September 11 was a profound shock, and caused a deep wound
from which we as a nation can never completely recover. In
some respects it was the darkest day in our history. When
the two towers fell, so did the illusion that the United States
of America was protected by its two oceans.
We never thought something like this could happen, and yet
it did. And I am sure on that awful morning everyone thought:
“If this can happen, what else — and worse —
When you have that sort of question on the minds of millions,
panic can be just around the corner. Panic arises from fear
of the future, and that kind of fear can likely be far more
destructive than what kindled it. Franklin Roosevelt was right
in 1933when he said: “Fear is the greatest enemy of all,
because it destroys everything it touches.”
This is why it was so important for credit unions — indeed
all financial institutions — to remain open on September
11 . . . and the 12th and 13th and subsequent days. This is
not meant to be a macho statement. I firmly believe it. Firefighters
and other emergency workers were on the front lines. That
was their job. But financial service workers had their job
too. They had to demonstrate that the financial system of
the country was still functioning, that people’s money
was safe and available. This was not the life-threatening
work of the emergency workers, but it was absolutely essential
nonetheless. It kept the lid on fear; it quashed panic. Just
imagine those days if all financial institutions had shut
their doors and turned out their lights.
Service: We have to mean it
When President Bush addressed the nation on the night of September
11, the first thing he said after stating that the country’s
government was operational was that its financial system was
functioning. These were not idle thoughts on his part —
they were carefully included to dispel any notion that people’s
money was not safe or accessible.
People at my credit union and undoubtedly thousands more wanted
to be with their families on that terrible and unsettling
day — who knew what else might be in store for us, or
where? I sympathized. I felt a keen need to be with my family
also. We allowed anyone to go home who felt strongly they
should do so.
But others remained and kept the doors open that day, and
the days following. This was important on two levels. One
was symbolic, of course — we would show a face of continuity,
and we would not take an action that might lead others to
succumb to fears about their savings. The other was functional
— we really were there to carry out transactions, provide
cash or whatever else people wanted.
Credit union employees are service workers, not isolated business
units, and they have to provide a service in good times and
disturbing times. They often have to provide that service
to settle the waters, because if they do not the waters will
roil. Thus, we need to be grateful to everyone who worked
that day and that week and to express our gratitude in both
words and acts.
Cooperatives to the Front
All this said, we can be more helpful. People everywhere have
been asking, “What can we do?” Credit unions can
step up to the plate. They can be the conduits to relief efforts.
They can encourage their employees to contribute to the United
Way and other worthy relief organizations that are sending
food, medicine, supplies and financial resources to emergency
workers and victims’ families. They can research and
post for their members those relief agencies most effective
in delivering aid to the greatest needs.
People faced with this horrible attack want to help heal and
rebuild — it is the essence of cooperation. Let America’s
cooperatives show what they are made of. Together we can bind
the wounds, relieve the widow, raise the orphan, and reconstruct
both our confidence and our damaged buildings. We owe that
to our forebearers who built this country and to our children
who will inherit it.