Friday, January 21, 2011

Tucson is worth struggling for...

This guest post by William Bemis is the second of three related to the recent shootings of Gabrielle Giffords and others in Tucson (in Pima County), AZ. Shortly before the shootings, the NY Times reported on a decision by the AZ Board of Education (a state agency in the capital, Phoenix) to close a Latino studies class in a Tucson High School. Urged by family members to consider relocation, Mr. Bemis, a psychotherapist and my brother-in-law, wrote this response, speaking of the Arizona city whose City Council had previously voted to ask the state to rescind its anti-immigrant law; after the shooting, at my request, he added additional material.

No, my dear, it's time for us and others like us to re-double our efforts to not only preserve Pima County as an island of sanity in this sea of ideological madness, but help the rest of the state and the nation see that leaving all the levers of power in the hands of racist corporate stooges is not going to take us anywhere but down. Having lived in this state for over 40 years now, I've seen this before - with Evan Meacham and Fife Symington, for example. After each of these lunatic lurches to the right, the state came back to at least a more moderate centrist political configuration. Arizona will never be Massachusetts or Oregon or Minnesota, but I, for one, am not ready to leave and concede this beautiful and unique place to the hate mongering front men for big money interests.

I loved living in New York, but we could never afford it, and besides, although their antics are less spectacularly loony, I wouldn't call the New York state government an example to emulate. Where else? Illinois? Puh-leeze! California? Are we talking about the homeland of Nixon, Reagan, Robert Dornan, et al? Sadly, Californios have also had to deal with home grown right wing fanatics, que no? Oregon? A more congenial political environment, perhaps, and a beautiful state, but too much rain!

It isn't just here, is it? I think we have to take the long view. The so-called conservatives (what do they wish to conserve besides entrenched wealth?) are riding high right now, both here and in Washington, but in the next couple of years they are going to amply demonstrate the meaness and poverty of their ideas. Contrary to the self delusions of Russell Pearce, Jan Brewer, Mitch McConnell, and John Boehner, I think these folks are cruising for a fall. I am more worried about the failure of those of us who do not share their agenda to take advantage of this moment than I am of the pseudo-populist, big money financed Tea Party. They have the money, so we all have to write our more modest checks and work all the harder. Our own apathy and discouragement is the enemy.

Moments after writing the above, I heard the news that Gabrielle Giffords, our Congresswoman, had been shot by yet another disturbed young loner of the type who seem to implement "Second Amendment solutions " to their private frustration and alienation on an almost daily basis now, thereby spreading their own psychic pain to all the rest of us. Cue the required messages of horrified shock and condolences from politicians of all persuasions, including even Sarah Palin who put Gabby's district literally in the rifle sight cross hairs and who tells her followers, "Don't retreat, RELOAD!" Some of those messages are no doubt sincere, but the one politician who was the most eloquent to me was Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who doesn't get nearly the amount of press as his counterpart in Maricopa County, possibly because he is a hardworking, low key, decent, and fair public servant, which never seems to make good copy. Sheriff Dupnik's comments about political vitriol triggering mentally unbalanced individuals goes right to the heart of the current political climate in Arizona and across the country.

Gabrielle Giffords is a self-described "Blue Dog Democrat". For me, her politics are way too centrist in an era when what used to be the core values of the Democratic Party are under siege. If only she fit the liberal label that the Tea Party would like to pin on her! Though Gabby's stances on a lot of issues frustrated me, I worked as a volunteer on her election campaigns because I knew she was absolutely the best person we could hope to have elected to Congress from her district, which is Republican overall and in many precincts virulently racist and violent. Gabby is smart, dedicated, articulate, hard-working, extremely personable, and so much better than her recent opponent whom she barely defeated that I would have been ashamed if he had won and I hadn't done what I could to put her back in office. She is surviving so far the bullet that passed through her brain, and the trauma surgeons are optimistic, but I can't help but wonder if she does survive if she will ever be able to function again at the level she did prior. I read somewhere that she was advised recently that she had been too inaccessible in the past, though I seem to remember hearing frequently over her four years in office about her holding meetings for constituents to communicate with her. I wonder now if our congresspeople, like so many others in the public eye will have to be so security conscious that normal interaction and give and take between them and their constituents will be impossible. Yet another weakening of democratic process in this country.

Some of the murdered in this incident include a nine year old girl who wanted to learn more about politics and government, a well-respected federal judge, Gabby's constituent services director, and three civic minded elderly retirees.

We couldn't afford to lose any of them, either. But, we mustn't think that the easy availability of guns had anything to do with this tragedy. "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed." I suppose it would only show my hopelessly liberal anti-freedom bias to suggest that a little more regulation of our vast militia of arms bearing people might be in order.

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