On September 2001, David Eisner was senior Executive at AOL Time Warner in New York. On the morning of 9/11, he was flying to NY and landed at around 8:30. As he drove towards his office in Manhattan, he saw smoke coming from the World Trade Center. He spent the rest of the day working with first responders by providing them with Blackberry’s, the only communication technology working at the time. He remembers seeing the collapse of the first tower on TV and simultaneously out of his office window. He says he knew then that “this was going to change us.” Eisner is the President and CEO of the National Constitution Center.
(Image credit: Fragment of plane that hit World Trade Center on 9/11
Courtesy of the International Spy Museum, Washington, DC.)
Here are some of his observations.
Witnessing a horrible day in Manhattan and DC
“My family was safe in Maryland. So when I finally called my wife late that night, to say that I was having a hard time getting out of the city but that I would try to take a train, she was really mad at me. From her perspective all she knew was that I got on a plane to New York that was supposed to land at the same time that these planes hit the World Trade Center and she never heard from me all day. She was right to be mad.
I’ll tell you it was a very surreal day in New York and walking around in the city where, even hours after the towers fell, this ash was falling everywhere. W wherever you went, your body and your hair were covered with ash, there were all these people walking up from the disaster area that had their faces covered and were wearing these suits. It was a very Fellinesque atmosphere in Manhattan. I finally managed to get on a train going back to D.C. and I had only just begun to relax from seeing this horror in Manhattan when from the train- actually from the car after the train- I saw the glow from the Pentagon because we lived at the time around there and I had to take the parkway up So I actually saw on that day both what happened in Manhattan and what happened at the Pentagon. It was really really a horrible day”.
Fostering civic engagement among the young
I think 9/11 did change us in a lot of ways. We saw a huge coming together of America over the next several years. We saw big spikes in volunteering and civic engagement, we saw much higher levels of connectedness between family members and within communities. What’s really interesting is that the older folks, over a period of years, relaxed their commitment to civic engagement and it came down to be close to normal. But there was a younger generation, the folks that were not cynical, the folks that did not have any experience before this, that became involved in civic engagement. They continued to be a generation of very civically engaged people whose first sense of civic identity was formed around the crisis of 911.
That’s one of the great things that, I think, came out of this. You know the old story about the question, “how do you empty a beach of sand into the ocean?” The answer is one spoonful or shovelful at a time, and my experience at the time, and ever since, has been that when people look at the big breadth of the challenges in this world, it can often feel too big to stand up and do something. Yet, there are people all around us who are standing up and doing something every day. They’re having their voices heard and they’re volunteering and trying to make the world better; they’re not overwhelmed, they know that they’re putting one foot in front of the other”.
Learn about the National Constitution Center’s “Day of Remembrance on the 10th Anniversary of September 11th.”
Produced and edited by Elisabeth Perez Luna