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At the end of that tragic day, I prepared an email to Arlington Democrats describing my thoughts about that day and how we might respond to the tragedy.
Each year on the anniversary of the tragedy, I look back on that email to remember what I felt at the time. I remain proud of my words that day:
Dear Arlington Democrats,
Our nation has endured a vicious attack directed at symbols of its financial and military might. The attackers succeeded in destroying the World Trade Center, damaging the Pentagon, and bringing grief to countless families, friends and colleagues of the victims of the attack. The attackers failed miserably, however, in their primary objective — destroying the very fabric of our democratic society.
We have shown our ability as a nation and as Americans to face up to catastrophic circumstances and respond with the best we have to offer.
People gave up their lives to help others to survive. Countless Americans donated blood, food, and other needed supplies. Schoolteachers and administrators kept a sense of calm in our schools and among our children. Journalism rose to meet the challenge of keeping us informed with factual information and avoiding speculation and sensationalism. Our public officials provided the necessary and appropriate leadership and words of comfort.
Leaving the District and returning to Arlington by Metro, I was struck by the poignant conversations of people coming to grips with a tragedy that had struck too close to home. Everyone was calm, respectful of those around them, and purposeful.
As I left the Rosslyn Metro station and walked to the Courthouse area, cars made their way in an orderly way along Wilson Boulevard. Arlington’s diversity was reflected among the many, many people who walked along the same road to their residences. The sense was that we were all Americans — no matter our race, ethnicity or religion — and that we all were preparing ourselves for the challenges ahead without the hysteria and scapegoating that can accompany such trying times.
As I returned home, I saw on television the dramatic footage of what was taking place at the Pentagon and the Virginia Hospital Center — Arlington. I was proud that our Arlington emergency personnel (police, fire and rescue), our Arlington health care providers, and our County government had responded so quickly, persistently, and effectively to what was a situation of national and international importance. We saw the leaders of our state, region and nation rise to the occasion.
I think our political and civic leaders made the right choice in canceling activities and campaigning yesterday and last night. That was a time to focus on the situation at hand and to put aside our partisan differences.
As we know, life must go on. Were it not to go on with some semblance of normalcy, the terrorists would be victorious. They will not achieve such a victory.
Still, each of us must come to grips with these extraordinary events in our own way and in our own time. For some of us, there will be losses to deal with that are personal and severe. Others of us will be ready to get back to the campaign trail as soon as possible — perhaps as a way to reach out for comfort from friends in our Arlington Democratic family.
Let us respect those who need some time off and let us also respect those who are ready to get back to the business of electing our leaders of tomorrow.
As campaigners, let us be sure to respect the sensitivities of those of our Arlington residents who choose not to focus on the campaign just yet.
As these events unfold, we will once again see the importance of those who serve as our leaders, and the importance of electing leaders who appeal to and serve our better instincts and values.
That is why it is so important for us to engage in the electoral process and to work together as Arlington Democrats.
I look forward to seeing all of you soon. Take care and keep in our thoughts and prayers those who are helping others, who are leading us, who are in need, who are grieving, and who have lost their lives.
Larry Roberts is an attorney in private practice and served as Counselor to Governor Tim Kaine. On September 11, 2001, he was Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.