The incident in Tucson that took place on Saturday was a tragic, senseless, needless event. The fact that it happened besmirches the reputation of our nation and should bring the lack of civility in political discourse into sharp relief. In watching my twitter feed on Saturday as the details were becoming clear, I heard people blaming the right, specifically Mrs. Palin and her crosshairs map. I heard other blaming the “liberal media” for putting the blame on the right. Even with the aforementioned debate, the largest chorus of voices I heard were a concern for the families of those killed and injured in the tragic event that took place in a Safeway parking lot.
Regardless of political persuasion or belief, what we should be focusing on after an event like this are the needs of the families affected by this horrendous event.
I titled this entry, “The Intersection of Different Worlds in Tucson” because Saturday’s tragedy took place at a the intersection of several of my worlds and is affecting me much more deeply that I expected it to. First, I am a former legislative staffer and have dealt with the hate and anger that can accompany political discourse. Second, have met the husband of one of the shooting victims. Third, I’m a parent and the loss of a 9 year old child in an event like this makes it even more of a tragedy.
As a former legislative staffer, this event affects me tremendously. I’ve worked numerous events such as this one, directly interacting with constituents. The point of these events was to make the legislator accessible to members of the public, so there was never any security present. I never felt vulnerable at any of these events, but I doubt Rep. Giffords felt vulnerable at this event. In my position as legislative staff, I dealt with my share of crazies, some threatening, some not. Thankfully, I only ever felt threatened twice in five years and I very quickly reported these threats to the authorities, who investigated them. I also spent most of my year working in a district office by myself or with one or two staffers for different legislators. There was no second exit from my office, so if someone had come in the door with bad intent, we would have been at their mercy. When I was in the Capitol, I felt much more secure, but I spent only a quarter to a third of the time there.
The Washington State Legislature, where I worked, prides itself in being close to the people. So close, in fact that legislators only work part time at their legislative jobs. Each legislator is given one, or in rare cases, two staffers. When the capitol was re-opened in 2004 after several years of revonations, there were metal detectors, but they were removed after the first year because of inconvenience they posed to the people, elected officials, and staff.
The second intersection came about because of my love of space. In May 2010, I participated in a #NASATweetup at Johnson Space Center in Houston. After the official event concluded, many of the participants went out for drinks and dinner. At the dinner we were joined by several astronauts, including Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was the target of Saturday’s shooting. I spent some time talking to Mr. Kelly and really enjoyed our conversation. I even took a picture with him and his brother (Mark Kelly is on the right). Capt. Kelly is a gracious man and I really feel for him and his family, in addition to those other families who suffered a loss as a result of this tragic event.
The third intersection has to do with the 9 year old girl who lost her life. As I understand it, she came to the event to tell the Congresswoman that she had recently been elected to her school’s student council, a fact about which she was justifiably proud. I can imagine doing the exact same thing with my child if they were in the same position. As a parent, I would justifiably proud of my child for being elected to student council and would let my child know of it. If they wanted to tell their Member of Congress about getting elected, I would make it happen. It’s a shame that someone so young lost their life because of an accomplishment such as this.
On a side note, I work in government and one of my aims is to make the government agency that I work in more accessible to members of the public. I especially work hard to work with children and answer their questions and help them understand government. I hope that Rep. Giffords and her staff would have done the same.
While the events in Tucson have indirectly affected me, the direct effect they’ve had on the people involved and their families is what needs to be focused upon. We need to come together, regardless of our political allegiance or persuasion, and support those who are feeling the direct effects. Capt. Kelly posted a statement on Rep. Giffords web site, summing up the family’s thanks to all supporting them. It’s worth a read, not only because it is well written, but because Capt. Kelly takes time to remember those wo were lost and those who worked to help them. If Capt. Kelly can remember others in his time of need, we should be able to as well.