I wrote this article as an exclusive to the Women’s Media Center, and reprint it here with permission. It can’t begin to describe the pain in my heart for those killed or injured, their families and extended networks of friends.
When an angry young man aimed his semiautomatic handgun at Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in a Tucson Safeway store on Saturday, he didn’t just critically wound her and kill or wound 19 others. He fired a shot through the heart of American democracy.
It will fall to rising leaders like Giffords—and girls like nine-year-old Christina Green, killed by the assailant’s gunfire just days after she was elected to her school’s student council—to transform our political community to one where differences can be debated safely and policies decided without fear for anything but re-election prospects.
I feel a deeply personal connection to those horrendous events that occurred during the latest “Congress on Your Corner” public meeting the third-term Democratic congresswoman has held routinely in her district. Though I was witnessing them from New York, I’m a resident of Scottsdale, 120 miles north of Tucson, and from 1978 to 1996 was CEO of Planned Parenthood in Arizona. I know the state’s wild-west politics quite well. And I’m so familiar with violent extremist attacks upon reproductive health providers that my first reaction was to swing reflexively into “how can I keep colleagues safe and courageous” mode.
Ironically, a moment before the carnage, I was urging Arizona Democratic party activists via Facebook to stop arguing about arcane party rules and get on with fixing the state: to stand firm against roiling bigotry toward immigrants, slashing public education funds while advancing legislation to allow guns in schools, and other retrograde policies that threaten to make the state an object of derision throughout the country.
Almost immediately after the shootings, I received messages inviting me to a candlelight vigil at the state Capitol. It’s important for people to come together to share their grief while they are absorbing the reality of an unspeakable crime.
But as important as a candlelight vigil might be to heal the rips in our individual souls, healing the social fabric requires infinitely stronger threads.