15 years later, nation still mourns
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks sent the nation reeling in 2001, and to this day the echo of the tragedy remains. The attacks led to the loss of almost 3,000 lives and left untold numbers of first-responders with lasting, often deadly illnesses caused by debris (The Guardian, “9/11 Health Crisis: Death Toll from Illness Nears Number Killed on Day of Attacks,” 09.11.2016). People across the country held their breath as members of the radical Islamic group Al-Qaeda crashed four commercial airliners into both of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and an open field in the Stonycreek Township of Pennsylvania that had previously been known only for its proximity to a coal strip mine.
In New York City, bridges and tunnels leading to Manhattan were closed off to non-emergency vehicles while train services to the island were suspended indefinitely. Concern spread rapidly around the state and nation. Further upstate at Vassar, televisions and phone banks were set up for a pre-smartphone campus so students could see the events unfold and contact loved ones (Vassar Quarterly, “September 11: Vassar Reacts,” 2001).
One-and-a-half decades since that day, on a balmy Sunday morning, thousands streamed into Lower Manhattan to pay their respects to the fallen. Crowds also gathered at other attack sites around the nation to remember. A record number of people flooded the area surrounding the September 11 Remembrance Memorial and Museum, bowing their heads as mourners read aloud the names of their departed loved-ones (The New York Times, “On 9/11 Anniversary, Somber Reflections on Lives, and a World, Changed,” 09.11.2016).
Among those in attendance were presidential hopefuls Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton. Both agreed to neither campaign for the day nor make any public statements. Their arrival was greeted with applause as people snapped candid photographs of the two being escorted through the throng by teams of security guards (New York Times).
Two hours away in Poughkeepsie, Vassar’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life invited students to gather for a moment of silence in the Peace Garden as an act of remembrance for those who perished in the 2001 attacks, two of whom were Vassar alumnae.
Despite the time that has passed, one thing remains the same: uncertainty. In a poll by CNN and Opinion Research Corporation, Inc., half of people asked said that they fear another terrorist attack is inevitable. In the same poll, more Americans reported feeling angry over the attacks than in past years. Meanwhile, the annual number of hate crimes against Muslims in the United States have consistently fallen in the 100-150 range since 2001, around five times higher than the pre-9/11 rate, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report program (The Washington Post, “Anti-Muslim hate crimes are still five times more common today than before 9/11,” 02.15.2016).
In a speech at the Pentagon, President Barack Obama reminded Americans of the value of solidarity and community during times of fear and doubt. Praising the diversity of the United States in a ceremony for the 182 people who died after American Airways Flight 77 careened into the government building, the Commander-in-Chief stated, “We know that our diversity, our patchwork heritage is not a weakness, it still and always will be one of our greatest strengths. This is the America that was attacked that September morning. This is the America that we must remain true to” (USA Today, “Obama praises diversity at Pentagon 9/11 tribute,” 09.11.2016).
—Megan Howell, Guest Reporter
Construction halts on Dakota pipeline
Friday, Sept. 9 brought a surprising series of events for both proponents and opponents of the Dakota Access pipeline after two announcements were made regarding the continuation of construction. The proposed pipeline would run from North Dakota, through South Dakota and then east into Iowa and Illinois. The 1,172-mile project will purportedly bring between 8,000-12,000 construction jobs and be a safe alternative to driving the oil across state lines.
On Friday afternoon, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg rejected a request by the Standing Rock Sioux to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux filed a complaint insisting that not enough attention had been given to the tribe’s concerns that the pipeline would disrupt water supply, burial grounds, and sacred lands. “Tribal officials fear that in addition to water contamination, the underground passage would break federal laws under the National Historic Preservation Act that protect sacred prayer and burial sites,” reported Al Jazeera on Sept. 9. Those claims notwithstanding, the judge gave his approval for construction to continue. His decision read, “[T]he Tribe has not demonstrated that an injunction is warranted” (CNN, “Green light, red light for Dakota Access Pipeline”, 09.09.2016).
The judge also cited various attempts made by the construction company to work with the tribe to reach a compromise on the pipeline issue. “[T]he [Army Corps of Engineers] has documented dozens of attempts it made to consult with the Standing Rock Sioux from the fall of 2014 through the spring of 2016,” wrote the judge. “[But] the Tribe largely refused to engage in consultations,” he noted (New York Times, U.S. Suspends Construction on Part of North Dakota Pipeline, 09.09.2016).
Mere minutes later, a joint announcement from the Army, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of the Interior requested that Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the $3.7 billion pipeline, comply with a voluntary pause of construction within a 20-mile radius of Lake Oahe, a dammed section of the Missouri River. “Construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under lake Oahe will not go forward at this time,” read the statement (The Atlantic, “The Obama Administration Temporarily Blocks the Dakota Access Pipeline,” 09.09.2016). After the decision reversal David Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux commented, “I’m just so thankful that agencies are starting to listen” (New York Times, U.S. Suspends Construction on Part of North Dakota Pipeline, 09.09.2016).
Protests against the pipeline had become violent over Labor Day weekend. Protesters chained themselves to construction equipment and clashed with private security of Energy Transfer Partners. “When there’s a wrong that keeps continuing to happen, it’s O.K. to stand up against that wrong. That’s all we did,” commented Archambault II (New York Times).
Earthjustice, the nonprofit environmental law organization representing the Standing Rock Sioux, has said that the statement of support from the Obama administration is “vindication” for the hard work of Native American groups who have long complained that the legal system needs refining (New York Times).
Along with Earthjustice, over 200 indigenous groups have come to support the Standing Rock Sioux, along with 30 environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, who oppose the construction of the pipeline (CNN). Dallas Goldtooth, a spokesperson for the Indigenous Environmental Network notes it is “not a question of if the pipe will rupture, but when” (Al Jazeera,US: Key ruling due on Dakota Access oil pipeline, 09.09.2016).
Despite Friday’s relative victory, many environmental groups and tribes remain unsatisfied. The halt on construction is only temporary, and the pipeline project will continue unless canceled. The protesters are prepared to stay camped out along the proposed pipeline site as long as they need to in order to prove their dedication to the land (New York Times). As put by Archambault II, “We are going to take it as far as we can. We are going to look at all our legal options. This is not over” (Al Jazeera).
—Maya Sterling, Guest Reporter