New York Women's Bar Association, 132 East 43rd Street, #716, The Chrysler Building, New York, NY, 10017-4019
Message from the President
September 2005

What have we learned since September 11th?

You are reading this column in early September, but I started writing it on July 4th. As I watched the fireworks on television, and listened to the array of music accompanying the fireworks -- from John Philip Sousa to Gloria Estefan -- I thought of the things I love about the U.S. I wondered how many more times we would celebrate July 4th without a recurrence of the attacks of 9/11. That led me to ponder the changes since 9/11, and the things that have not changed.

On the ABA Solosez Listserv, as the horror of 9/11 unfolded, the topic of conversation rapidly turned to what we, as lawyers, could do. Days passed, filled with images of rescue workers looking grimly determined, en route to rescue those who might still be alive and to retrieve the bodies of those who had died -- potentially so many. Everything about them -- their body language, their facial expressions -- conveyed that they were men, in the best sense of that word, going to do a difficult job that had to be done. There was a grim pride about them, echoed by the crowds that lined the streets cheering them on and handing out water and food. We were lawyers, unaccustomed to being helpless and standing by; what could we do?

I am proud to say that the speed and creativity that are hallmarks of our profession were immediately evident. My ABA colleagues organized a listserv to help affected lawyers, offering equipment, office space, and technological expertise. Rather than cancel, American Lawyer Media changed the focus of its annual NY Tech Show, offering free admission to displaced lawyers and seminars on disaster planning and recovery.

In about two weeks, the trusts and estates bar, working with the Surrogate’s Court personnel, put together a procedure to allow relatives of the missing to proceed with probate and administrative proceedings. The word went out -- volunteer lawyers were sought to learn the new procedure for obtaining an expedited death certificate. Hundreds of lawyers went to ABCNY for the program; the line snaked all the way down both sets of steps, through the lobby, out onto the street, and down the block. Lawyers waited patiently -- with that same grim determination I had seen on the faces of the men going to Ground Zero -- to be admitted to the training. Many lawyers were turned away.

I was privileged to go to Pier 54 on that first day. Pier 54 had been an unoccupied pier; in about two weeks, it was stocked with everything you could think of to help the victims and their families. Security was tight -- your name had to be on a list of volunteers, and you had to wear your badge at all times; police were ubiquitous, everyone was edgy. News reporters were not allowed in, notwithstanding how voracious they were for information; they pounced on the volunteers as we emerged late in the day. I imagine that they must have been feeling as we were -- a desire to help, along with a desire to “return to normal” by doing their jobs.

Pier 54 was an astonishing facility. Each family was assigned a guide, who stayed with them the entire time they were going through the process at the Pier. They were escorted down a special aisle, complete with red carpet, lined with teddy bears sent by the people of Oklahoma City, who understand a thing or two about surviving a terror attack. There were translators available for hundreds of languages -- from Arabic to Quechuan. Family members could apply for food stamps, welfare, grants; they could speak with insurance companies, mental health professionals, city agencies, and religious advisors of all persuasions. Volunteers were monitored by the mental health professionals, and gently forced to take breaks after seeing each distraught family. There was a full-scale kitchen with all types of food available. It seemed incredible, the bureaucracy had simply vanished. Every skill was needed; every skill was valued. I was proud to be a lawyer, and proud to be a New Yorker.

It was not just lawyers who threw away the old limitations. Inside of two weeks, the Board of Education had taken over an abandoned private school building, painted and furnished it, and P.S. 234 had moved from Chambers Street, and was teaching students at the new location.

If we could muster up the will power, the energy, and the resources to anticipate the problems of the survivors, and work together to address those problems in an expeditious and respectful manner, why has none of that spirit carried over (or has it?)

Terrorism is the calculated use of violence against civilians in order to attain goals that are political, religious or ideological in nature. The tactics of terrorism are intimidation and coercion. In response to the terrorist attacks, we have invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. (Iraq, by the way, has the fourth-largest proven oil reserves in the world, which is one reason our motives are questioned by others.) Is waging war an effective strategy for us? If the people of Iraq approve the proposed constitution in the referendum scheduled for October, will that help to counter the image of the U.S. as a “crusading” conqueror?

