Yesterday morning would have been my father’s 101st birthday. I started the day by thinking of the fruitfulness of his 98 years on earth and his example of generosity and devotion to family and community. Later that morning I drove to the cemetery to take flowers to my father’s grave. On the way I heard the news about the shootings in Tucson, Arizona. I was devastated.
There is such a sense of bleakness with all the hate in our country these days. It is shameless open season on the vulnerable. Our government passed legislation to help people with the necessity of health insurance and somehow that became the catalyst to engender the hate we saw last year in health care town meetings. Then we saw the beginning of the most hate-filled legislation against the immigrant community seen in years such as SB1070 and legislation making the teaching ethnic studies unlawful. In a much more personal manner I experienced the mean spiritedness and even hate as we addressed our broken immigration system by attempting to pass at least the Dream Act. Because the bar was raised on the discussion, the mobilization on behalf of the Dream Act surfaced more anti-immigrant hate.
During the public outcry of SB1070 we responded with the cry, “We are all Arizona” since that is where the immigration legislation originated. Arizona became synonymous with anti-immigrant sentiment, legal profiling, and other efforts to divide our people.
So yesterday as I heard about the shootings and the subsequent deaths of some of those shot, I repeated to myself “We are all Arizona.” But this time the “we” is all of us who have seen and experienced the hate inflicted on the most vulnerable among us. It is also the “we” – like those in Arizona – who day after day struggle against the wave of prejudice and racism. For in Arizona there are also the just.
As I heard of the deaths in Tucson and the shooting of a member of Congress who was merely going out in the community to talk to her constituents, I thought how hate begets hate, which is what we are seeing. I do not know the motives for the shootings. I do not know much about the gunman or gunmen. I just know that the shootings occurred in now notorious Arizona, but it could have been any place else. Here in San Antonio we also have our challenges. In my church I saw the GLBT community removed from worship in one of our Catholic churches. My own Democratic Party could not even have a properly functioning meeting to get organized without havoc and chaos, which prevented any business from being conducted. In our work as activists sometimes we see the difficulties we have in coming together because of the extreme challenges of the issues we choose which are among the most difficult in society. We experience lack of resources and the weariness of addressing never ending justice issues. The work can overwhelm and our fragility as humans becomes obvious. In spite of all this, we need to give ourselves credit for our efforts – however imperfect – to make peace each day. That is the response to the hate.
Today our work is cut out for us. We each need to find ways of being lights in the darkness. Nothing short of that will do. We each need to feel deeply that it is our responsibility to heal ourselves as communities and as a country. It is not just the responsibility of elected officials or major institutions to solve our problems as a nation [although we should not stop making them accountable]. The responsibility should weigh heavily on each of us in civil society to see how we can help to bring people together . . . each using whatever we have at our disposal. Resources. Talents. Energy. Contacts. Creativity. Passion. Time. Above all we should not be afraid to be publicly or politically engaged. We cannot be scared into retreating from public engagement. This is not the time for retreat.