Last Sunday marked the tenth anniversary of 9/11. At Rock the Vote, we’ve been thinking about how different generations remember the events of that day. There is no question that every single American was impacted; however, it is interesting to examine how different generations evaluate politics and the world.
Nearly everyone you talk to remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the events of 9/11. These memories are so vivid because the events were shockingly tragic and for some – particularly young people – a first awakening to a world outside of themselves.
We have asked each member of the Rock the Vote family to tell us when they first heard about the events of September 11, 2011. The answers are different, inspiring, and interesting as they demonstrate that we are all a part of different generations, but on September 11, 2001 every person felt the same thing.
Share your own 9/11 memory with us on Twitter (@RocktheVote) using the hashtag #wherewereyou or submit here.
“When the phone rings at a really early hour, I now immediately think either something awful has happened or someone doesn’t know that I am on the West Coast. Maybe it is because of this morning, ten years ago. I was asleep on the couch in San Francisco, CA. I had five staff there working on a ballot initiative for solar energy, and I was doing a site-visit to check in on them and help with the campaign. The house phone was next to the couch I was using as a bed, so I was the one to answer it. It was the father of one of my staff. He told me a plane had just crashed into the twin towers in New York City and to turn on the television. The rest is blurry in detail but unforgettable in how it felt: we seemed removed from what had happened on the East Coast and didn’t understand its gravity (we didn’t have a television), so we tried to go to work, but the buses weren’t running on a normal schedule and when we got there no one else was around. An eery feeling grew strong as it sunk in that something really awful had happened. So I gathered my staff together, and we went to find a television and watch the news.” Heather Smith, President
“It was a bright and sunny morning as I headed to the bus and then to the orange line metro train, which I took every morning from my Fairfax apartment into Washington DC. I was wearing blue capris, a blue tank top and brown wedges (which I clearly remember because I knew if I needed to run they were the worst shoes to be wearing). I worked at 2121K Street at DDB, an advertising agency based in Seattle with a small practice of 4 people in Washington DC. Two of my colleagues were traveling so it was only myself and one other gentleman in the office at the time. I remember getting an AOL instant message from one of my friends saying a plane had hit the World Trade Center— we immediate turned on the TV and were glued to it. At that time I was in shock, but it wasn’t until there were reports of smoke at the Pentagon that I really started to freak out. I called my mom who was working in Pennsylvania, and I remember her saying, “Stay calm, get home and don’t take the metro.” At that point I had no idea what to do but followed the crowd as our entire building evacuated onto K street. The streets looked like a scene from a movie. My colleague told me I should come with him because his wife was picking him up at a metro station in Maryland and they would give me a ride to my house. I immediately trusted his opinion. We headed to the metro (which was completely empty), and I will never forget the knot in my stomach as I sat on that train praying we would make it to our final destination; I hated thinking we were underground and helpless. It never felt so good to be home. Ten years later, I remember that morning like it was yesterday.” Chrissy Faessen, Vice President of Marketing & Communications
“On September 11th, 2001 I was a student at George Washington University and living in Washington DC. That morning my phone kept ringing and ringing as I slept through the calls, eventually waking up to my sister’s frantic voice telling me that we were under attack. I turned on the TV to find images of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center over and over, and then I watched on live TV as the buildings fell to the ground. I called my parents who were in Hawaii, where it was still the middle of the night, to awaken them to the news that ‘We are getting bombed.’ After watching the news for some time, I went over to my friends’ apartment down the hall where their balcony overlooked a view of the Pentagon and a rising stream of smoke in the sky. There was a stillness in the city I’ve never experienced before – everyone had either left or gone home and the only vehicles driving around were National Guard and police cars. When I did walk around in the afternoon the few people we walked by looked you in the eye and said hello – which rarely happens on public sidewalks. I remember getting a small flag and bedazzling it onto a hoodie, and I remember flags everywhere for months. As a photographer, I went that night to the Pentagon and then to New York City a week later. I’ll never forget the missing peoples signs everywhere, the canisters of nitrogen lining the sidewalks, the messages written in dust on every window, or the military personnel guarding Ground Zero, handing out tissues to those who came to view the site. ” Kelly Fogel, Artist & Label Relations Manager
“It was another early morning surf session at Will Rogers state beach in Santa Monica, CA. I woke up around sunrise, grabbed my board and walked a few blocks down to the beach as I normally did at that time. I was completely clueless as to what the rest of the world was doing as I paddled out past the waves. Life to me was peaceful, calm and quiet with the exception of a few seagulls. After about an hour, I headed back home thinking I should shower and get to work. As I walked into the house where I was staying, my friend was standing in her kitchen listening to the radio reports of planes crashing into buildings. She looked confused as she tried to explain to me what was going on. As I sat down to listen to the reports and drink my coffee, my girlfriend and now wife called the house asking if we had heard the news. Our peaceful morning turned into something very sad that we’ll never forget!” David Pruter, Digital Director