A credible argument can be made that our response to the attacks has been ineffective. We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on war, dollars that we said we did not have, when it came to spending on education and universal health care for our own citizens. We are spending more money on the peace -- the end of which is nowhere in sight. We have lost face by not capturing Osama bin Laden.

How could we counter terrorism? We could make it ineffective. If we are not intimidated or fearful, the terrorists have not achieved their goal. This is the strategy our leaders have consistently encouraged -- go about your daily business as normal, do not let the terrorists intimidate you. On the other hand, we have spent billions on a new Department of Homeland Security, and on counterterrorism measures such as concrete stanchions to keep trucks filled with explosives from getting too close to buildings, magnetometers and additional security guards in buildings, and random searches of backpacks in subways, only to be told that another attack is certain no matter what we do.

How do we make terrorism ineffective? One step is to become informed about what our enemies believe, rather than demonizing them and dismissing them. The mediator in me wonders: is it a coincidence that the word “kafir,” which describes how the Islamic world sees Westerners, translates as “infidel,” the same word that many Christians have used historically to refer to Muslims?

Another step is to pay attention to what others say, to really listen, which is the beginning of understanding. To what do Americans pay attention? Most of us can identify Paris Hilton, but not Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani. We are all busy earning a living, raising our children, caring for our elders. But let us take the time to do what must be done. Join the NYWBA. Attend committee meetings and CLE programs. Learn and think about the issues confronting us. Consider the stands that WBASNY is taking on proposed legislation. Become educated and voice your opinion. Vote in the primary on September 13th. Run for office.

For a brief time after 9/11 we did not think of our elected officials as “they” -- who had an obligation to “do something” about the situation -- and ourselves as “we”; we all felt a need to pitch in. Let’s hold on to that feeling and allow it to motivate us.


June 2005

In her column for June, President Christina Kallas discusses change and continuity. To view the President's message in full, click here. .

April 2005

In her column in April, President Elizabeth Bryson talked about sexual politics and "women's work." She took issue with Harvard President Lawrence Summers' recent remarks implying that women are innately less suited to pursing careers in science or engineering. Such retrograde thinking is self-defeating. Mr. Summers had to apologize, and Harvard is now actively address the status of women in academia. Ms. Bryson also discussed upcoming events, including the Association's Annual Meeting, a CLE program on "Evolving Opportunities for Women' Lawyers," the Foundation's next fundraising breakfast, the WBASNY Convention, and of course our fantastic 70th Anniversary celebration on June 1st. To view the President's Message in full, click here.

February 2005

In her column in February, President Elizabeth Bryson talked about matters of life and death. She related the experiences of a friend fighting breast cancer and her mother and family addressing the loss of two brothers to AIDS several years ago, and how each circumstance, though very different, teaches us once again the importance of choosing to live life to its fullest every day. By contrast, she considers the proposal in the NYS Legislature to reinstate the death penalty, and WBASNY's brave stance in opposition. To view the President's Message in full, click here.

January 2005

In her column in January, President Elizabeth Bryson discussed the importance of taking steps to ensure that judges in New York have the appropriate qualifications and integrity to ensure the fair and equal administration of justice. She discusses pending legislation and proposed amendments to the Rules of Judicial Conduct that would have an influence on the method of selecting state court judges and the rules that would apply to candidates for judicial office in New York. Ms. Bryson was honored to chair a WBASNY Task Force to look at the proposed legislation and rule changes, and she discusses the process and proposals. She also describes the recent gala celebration WBASNY's 25 Anniversary and the wonderful presentation of the inaugural "Betty Weinberg Ellerin Mentoring Award" to Justice Ellerin. Finally, she reminds everyone of the importance of ensuring that their membership is renewed by January 31, 2005. New members are also welcome, and they can join for half-price dues starting in January! To view the President's Message in full, click here.

