By Tracy Dingmann
U.S Representative Gabrielle Giffords tweeted the news Saturday to her constituents far and wide:
“My 1st Congress on Your Corner starts now. Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later.”
And why wouldn’t she let everyone know? The third-term congresswoman from the 8th District of Arizona flew back from D.C. nearly every weekend and was proud of her strong record of constituent service. Colleagues say the 40-year-old Congresswoman was driven by noblest aspects of the American democratic ideal.
In March of 2010, when Giffords’ office door was smashed in the wake of a contentious partisan debate over health care reform, she told MSNBC:
“Our democracy is a light, a beacon really around the world, because we effect change at the ballot box, and not because of these outbursts — of violence in certain cases, and the yelling, and it’s just … you know, change is important, it’s a part of our process, but it’s really important that we focus on the fact that we have a democratic process.”
But what happened instead of “Congress on Your Corner” last Saturday was an American nightmare.
In a premeditated attack, a madman shot Giffords in the head and fired on the crowd. A congressional staffer who worked for Giffords was killed, along with a child, a federal judge, and three senior citizens, all of whom were exercising their democratic right to talk to their congresswoman. Fourteen others, including Gifford, remain seriously or gravely wounded.
As The Nation editor Katrina Vanden Huevel wrote so movingly in “The Arizona Horror:”
This was an assassination of democracy, an armed assault on citizens gathered to exercise the most precious of American rights—the right to free speech and assembly. Rep. Giffords was doing the essential work of politics, meeting with her neighbors and constituents outside of a grocery store in a “Congress on Your Corner” gathering. This small “d” democratic act is so central to our Constitution and our republic that its protection is enshrined in the First Amendment, the same amendment that Giffords read aloud on the opening day of Congress.
Nothing is more corrosive to democracy than the use of violence to terrorize the public square, to shut down speech, to slay those seeking its exercise.