Intimidation has no place in our representative democracy. Such acts only make it more difficult for us to resolve our differences. Rep. Gabrielle (Gabby) Giffords, April 23rd 2010.
In 2002 I was hired as a field organizer for Amnesty International in Arizona to organize around the ruling of the United States Supreme Courts opinion on Ring v. Arizona. You see before this ruling, Arizona would sentence capital cases by judge, not jury. The court found this unconstitutional and the Arizona Legislature was left the responsibility of determining what to do with the 129 people on death row. At that time Ray Krone had become the 100th individual exonerated from death row in the US because of DNA evidence. He was from Arizona. The state legislature had a budget crisis and was unsure how to revisit the cases of each person on death row. This could cost the state millions and jeopardize public education, state health care and so much more. Enter a young, brilliant, and adaptive Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Gabby as I would come to know her.
She was elected as a moderate Democrat in a conservative district and was elected being pro-capital punishment. She questioned her stance at this point. If it was a just system if it was a just time to prioritize lethal injection over life without the possibility of parole during a time when so many government institutions and programs were being gutted. Simply put, she wasn’t out for an agenda or a crusade about life or death, she was weighing all the realities and trying to figure out what to do best for her constituents. She became an ally in this strategy and over time, a friend of mine. She has always been about representing her constituents first and foremost and putting agendas aside. She listens, she adapts, she leads with the true representation of her people. She never is on the extreme side of any issue. She always represents her voters with true discipline and honors a rarity in these times of divisive debate.
My background in politics can be associated with what some would say, radical groups. Yes, I have worked with Amnesty International, American Civil Liberties Union, Progressive Democrats of America, and ran Kucinich for President’s field campaign 2004. Some might call me a radical lefty because I call folks like Tom Hayden and Cindy Sheehan friends. Because they are just that friends. Friends beyond just an agenda. Why do people lose the human connections over agenda?
But here is the thing about labels, society needs them to understand what they don’t understand. I never called myself extreme. In fact, I am a strategic thinker and know my views are not the majority viewpoint of the American people. I love diversity in thought and vision of America. I come from an apathetic family that votes Republican if they even vote but you know what? I love them just the same. I left the political scene years ago because of the reality that the human condition needs conflict in discussing ideas, and I grew tired of the hate, on ALL sides.
The human condition thrives off drama and controversy. The reality is that common sense and the middle ground is not attractive enough to ever get elected or build a passionate community around. Standing firm with an agenda attached to a label and a base of support organized around emotion is what the American public understands and takes action toward or against. People need to be right (righteous) and there need to be people that are wrong (and must be stopped.) This is where we are.
It is sad but its the truth and the truth kills. The bloodshed outside a suburban grocery store on Saturday is a reminder of this awful reality. This reality is something many forget is witnessed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Latin America, and other less developed places every day. Elected officials representing people are often the target of assassination because someone must be righteous and someone must be stopped. Now, it is too close to home, and the reality is palpable.
This blog post is not about agendas of who is right and who is wrong but to take a moment and reflect on where we are. For us that know Gabby, we know her as a commonsense woman with integrity. She has one agenda: to represent her people. She was demonstrating this by taking a Saturday morning to sit outside a grocery store to listen to her people. It is what she does. This is how we know her.
And now? more labeling more agendas more people trying to understand who is righteous and who must be stopped. Don’t get me wrong, we do need to reevaluate why we got here. Is it the hate in the rhetoric? Is it the divisiveness that has come to be? That will be debated for months and what will come of it? More righteousness? More enemies?
Let’s take a moment to step back and really look at our approach. Let’s respect each other as fellow Americans and let’s get over ourselves a bit. Remember we are a community of diversity. Look past the labels a bit and bring back civility.
My thoughts are with my friend Gabby and her family, and to the others that perished and were wounded yesterday. But ultimately, my thoughts are for us as a nation. Can we just remember the collective we? Can we monitor how we, as individuals, contribute to the labels, to the segmentation of our society? Can we be mindful in our everyday actions and say that we will be responsible for our own actions? We will not contribute to hate or divisiveness of those we don’t agree with.
Start today lets embrace tolerance over hate and judgment.Let’s remember who we are.