December 2004

In her column in December, President Elizabeth Bryson discussed the importance of speaking out and being heard. She demonstrated the value of the Association's screening of candidates for judicial office, particularly now, when the integrity of the judiciary is under attack. Because many of our members practice in solo and small firm settings, Ms. Bryson recommended that members appear before the Commission on Solo and Small Firm Practice, which is holding hearings and looking for comments, concerns and suggestions to make the lives of attorneys in these settings and their clients easier. Members should also plan to join us at several upcoming events that promise to be very exciting, including the NYWBA Foundation's Breakfast Series Speaker Event, a fundraiser scheduled for December 1st, WBASNY's 25th Anniversary Gala on December 2nd that will pay tribute to our own past President, the Honorable Betty Weinberg Ellerin, for her nearly 50 years of mentoring and service to women attorneys and judges throughout New York and across the country, and the New York Women's Agenda's Star Breakfast on December 7th. To view the President's message in full, click here.

November 2004

In her column in November, President Elizabeth Bryson celebrated all the wonderful programs and events that happened this fall, including our Annual Membership Reception. She also discussed the recent controversy with respect to screening the qualifications of candidates for judicial office in New York County, which became the subject of an article in the New York Law Journal. To view the President's message in full, click here.

September 2004

In her column in September, President Elizabeth Bryson asked members to join her in celebrating the Association's 70th Anniversary year (2004-05). Coincidentally, it was also the 25th anniversary year for the Women's Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY), which is the umbrella organization for all 16 women's bar associations across New York State. The NYWBA and its past President Joan Ellenbogen were instrumental in the formation of WBASNY, and it is a joy to see that it is flourishing. This is Beth's second term as President, and in her column she discussed the excitement of continuing programs begun last year and new programs that will begin this year. She also congratulated everyone who was involved in the wonderful year-end festivities, including our Annual Dinner and the WBASNY Convention. To view the President's message in full, click here.

April 2005

In her column for April, President Elizabeth Bryson congratulated several women who make history every day, including the 11 honorees designated for Women's History Month by the National Women's History Project and the New York City Commission on Women. She provided an update on the proposed rules that we have supported to allow asylum for women who are victims of domestic violence or other brutality that is directly or indirectly endorsed by their country's governments. Ms. Bryson also highlighted numerous upcoming events, including the NYWBA Annual Meeting and the Annual Ethics Forum, both in April, and the Women's Bar Convention in New Orleans and the NYWBA Annual Dinner, both in May. To view the President's message in full, click here. .

March 2004

In her March 2004 column, Ms. Bryson notes that NYWBA's membership has increased by over 33 percent from last year, and nearly 50% from two years ago. She praises the terrific work of NYWBA members, Officers, Board members, Committee Chairs, and others who worked on our membership drive and demonstrate why our bar association is so important, strong and vital. She also salutes two people who may not be lawyers but whose contributions are absolutely invaluable to the Association and the NYWBA Foundation - Executive Director Marta Toro and NYWBA Foundation member Denise Coleman. "Our Association is blessed with so many wonderful women and men who contribute their talents." To view the President's message in full, click here.

February 2004

In her February 2004 column, Ms. Bryson discussed the importance of mentoring and networking, especially for women attorneys. She also announces that the Association's Annual Meeting will be on April 28, 2004, when the 2004-05 officers and directors will be elected. Our gala Annual Dinner will be on May 26, 2004. At that event, awards will be presented to Linda Greenhouse, Pulitzer Prize winning author and New York Times reporter covering the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Hon. Jacqueline Silbermann, Administrative Judge of the NY County Supreme Court and Chief Administrative Judge for NYS Matrimonial Courts. To view the President's message in full, click here.

December 2003

In her December 2003 column, NYWBA President Elizabeth Bryson profiled important issues for our military, including the incidents of rape and sexual harassment at our military academies, the scourge of domestic violence, and the shameful track record of "don't ask, don't tell." She also discussed our exciting membership drive and the Reception Honoring Newly Elected and Appointed Judges. To view the President's message in full, click here.

November 2003

In her November 2003 column, NYWBA President Elizabeth Bryson discusses the importance and benefits of membership, as well as the recent visit of distinguished attorneys from Malaysia who were invited by the U.S. State Department to meet with NYWBA representatives. To view the President's message in full, click here.

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