Immediately, friends and family started calling from everywhere, saying, “Please tell me you were not there.” We were not. We might have been.
Over the past few days here, I have introduced you to rich Tucson culture and history, and discussed with you the controversy over the law banning our model Ethnic Studies program that really highlights some values conflicts we have with the State capital.
Today I will take you to the Tucson that has been on your TV screens since shots rang out at my local Safeway, leaving 6 dead including a nine year old girl – and 13 wounded, including our Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords. “Gabby” was shot at point blank range through the head. For about 30 minutes, we believed she had died.
Folllow the jalepenos to Tucson....
In shock, we headed down to the hospital where Melanie already had volunteers passing out candles and people were already gathered in a large circle for the first vigil. We brought music. We brought words, from Dr. King.
To tell the truth, finding words was hard. I couldn’t think a complex thought for days, I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t write, I woke up crying every morning. It is important to remember, in the media dust-up that followed, most of Tucson was like me. To understand, remember how it was for you after 911.
Stunned with disbelief at the jagged rips in ordinary reality, sobbing with sorrow for those killed and injured, we Tucsonans came together in community to pray and sing and chant for healing. Candlelight vigils sprang up all across town, at least 5 the first night alone, and more each day since. And colorful commemorations and well-wishes appeared with candles and photos and flowers and cards and balloons and children’s drawings – at the hospital – at the Giffords office – at the Safeway. I know you’ve seen them.
We sang, we hugged perfect strangers standing with us, we cried, and we prayed … for the victims, for the families, for the shooter, for Tucson, for Love, for healing. All this you would expect, anywhere such an event took place. But you see, it happened here. To us. And we needed each other, to feel our community - our common bonds- to cope.
In times of crisis we know, “We’re all in this together”
Why? Why Here?
So, trying to make sense of the senseless, we asked each other “Why?” And, “Why here?” Doesn’t everyone ask that question after a mass murder? Our Sheriff, Clarence Dupnik, expressed our collective sense that we in Arizona have somehow become a mecca for bigotry and hatred, and immediately he was proven correct as he and any of us who agreed, became a target for the Right. Not fair to kick us while we were down. Really. Still, it was not violent political rhetoric that was directly responsible.
As to why, I will state my bias. “We’re on our own.” Arizona is a poster child for government of the privileged (and corporate, monied), by the privileged and for the privileged, not for the common good. Especially, as we saw yesterday’s piece on Ethnic Studies, if you are already marginalized.
Increasingly mean-spirited and stingy Arizona Republican policies cutting funding for education, health care, and social services have a part in this. Many were led to believe that such government services are ipso facto a theft from taxpayers, no benefit to them, and that government regulation is akin to tyranny. Both are hereby proven untrue. IMO, paying taxes and having rules of the road are the entrance price for civilization.
And, because Arizona did not want to pay that price, 9 year old Christina Green, and all the others killed or wounded or traumatized that day, were … well … they were “on their own.”
Education and Mental Health Dollars Slashed.-Too often, the mentally Ill are On Their Own.
(a) Health insurance – This boy would probably not have been covered for psychiatric treatment on his mother’s health insurance before he was 18, even had she tried to get it approved. After the age of 18, no job = no insurance.
(b) School Mental Health professionals – Education funding in Arizona already has the worst per/pupil spending in the nation, and about to get much worse. Non-teaching staff are “extras.” Punishment will not diagnose or cure mental illness, but counselors have been replaced by repressive “zero tolerance” policies.
(c) Community Mental Health funding has also been eliminated for everyone who is not on Medicaid, and even if Jared had somehow been forced into the hospital for a few days and given medication, who would pay for follow up? Not Arizona..
Arizona Gun Swagger Leaves Bystanders On Their Own.
Any adult can buy a gun in Arizona, and all the ammunition they can afford, and carry the gun, openly or concealed, anywhere they want, including into a bar. No evaluation. No training. Regulation needed, not likely.
Jared is clearly scary, “creepy,” to be around, according to people I have talked to who have encountered him. And his thought processes were obviously disoriented. But he did not have a history of violence. What he did have was 90+ bullets and a semi-automatic gun. Thirty-one in the first clip.
Most swaggering gunmen are not hunters or sportsmen. Their idea is that we should learn to protect ourselves. We are on our own. Being on our own is good, strong, self-responsible. “What could possibly go wrong?” I am not sure how they feel about everyone being armed, brown people too...
Regulation may have limited Jared’s individual freedom, but it sure would have enhanced and protected the common freedom of Christina’s. And Gabby. And the others killed and wounded and all those others to go to Safeway on a Saturday morning. I am for that.
They should not have been left to face a madman with a gun on their own.
The President’s Visit Showed Us We Are Not On Our Own.
So, we were grieving in Tucson and holding each other up. And into our midst came the President of the United States, his wife, several cabinet members, both our Senators, our Governor, come to care, to help us honor the dead and injured and the heroes who made us believe in humanity again. You don’t expect something like that. Grief is confusing. It hurts. You want to draw into yourself.
And we waited quietly in line for hours, and filed in to find our seats. Many of us got t-shirts from the University that said, “Tucson, and America, Together we Thrive.” Some put them on. The room hummed softly, it did not buzz.
And then the UMC doctors entered the room and some people spotted them and started to clap. Then the Jumbotron picked them up. And then all the emotion and the despair and the unreality of the past four days was broken by full-throated and full-bodied and grateful cheers from every throat for these white-coated symbols of competence and healing and hope who had saved Gabby and the others who could be saved. We could not help ourselves. I think I cried.
And then Daniel Hernandez, who had calmly cared for Gabby and held her head up and kept her alive came in, and we did it again. We could not help ourselves.
And so it went. Even John McCain got quite a cheer, we were just happy that life was going to go on and people had come to help us through it.
Dr. Carlos Gonzales brought us the healing blessings of the first people, as is only proper in Tucson where we honor those who have lived here before our time, ending “To All My relations,” or "We are All Related." Yes.
People read verses from the Bible, said a few things.
The President said something too, I think. I jest, his call to kindness and his call to make our democracy and our country what little Chrstina thought it was, to live up to her expectations of us was, So moving.
And the first lady wiped tears from her eyes.
And then we were no longer in despair, it was going to be OK. We were together, wrapped the spirit of community, we were not on our own, and that is how we would get through this. Someone had come to care and to help us heal. Joined together with us in our grief. Reminded us of the goodness of people and the value of "Together."
You see – Mr. Horne who says it is only our individual effort and our individual “success” that counts – in actuality, we humans are herd animals and we don’t actually do so well unless we all row the boat together and sing songs as we bend our backs to the oars. Together we are strong. Together we raise barns and build skyscrapers and highways and schools. By ourselves we are frail beings, lost in a jungle with no tools.
So let us teach all students history as it actually happened, let us deeply appreciate a simple Native prayer, and let us all study and experience cultures other than our own. This is the spirit of Tucson.