American rot of white nationalism. As we look back to our history, we look forward. We seize the pen to write new histories that even better reflect our founding American values.
On this anniversary, we honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and those who struggle to this day. We must never forget what has been paid for our liberty, never surrender these precious democratic freedoms, and firmly resist those who would divide us against one another.