(In the spirit of community at the Association Forecast we accept guest posts from respected colleagues on issues they feel are important. This post is by Rick Rutherford, Association Evangelist and all around cool guy. I have to apologize for not getting this up until this morning, but I think the message is appropriate for any day.)
I was driving home on Saturday and I noticed my bank had their flags flying at Half Staff. Did I miss something? Did an important public figure pass away? And then it dawned on me. This weekend was September 11. How did it slip my mind that day was here again?
It’s been 15 years, almost a generation has passed. And yet like many, I vividly remember watching as the towers at the World Trade Center were being attacked live on television; news anchors reporting the events in utter disbelief; and witnessing the collapse of both towers from my company’s office. It was totally surreal, and enough to bring anyone to tears – and I did shed a few that day.
On September 11, 2001 I was helping launch a tech startup called Affiniscape. We were busy building a new association management software platform. And like many traveling that day, our CEO found himself grounded in a city far from home, as all airline traffic was grounded. The entire nation seemed paralyzed, and as a nation we collectively suffered from the tragic events of the day. It was a feeling that I don’t recall experiencing since the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963.
I remember reading an article on the Discovery network website that called into question whether the American people’s personal lives were actually changed by the events of 9/11. The writer’s position was that the idea that most Americans’ lives were profoundly changed after 9/11 was nothing more than a patriotic myth. He referenced a CBS poll taken in January 2002 that showed almost 90 percent of all Americans stated their lives had either returned to normal or never changed.
I must admit I find that very hard to imagine. Every time I fly, every sporting event or concert I go to where my wife is stopped and her purse is inspected, as well our nation’s continued military involvement in the Middle East, all remind me we are still feeling the impact of that day, this very day.
Boys I once coached in little league volunteered and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Who didn’t have a friend, relative or colleague who served or is still serving our nation in these wars?
What about associations and cause oriented organizations? How have they been impacted by the events of 9/11? Probably one the strongest memories I have of 9/11 came the day after, when a staff member of a counseling association in New York called me desperate for help. They were a brand new customer, and were in early stages of learning to use our platform.
Their request for help came because the association’s phone was ringing off the hook with members, reporters, and the general public, looking for mental health resources for those traumatized by the events of the day before. They needed help getting this vital information up on their website immediately, if not sooner. They had a very small staff that was too overwhelmed by the volume of requests they were receiving to get the work completed quickly enough. What I remember most was the anguish in the voice of the executive director – trying to push aside the personal feelings he was dealing with so that he could meet the needs of the people looking to his association for help.
We were able to help them update their website, and in the end it made what had happened the day before a little more personal for me. The idea that the software we were building could help connect people in such great need really made me stop and look at the work we were doing in a different light.
More opportunities came to assist associations in their vital work as we lived through 9/11, natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, and the collapse and resurgence of our economy. All along the way associations were in the thick of it, helping to bring people together during times of great need. Sadly, some associations, like the one we worked so closely with that day in 2001, became casualties of these difficult times and no longer exist.
Here we are again, on the 15th anniversary of a very dark day in our nation’s history. We are in some ways very much the same as we were back then. Our nation seems to be just as divided as it was in 2001 – extreme political views denying anyone in government an environment where they can work together for the greater good. But I remember in the days and weeks following 9/11 we were able to come together – both politicians and the American public to do what was needed. I have to believe we can do it again.
Through it all, associations continue press forward, doing the important work their members and the public at large, expect and need from these organizations. The call has never quieted, and hopefully never will.
There is much to be optimistic about on this solemn day as we pause to reflect. It is our way.
We will never forget.