“When the attacks took place on September 11, I was singing my innocent little eighth grade heart out in chorus class. All of us, including our teacher, were completely unaware of what had happened. I was walking to my locker when I ran into my friend Kelly, who told me that two planes had been flown into the World Trade Center towers. She told me people from the Middle East had done it. At the time, I didn’t understand why people from the Middle East had done it, or what type of people they were. There was a definite buzz that day about the attacks, but most of the students seem more interested in whether or not we’d get to go home early from school. We didn’t, and the day resumed normally. In retrospect, it’s bizarre that such an impacting event did not stop September 11, 2001 from being a normal school day for my peers and me. I guess I can attribute the odd air of normalcy to a sheltered Connecticut life, where living in a bubble caused that day’s conversations to not completely center on the politics and tragedy of the attacks. It was only when I went to French class, my last period of the day, that I realized that these events were not normal every day occurrences that would slip away from the headlines in a few days. As we sat down out our desks, Monsieur Minnick was already sitting at his with his face buried in his hands. We waited for him to look up and start teaching us the imperfect tense, but he didn’t move. Instead, he continued to sit there with a look of pure sadness on his face. We also sat in silence, some of us exchanging confused glances with one another. Most of knew, however, why Monsieur Minnick was not speaking. It was this tense period of silence when it really sunk in for me – “3,000 people died. 3,000 is a huge number. Maybe I shouldn’t call them ‘people,’ – fathers, mothers, family members.” When the bell rang, Monsieur Minnick signaled that we could go by telling us he hoped we realized that what happened today is truly awful. We filed out to leave, and I kept wondering on the bus ride home what this would mean for New York City, for the family members of those who died, for our government, for the people in the Middle East, for me, for Monsieur Minnick, for everyone. Needless to say, after the all-night news reports and being home with our families, my peers and I went to school on September 12, 2001 not as normally as we did the day before.” Caitlin Maguire, Marketing & Operations Manager
“I was sitting in my 11th grade Contemporary Lit class. At the beginning of the school year, we had gone through key events for each year since the early 1960s. We had added a couple of events to the year 2001 at the beginning of the school year, so I didn’t think anything of it when my Cross Country coach/English teacher asked the class to get out our timeline and add that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center in NYC. The whole class jotted down this new event and we went on to discuss The Catcher in the Rye. It wasn’t until after class that we heard what had happened on the East Coast. The city cancelled school for the rest of the day, and all extracurricular events were postponed. I was on the cross-country team at the time, and I remember going out for a run because I didn’t know what else to do. I think I ran the farthest I have ever run, and I spent that time thinking about what was happening on the East Coast, how these events would affect my family because my father served in the National Guard at the time, and what effect it would have on the world.” Megan Simpson, Street Team Manager
“In Africa, Liberia is widely known and referred to as America’s child, as our country was colonized by freed American slaves. America and Liberia share many commonalities, and every Liberian feels a sense of achievement when he or she has the opportunity to come to America. On the fateful Tuesday of 9/11, I was on the University of Liberia Campus about to attend one of my classes. I saw people moving about frantically, saying they had received calls that the Twin Towers in America had been bombed by terrorists. I was so afraid. I thought that the world had come to an end. I was asking myself, “What is America going to do now?” We were told we could see the events on TV, so I ran to the nearest one at the Student Center and witnessed a complete state of disaster that sent tears running down my cheeks. I cried in a loud voice because of the frustration, confusion, sorrow, fear and vulnerability I saw on the faces of the survivors and witnesses. I stayed watching the TV for over three hours before going home, where I watched the news until the morning. The events were talked about by everyone I came across. Because of my perception of America at the time, I wondered how and why that happened. I still am not sure that I have found the answer.” Isatu Ville, Liberian Fellow
“Memories from childhood are generally fuzzy if even remembered at all. However, I remember where I was on September 11th, 2001. I was merely ten years old and sitting in my fourth grade homeroom when my teacher got a phone call. She was normally a jolly woman with bright red cheeks, and it confused me when the color drained from her face. She hung up the phone, and told us the tragedy of what had happened. At the time, I did not understand the severity of the matter, nor could I have told you what a terrorist attack was, but I was glad when my mom picked me up from school early. The rest of the day is just a blur of events. I remember my grandmother crying and watching the footage over and over again with my uncle but not much else. In a way, I’m kind of glad I was too young to fully experience the full emotional force of that awful day.” Coral Ramsey, Marketing and Communications Intern
“On September 11, 2001, I was a sophomore in high school. I woke up and got ready like every morning and went to school, pretty sure nothing was going to happen. After my first period Spanish class, I went to my locker and headed to second period History. It wasn’t until I got to class that someone told me what had happened. Two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center Buildings. The entire time in class, we watched as events unfolded and learned of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon and then of the fourth that crashed in Pennsylvania. Later on that night, I remember sitting around the television with my family and watching as day turned into night and stories began to unfold about the horror that was that day. Our country and the world changed on September 11, 2001.” Carlos Acosta, Field Intern
