Everyone in my parents’ generation knows where they were in the moments they learned that President Kennedy was killed and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. They will recall these dark days for our nation with remarkable detail. On Saturday afternoon, I was eating vegetable noodle soup in a Chinese restaurant in downtown DC, waiting to see “The Fighter” film, checking my Twitter account, when I read that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and many innocent bystanders had been brutally attacked. In a rapid succession of Tweets, I also then learned that right wingers had their “crosshairs set on Giffords” and she had been threatened in her office. The crosshairs language was all over websites, campaign ads and media coverage. I felt sick. Could it be that some delusional person had been influenced by this rhetoric? It seems that nightmare vision is coming true. On Saturday, our generation experienced political assassination.
I feel compelled to write about my experience of this attack. Why? This terrorism hits very close to home: I’m in DC where we also had mail bombs this week, I work in media relations for progressives who are in “the crosshairs” of the right wing, during the 2008 elections while working on voting rights, I received threatening phone calls and my colleagues have received death threats. (This morning, I learned that Patricia Maisch, who is being called a hero for helping to stop the attacker, is the mother of a friend. She is doing well.)
And, what you may not know about me is that I too was a victim of terrorists, when I survived the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. I know fear. I intimately understand the fear that delusional people are trying to spread when they conduct these political attacks. They seek to make us cower and to silence us.
This is my generation’s moment, and how we will be judged by history will be written by our response to Saturday’s attack. I will not be silenced. I will be courageous and peace-loving. I will spread love and compassion.
Our nation’s strongest champion of love and compassion was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Next week, we celebrate his birthday. At this time, he would call on us to be courageous and to embrace all humans with love and compassion. He would ask us to choose peace versus revenge. It was the “eye for an eye” mentality after 9/11 that led us to two wars in the Middle East. We see now our actions have made the terror situation much worse for all of us.
Dr. King, and tens of thousands of civil rights workers, led our country out of the darkness of segregation. They faced a large swath of the American population that feared inclusion. Bigots viewed our country as not having enough to share and they lived in a place of scarcity. But, Dr. King and the civil rights workers saw things very differently. They saw the possibility of a world of abundance for all people, regardless of race; and, it was their vision that, of course, won the day. They did it with peace.
Today, we face a similar moment of opposing visions of who we are and what we can be. Our country is involved in two seemingly never-ending wars, we have high unemployment, we have environmental and infrastructure degradation, we have Wall Street run amok with greed and there is not enough health care resources for all of us. Americans, regardless of their politics, are scared and nervous. It is a trying time.
Politicians, pundits and the media have preyed on this fear for political and financial gain. These are supposed to be institutions that we trust. Instead, the former Governor of Alaska set her “crosshairs” on members of Congress she did not agree with, a top “news” figure advocates violence and a Tea Party candidate throws a shooting party. Giffords spoke out against this language. In terms of legislation, we see anti-immigrant laws being considered by states across the country, a heated debate on citizenship and a large group of people who think President Obama is not an American. In a time when people are scared, we have a group of Americans who are pointing fingers at “the other.” It’s a confluence of greed and fear in which our modern media cooperates.
But, there is another vision of the nation from those of us who see possibilities. We do not live in a place of fear and scarcity. We live in a place of abundance. We live to be compassionate and empowered.
I see the world around me as a positive work in progress, and I tell stories that reflect, uplift and empower. We make good headlines that show what is possible: a whole community reading together, DC youth go door-to-door to introduce inner-city communities to green products and Egyptian workers come together to advocate for good pay. We believe that the press has a role as the fourth estate, we believe in freedom of speech, which is why we work with the press and seek to hold it accountable.
For me, there is no “fight” to be had with the politicians, pundits, media or extremists. This fight is over. We’ve had a lot of fighting and look where that got us. Peace is the goal and it is also the tactic.
It’s time to vision inclusion. We can help do that by giving voice to the voiceless. We can empower people to be seen and heard for the good they do for each other.
From examining her voting record, I believe Congresswoman Giffords lives in a country of abundance. She voted to give more unemployment insurance assistance to those Americans out of work, she voted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that kept people who are gay from serving in the military and she voted for the Dream Act to allow young people to pursue higher education. She voted for health care reform to bring coverage to more people.
Today, we have our moment to overcome as a people. We can select our vision for our country and for ourselves. Let us celebrate and honor Congresswoman Giffords and Dr. King by tuning out the rhetoric and tuning in compassion.
- Sarah Massey