Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gabby Giffords

Special to The New Mexican, January 12, 2011

In a hospital room in Tucson, a woman fights for her life. Gabrielle Giffords, who represents Arizona’s eighth district in Congress, is surrounded by beeping machines, attentive personnel, and a host of devastated family, friends, and staffers.

Gabby and Mark at their wedding in 2007
 We have to hope and pray that she recovers from the bullet that a mentally unstable young man sent through her brain in a Safeway parking lot on January 8, where he also killed a nine year old girl, a federal judge, one of Gabby’s staffers, and several others. Not only for her husband, Mark Kelly, her stepdaughters, her mother, Gloria, her father, Spencer, her sister, Melissa, and all of us who know and love her—Gabrielle Giffords is an extremely valuable person.

I’ve known Gabby since she and Melissa were giggly teenagers visiting my store, Pachamama, in Santa Fe with their parents. Gabby grew up in a family with a history of public service in Arizona, Mexico, and Belize, where they support a high school, its staff, and students. She spent her Fulbright year in Chihuahua living with a Mennonite family. Like all the Giffords, she speaks fluent Spanish. Her mother is an expert on Spanish Colonial Mexican art, architecture, and folk art. Her father sold tires on both sides of the border until retiring. Their collection is often on loan to museums throughout the US. Travels with Gloria and Spencer, never boring, have included climbing onto Mexican church roofs and painting watercolors while waiting out hurricanes in the Caribbean. We visit each other often. The Giffords love Santa Fe; I love Tucson.

In a part of the country that Pima County sheriff Clarence Dupnik says has become a mecca for bigotry, political vitriol, anti-government rhetoric, and hatred, Gabby, recently elected to her third term in Congress, has been a voice of calm reasoning in what is sometimes a dangerous wilderness. By luck of the draw, she read the First Amendment aloud in Congress last week at the beginning of the new session. While she firmly believes that everyone has a right to express his or her opinions, she recently advocated for a toning down of the hate speech that characterizes too much of our political discourse, some of which has been directed at her. “Words have meaning,” she reminded us.

Gabby and Mark relax in the Arizona sun
For those who don’t know Gabby, she is smart, funny, charming, well-educated, and tough as they come. She is adept at dealing with people who strongly disagree with her, including many of her constituents. She is a champion to those of us who want to see a better country for all. Not long ago, I spoke with her about her job. “It’s really tough,” she said. “But I’ll be there and keep going as long as I can do the right thing.”

To the purveyors of hate speech, racism, bigotry, selfishness, and yes, violence—the Glen Becks, the Rush Limbaughs, the Ann Coulters, the Bill O’Reillys, the Fox News pundits, the Tea Party naysayers, and other “conservative” media types—your vehement anti-government, anti-progressive, white supremacist rhetoric does have consequences. Your irresponsible speech creates divides in our country that serve no positive purpose. You have incited impressionable, unbalanced people to violence of the sort that led to the bloodbath in Tucson.
As political commentators who have the pulpit on TV, on radio, in newspapers, and in actual pulpits, you have a tremendous responsibility to impart to your audiences respect for others’ opinions and to foster peaceful dissent. Show some positive leadership!

We are a democracy. We do not solve our differences with guns. We do not advocate killing people who disagree with us. Do you read me, Sarah Palin?

As I told Gabby’s bereft father, I am not a prayerful person, but I certainly am praying for her recovery. Our country desperately needs excellent, intelligent, dedicated, reasonable people in public service like Gabby Giffords, who represent our highest democratic ideals. I hope that her strength of character and dedication to public service will help her pull through this hideous tragedy. Please hold Gabby in your thoughts and prayers. She exemplifies the best in us.

Martha J. Egan

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