“Your first week of High School in any small New York suburban town is more often than not full of the usual occurrences- falling down the stairs (or UP the stairs in my particular case) or finding out you registered for the wrong level Spanish class. Unfortunately for the class of 2005, there was nothing usual about our first week of High School. Excited to have been able to locate my Social Studies class, I was prepping for a class project with two friends when our teacher was called out of the room in what was certainly not a settling scene. When she returned crying, the loud speaker turned on to a speechless and obviously grief stricken Principal Kaplan- a sound that would force flashbacks of that morning every time the announcement bell rang for the next 4 years. As the news of the towers began to flow in, we all sat together in the auditorium watching as students whose parents worked in or around the World Trade Center were called by the office to go home. I got picked up early by a family friend and had a long restless night as my father was stuck in the city with no way to get home. There is a bridge in our town that used to look right over the water to the Twin Towers. The day they went down, the entire town was covered in ash and all you could see across the water was a big cloud of black smoke. That bridge quickly became a landmark and was renamed after Andrew Stergiopoulos, a firefighter we lost in the attacks. For the past decade, the Synagogue I belonged to growing up has said their morning prayers every September 11th on the bridge, not only for those we lost as a town- but for everyone who we lost as a country that morning.” Sandy Irani, Rock the Vote Volunteer
“On 9/11 I had just started my first ever tour and was staying in Chicago. I was meant to play the 98th floor of a financial building for radio winners that morning. I was woken up by my tour manager banging on my door and my family calling incessantly. They were afraid I was possibly in NYC. We got on our bus and got out of the city just in case Chicago was the next target. The scary thing was, exactly one week prior, I had been on AA Flight #11 from LA to Boston. It still makes my stomach churn when I think about it.” Michelle Branch, Rock the Vote Supporter
“On September 11th, 2001, I was 17 years old and living in Minneapolis. I was scheduled to be flying to New York City later that week one last time before I would move there later in the month to start my first job ever at Sony/Loud Records working for Steve Rifkind. I distinctly remember waking up that morning as my two-way pager (the then it device in the music business) started blowing up out of nowhere at around 8 am (central time). Upon opening and seeing weird messages about planes and buildings, I immediately turned on the TV just in time to watch flight 175 plow into the second WTC tower on CNN Live. Like the rest of the world, I was glued to the TV in shock. I remember having to take a break from the action and went for a long run around the city. It was amazing how quickly the overall feel of the world and my perception of life had changed drastically from what it was just a few hours before. Because of 9/11, my company decided to move me to Los Angeles instead of New York as my boss wanted to spend more time on the West Coast with his family, drastically changing my life and plans forever as I knew it.” DJ Skee, Rock the Vote Supporter
“We hadn’t started touring full time yet. I was going to college and my mom woke me up with a frantic call from my girlfriend at the time. She said “The twin towers are gone!”In my sleepy state I honestly thought David Copperfield, David Blaine, or any of the other magical David’s had pulled some massive trick on the world. When I finally gathered my thoughts, I was terrified. My sister was living on 29th street in Manhattan, and my father was away on business, set to fly home the next day. Fortunately they were both OK and I personally didn’t know anyone that was killed or injured. I thank God for the brave men and women of the FDNY and NYPD who saved so many lives that day.” Shaun Cooper, Taking Back Sunday & Rock the Vote Supporter
“The morning of 9/11, I woke up to my grandmother screaming at the top her lungs saying “OH MY GOD” over and over. I got out of the bed and looked at the TV and saw what looked like a movie. I was just waking up so I was a bit confused as to what was going on. I went to school that day, and in History class we watched the news for the entire period. I couldn’t believe that what I was watching wasn’t a movie or TV show. Being so young at the time I really didn’t know exactly how or what to feel about the situation, but one thing’s for sure-I felt terrible for each and every family effected by that tragic day.” Smoove, Cali Swag District & Rock the Vote Supporter
“I was in 6th grade and was in class when my teacher announced the attacks. I was surprised and I didn’t know what had happened and how it was going to affect me. Being that my dad worked for the board of trade in Chicago, I wanted to make sure that he was safe and that Chicago wasn’t a target either. As a class we held prayer for the victims, families involved, and for our safety.” – Rockie Fresh, Chicago-born rapper/artist & Rock the Vote Supporter
“I remember it like it was yesterday, I was walking down the street near my school when a random girl came up to me and asked, “Did you hear what happened?”. I still hadn’t caught wind, so when she told me that “a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center,” it was hard to believe. I quickly rushed home to see it all unfold on TV. It was a sunny September day but it felt so dark. Especially being from New York, to know so many people affected by the tragedy, it was a strange time, but through it all it certainly helped bring people together through the adversity.” – Outasight, New York-born Warner Bros Recording Artist & Rock the Vote Supporter.