Tuesday, June 11 Jon Stewart, comedian and activist, gave an off-the-cuff impassioned speech to the House Judiciary Committee on reauthorizing the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund.
Over the past 18 years, since the events of Sept. 11, New York City first responders have had to claw and fight for help with the medical issues that followed in the aftermath of that day’s tragic events.
Stewart’s speech started by acknowledging the lack of congressional members who decided to not be in attendance by stating, “Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders, and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress.”
Stewart continued, “Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak to no one.”
Stewart then teared up. “Shameful. It’s an embarrassment to the country and it is a stain on this institution and you should be ashamed of yourselves for those that aren’t here. But you won’t be, because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.”
I personally remember that morning in 2001. I was in fifth grade and had no idea what was going on but I will always remember watching people pour out of the buildings and first responders running into the chaos to save as many people as they could.
Those men and women deserve better as Stewart said in his speech, “There is not a person here, there is not an empty chair on that stage, that didn’t tweet out, ‘Never forget the heroes of 9/11.’”
He continued, “Well, here they are! And where are they?”— referring to members of Congress who decided that it wasn’t worth their time to be there.
Stewart also fought back the criticism that the victim’s fund was a New York state issue as most of those who worked at Ground Zero — firefighters and other first responders — were New Yorkers.
Stewart rose his voice exclaiming, “Al-Qaeda didn’t shout death to Tribeca, they attacked America, and these men and women and their response to it is what brought our country back.”
He finished the hearing with an angry and emotional appeal, “They did their jobs with courage, grace, tenacity, and humility. Eighteen years later, do yours!”
Until Stewart’s speech on June 11, I was ignorant of the plight of the first responders; I had never heard of the horrible medical issues they faced.
All sorts of different cancers, chronic respiratory issues and other horrible ailments are what those men and women were given for their heroic actions in one of our nation’s darkest hours.
However, Stewart’s shaming of Congress was met the following day with the House Judiciary Committee voting unanimously to push the bill to the House floor for a vote.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has now committed to passing the bill, but only time will tell if those who have done nothing for 18 years will finally step up and do their jobs.