The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others is a personal affront to all people who believe that political work is an act of public service.
Speculation about what motivated the shooter will preoccupy the media, law enforcement and others. The narratives deployed to make sense of this senseless act are ready-made and were deployed within minutes of this tragedy. Was the shooter deranged, apolitically violent? Was he animated by violent political rhetoric? Is he a bad apple in a barrel of 308 million? Is he the inevitable product of the easy availability of guns?
But the causal chain that led Jared Loughner to that Tucson Safeway will unwind over time, and probably won't fit neatly into any of these stories. Not that this will stop the 24-hour news cycle from deploying them, or politicians from using them, or advocates from pushing the story that protects the interests of their clients.
There have been a number of recent reminders of the risks associated with public service and advocacy work. The death of Judge John Roll at the hand of Jared Loughner. The incendiary packages sent to Janet Napolitano and Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. The violent assault on a Florida school board by shooter Clay Dukes. The foiled assault on the offices of the Tides Foundation by Byron Williams. It's logically fallacious to tie these disparate acts of violence into one seamless story, but impossible to ignore one central message: people might try to kill you if you engage in political work.
For much of my life, I've been politically aware, but not involved. I still walk the line between observer and active participant. But as a student in the Masters of Advocacy and Political Leadership program at University of Minnesota-Duluth I've met, been influenced by, and become friends with many fine public servants. Some of these people have sought and achieved elected office. Most of them work behind the scenes, in campaigns, doing constituent service work, accompanying elected officials to events. Because of that, the news that Rep. Giffords' aide Gabriel Zimmerman was one of the killed really hurts this morning. So many of the people I've met through MAPL play similar roles. It could have been any of them.
These folks who choose public service work as a calling deserve respect for many reasons, but today we are reminded that one of these reasons is that public service is a courageous act.
In the wake of this tragedy, public servants must call upon that courage to persevere in the mission of serving the people. The "Congress on Your Corner" event that turned tragic is a model for the direct constituent contact that citizens want. Governor Mark Dayton's spontaneous decision to turn the podium over to his opponents at the Medicaid opt-in signing is another model of respect for opposing political views. It will take fortitude to remain committed to open access and constituent contact in the wake of the Giffords shooting.
There will be policy and procedural changes to improve security, I'm sure. But the message I want to send today to those who do the work of serving the people is that you are appreciated and your everyday courage is valued.
The founder and co-director of the MAPL program, Wy Spano, defines politics as "how we care for each other." On this day, reflecting on this definition gives me comfort and hope.
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