Case #668
Title: 9/11 Widows Skillfully Applied the Power of a Question: Why?
Summary: As part of a core group of politically active relatives of September 11 victims , four women made widows by the 9/11 World Trade Center bombings have joined forces to become known as "The Jersey Girls." On Capitol Hill, these suburban women are gaining prominence as savvy World Trade Center widows who came to Washington and prodded Congress and a recalcitrant White House to create the panel that this week brought official Washington to its knees.

Kristen Breitweiser, Patty Casazza, Lorie Van Auken and Mindy Kleinberg did not know each other before the September 11 event. The story of how they helped move a seemingly immoveable bureaucracy is at once the tale of a political education, and a sisterhood born of grief. All knew little about government and less about politics.
All insist they had no political agenda, then or now. But they had a burning question. "We simply wanted to know why our husbands were killed."

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers were pressing for a commission; in December 2001, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, had proposed a bill. By the spring of 2002, Ms. Kleinberg had befriended the father of a victim of Pan Am Flight 103, the plane that was bombed over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. "He said, `The bill is languishing. If you want it to go anywhere, you have to make it happen.'

The women began "making it happen" by staging a Washington rally which 300 people attended. Then they staked out lawmakers and boarded the elevators marked "Senators Only." They wheedled their way into the White House. The women stayed up nights surfing the Web, taking notes on things like Islamic radicalism and the Federal Aviation Administration's hijacking protocols. "The Internet," Ms. Breitweiser said, "has been our fifth widow."

In the Capitol, they cried, they pleaded, they cajoled. Ms. Breitweiser showed her husband's wedding ring, found at ground zero still attached to his finger. Ms. Casazza brought photos of a Cantor Fitzgerald pool party, telling lawmakers, "All the men are dead."

Outside, they befriended reporters. With her articulate manner and Ivory girl complexion, Ms. Breitweiser became a fixture on the television networks.

Since the commission began its work, the Sept. 11 relatives, who call themselves the Family Steering Committee, have dogged its every move. When the panel complained of a lack of money, they lobbied for a bigger budget - and won. When the House speaker, J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, refused to grant the panel an extension, they headed to Washington again, and the speaker retreated. "Public pressure by the 9/11 families," Mr. Hastert's spokesman, John Feehery, said about the reversal. "There is no doubt about that."

What worked for these women, and indeed the whole Family Steering Committee, was their sheer determination to get an investigation committee in place and heard. They approached all of the political entities in Washington with whatever nonviolent tactic worked and got attention. "No one wanted to say no to these women," said a Republican who participated in negotiations over the commission.

"They call me all the time," said Thomas H. Kean, the commission's chairman and a former Republican governor of New Jersey. "They monitor us, they follow our progress, they've supplied us with some of the best questions we've asked. I doubt very much if we would be in existence without them."

Not bad for a group of nonpolitical women, eh?

Location: New York City, US
Action: Other
Setting: Developed World, Urban
Extent of Action: Local
Categories: Other
Year(s): 2001
Outcome in progress
Source: The New York Times, April 1, 2004
Prepared By: sl, 12/04
Rating: 1