Twenty years ago, my day began fairly routinely for the middle of September. I was up early preparing to go to work for the final week of the legislative session – traditionally the busiest week of the year.
I had the radio on while brushing my teeth and I heard the first reports of the American Flight 11 hitting the World Trade Center. I walked over and switched on the TV just in time to see United Flight 175 hit the second tower. My folks called a few minutes later, and we all knew the same thing – this was going to be an infamous day.
I then left my apartment for the 10-minute walk to my office at the State Capitol. While walking the short distance along N Street, there was an unusual buzz already among the smokers outside the state office buildings I passed on the way to work. “Can you believe it?”, one lady asked as I walked by. I couldn’t help but look up at the sky as I was walking to see if there any planes above.
When I got to the office, my then-boss had just arrived but had not heard the news. When I told him and we switched on the TV, his jaw dropped. He had just been visiting New York during the legislature’s recent summer recess. “You don’t realize how big that building is,” he said.
As he was a member of the legislative leadership, he went off to find out what was going on. He returned shortly to tell us that session had been cancelled for the day as the Capitol was a potential target. We were to evacuate the building.
We took the South exit of the Capitol along N Street and it was a mass scene of confusion. Lawmakers and staff were walking around with nowhere to go, not knowing what to do. Legislators arriving for session rolled down their car windows and asked us what was happening.
One of us had a wise thought that our staff should stick together amidst the uncertainty of the day. We decided to walk across Capitol Park to go somewhere for breakfast and try to find a TV. This was before smartphones. We walked past the old Brannan’s restaurant on 11th street when a legislator who was holding a fundraiser that day beckoned us over. “I’ve got plenty of food to go around,” he said. This was suddenly not a day for political fundraising.
Legislators and staff of both parties gathered huddled around TV’s watching with horror the scenes unfold in New York, the Pentagon, and Shanksville.
That morning spent at Brannan’s together was something that you don’t see much anymore in Sacramento or Washington. Democrats and Republicans came together as Californians, united in support of our fellow Americans. It didn’t matter that the victims were people we never met. We all mourned together, expressed our anger together, and strengthened our resolve to never forget.
The very next day, on September 12, representatives of nearly every faith joined lawmakers and staff in the Assembly chambers for a special memorial ceremony. Just that very act is something that the 9/11 hijackers and the terrorists who cheered them on would find abhorrent. Together, we celebrated what makes us proud to be Americans – diversity, religious liberty, and individual freedom.
We are a very different country as we approach the 20th anniversary on Saturday. But it’s my hope that for a few moments tomorrow, we can remember that uniting spirit of 9/11, and our unwavering resolve to never back down in the face of those who would hurt our fellow Americans or infringe upon our freedoms.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s senior director of communications and the Sacramento office.