Response to Shooting in AZ

Gabby's Gift by Martha Sterling-Golden on Saturday, January 8, 2011

I am a well of anger. So angry that it scares me. I am trying to find some semblance of the America I knew, flawed though she was, but beautiful at the same time. She aspired to perfection. It is a bitter irony that Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic from Arizona, should pay the price, along with 18 other victims, including a dead nine year old girl. Rep. Giffords supports gun rights.

I met “Gabby” when she came to the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University (WCSY) in 1999, and I was there as an alumna to moderate a panel. She was making the rounds of the various political training programs in preparation for a run for the Arizona State House. She spoke with deep affection for her family and her home state, and shared funny stories about running her family’s sizable tire business and riding a motorcycle around the desert. She was a star in her class.

Gabby won her election, and was invited back as a speaker. She served on our board until her election to Congress. Always, Gabby was full of optimism and excitement about the future for Arizona and America. She’s an American girl.

So, on the morning of January 8th, 2011, a beautiful Saturday morning in Arizona, Gabby was out doing what she loved to do: listen to the people she served. A young man, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, allegedly ran toward Gabby Giffords and started shooting. Once she was hit, it appears he continued to spray the crowd with fire from an automatic weapon until he had accumulated 19 victims. He emptied two clips. I waited until I had seen for myself the image captures of his social networking sites. This young man didn’t cite Jodie Foster or Charles Manson as his “inspirations”; he cited Sarah Palin and the Tea Party.

At his first press conference after the incident, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said, “It’s not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included. That’s the sad thing about what’s going on in America, pretty soon we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people willing to subject themselves to serve in public office,” Dupnik said, “vitriol might be free speech, but it's not without consequences."

For months, Sarah Palin featured a number of Democratic incumbent politicians on a gun-site riddled target map she called a hit list of Democrats. “Don’t retreat, reload!” she shouted with smiley-faced enthusiasm, and Rush chimed in with “Oh yeah, (Giffords) is on my political hit list too!” Fun! Except, in the words of an eloquent and anguished young man at a vigil in downtown Tuscon, “It isn’t funny.” He looked up and out and asked, “Why, ask yourself, why do you want power; what is it for?” That’s a good question.

Once upon a time in America, it was considered worthy to argue for what one believed in, and one presented those beliefs in a well-reasoned argument. People disagreed, but they didn’t call one another cowards or traitors or Fascists or Nazis. Now, it’s about bullies. Bullies who no longer have the Fairness Doctrine to answer to, and so they can say whatever they want and call it fact, and a lazy American public takes it as such. We sit, in stupor, in front of our television sets and computers and soak up whatever we agree with and damn the rest. All Republicans are Christian dominionists and all Democrats are godless traitors.

I am tired of you all. I will never believe that all Republicans are bad people, and unfortunately, I know that not all Democrats are good people. Although I am a liberal Democrat, I don’t watch Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow. I take no comfort in the “echo chamber.” My teachers taught me to gather information from a variety of sources, and to reason out what I believed about it.

The rising level of hatred and mistrust in this country, which has really been growing since the Nixon impeachment and bloomed during the Clinton years, has finally taken over, completely overwhelming anything which might reasonably be described as civilized public discourse.

Tonight, people lay dead and dying in hospitals all over Tuscon, and one of them is my friend, Gabby Giffords. Another is a nine-year-old girl. Still another a judge. The rest are aides, shoppers, and townspeople. And for what? Because a young man with a skewed mental state heard the call one too many times? Even as the Washington Post updates their coverage, lunatics are smearing toxins over the page:

“I think there's something up here. This doesn't make sense that the Dems are getting death threats i.e. the 2 packages exploding and now this. Yes, they'll want to take away our guns, but thats the least of our worries. This almost sounds like an inside job by the dems or worse men in back rooms. Everyone knows that this country is on the verge of civil war or a revolution, either way, sometimes you gotta nudge things along. I think this is the beginning of whatever is to come, but I hope I'm wrong. http://thelibertarianblogs.com/ Posted by: TheLibertarianBlogsDotCom  January 8, 2011 9:41 PM   Report abuse”

This is exactly the kind of thing that drives marginally tethered people over the edge. It isn’t rhetoric, it’s incitement. Are we citizens or bullies? And when did it become acceptable in American society to encourage violence against one another? This sort of anonymous “speech” should not be tolerated another moment in this country. Anonymous posts on newspaper and television web sites should end, and if the sites can’t figure it out, stop the comments altogether. Letters to the editor require contact information; why should it be any different for online news?

To my Democratic friends, I will ask you to hold a little while, even as I have been so nearly over the wall myself, to see how things play out. To my Republican friends, and you know who you are; it is past time for you to ostracize the worst offenders; to stand the hell up and say, “Enough.” Otherwise, you make yourselves accomplices to this heinous degradation and violence. For the love of God, reach out that we may reach back.
I have no idea what news we will wake to; whether Gabby will still be alive, or whether she will ever recover enough to have a life with her husband, Mark, who is an American astronaut. What I do know is that we must take something better away from this mess than we brought to it. We can hate each other just a little less, can’t we? That is what Gabby would want this episode to teach us. Gabby Giffords is a gift to all who know her. Let her gift to us be her sense of fair play, and above all, her belief that America should be a civil society where people work through their problems, rather than shooting through a crowd.

The writer is an alumna and past president of the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University. A program that provides campaign skills training for women who aspire to public office.

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