Elizabeth Forum II

September 11: Perspective From a Community

Monday, March 25, 2002

Shortly after the attack on the World Trade Towers, the Municipal Society of New York City initiated an organizational effort to reimagine New York City. The starting point of this effort was to recreate town meeting situations in which a cross-section of citizens throughout the metropolitan region could register their anxieties and suggestions. The Municipal Society extended their effort to New Jersey, especially the New Jersey Historical Society (and its director, Sally Yerkovich) and the Historical Society, Elizabeth NJ Inc among many other groups. The first such meeting in New Jersey took place on March 25, 2002 in the Peterstown Community Center, sponsored by the three above-named organizations. The event became the Historical Society; Elizabeth NJ Inc’s Forum II: “September 11: Perspectives from a Community.”

The multiple ethnic and racial voices at this meeting not only listed to the Historical Society’s co-presidents, Orlando Edreira and Nida Thomas, they received words of welcome from Mayor Chris Bollwage (especially his earlier career which involved work in the Twin Towers), Freeholder Angel Estrada and the full participation of city dignitaries like the City’s Fire Chief, City councilmen, and other representative leaders. After these focused remarks, the entire group re-organized into multiple (and several bilingual) break-out groups for close discussion. After a period of time the entire group reassembled as a whole to listen to each break-out group’s spokesperson. The effort was to provide multiple summary viewpoints.

Among many sentiments people registered their sense of loss, not simply of lives and property but of a lost sense of conception and understanding. Some people expressed the need for decisive reaction but were not clear where or how; others felt the need for discussions with neighbors and relatives whom they now felt were more precious than ever; others felt the importance of engaging non-American cultures , especially as America’s military and economic might registers itself internationally. Still others felt the need for greater personal and national security.

NJ Historical Society Director, Sally Yerkovich, and Elizabeth Historical Society trustee Paul H Mattingly attempted some concluding remarks by noting the importance of historical societies in times of confusion and crisis. Historical knowledge provides no panacea or facile clarity but it does orchestrate facts and experiences which contextualize new phenomena and invites discussion which permits citizens to gain their bearings. Historical societies are not simply passive storage houses but are at their best educational resources and activist clearing houses; they respond to the question, how have we come to this particular place or impasse. The orchestration of historical knowledge is always the first step to new clarity, even in the face of something as disruptive and overwhelming as the September 11 disaster.