The Right to Peaceably Assemble

I grew up in the Sixties, era of assassinations. Even before the people’s choice of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was undone in 2011 by a madman’s bullet, I always respected the courage our politicians show when they make themselves available to their constituency.

Newly elected interim congressman Ron Barber is starting his service with a courageous stand for the constitutional right of the people peacefully to assemble. The citizens who came out to meet their representative were are saying ‘no’ to the culture of fear and pre-emptive violence that drives and divides us. This simple act of meeting freely in public is a powerful nonviolent testimony of faith in the American people and the democratic process. From the AZ Central…

TUCSON — Newly sworn-in congressman Rep. Ron Barber, who was injured in a mass shooting last year along with then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, held his first “Congress on Your Corner” event with southern Arizona constituents on Saturday.

Giffords conducted 21 of the informal meet-and-greet events during her more than four years in office, including one on the day of the shooting — Jan. 8, 2011. The rampage left six dead and 13 wounded, including Giffords and Barber, her then-district director.

Giffords relinquished the seat in January to concentrate on her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head. Barber, a Democrat, won a special election to replace her earlier this month. He was sworn in Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

About 300 people showed up at Saturday’s event outside a Tucson grocery store as temperatures topped 100 degrees, Barber spokesman Mark Kimble said. Visitors ranged from other survivors of the mass shooting and well-wishers to people who had concerns about their federal student loans or veteran’s benefits, he said.

The democratic process was violated by the murderous attack that took the lives of six innocent people and wounded thirteen. Ron Barber is showing physical and moral courage by refusing to let the gun rule our politics.

Long Road to Healing

Neurological researcher Jill Bolte Taylor suffered a stroke twelve years ago and became her own experimental subject as she fought her way to recovery. She documents her journey in a book, ‘My Stroke of Insight’.

Although the sporadically discontinuous flow of normal cognition was virtually incapacitating, somehow I managed to keep my body on task. Stepping out of the shower, my brain felt inebriated. My body was unsteady, felt heavy, and exerted itself in very slow motion. What is it I’m trying to do? Dress, dress for work. I’m dressing for work. I labored mechanically to choose my clothes and by 8:15 am, I was ready for my commute. Pacing my apartment, I thought, Okay, I’m going to work. I’m going to work. Do I know how to get to work? Can I drive? As I visualized the road to McLean Hospital, I was literally thrown off balance when my right arm dropped completely paralyzed against my side. In that moment I knew. Oh my gosh, I’m having a stroke! I’m having a stroke! And in the next instant, the thought flashed through my mind, Wow, this is so cool!

I felt as though I was suspended in a peculiar euphoric stupor, and I was strangely elated when I understood that this unexpected pilgrimage into the intricate functions of my brain actually had a physiological basis and explanation. I kept thinking, Wow, how many scientists have the opportunity to study their own brain function and mental deterioration from the inside out? My entire life had been dedicated to my own understanding of how the human brain creates our perception of reality. And now I was experiencing this most remarkable stroke of insight!

When my right arm became paralyzed, I felt the life force inside the limb explode. When it dropped dead against my body, it clubbed my torso. It was the strangest sensation. I felt as if my arm had been guillotined off!

I understood neuroanatomically that my motor cortex had been affected and I was fortunate that within a few minutes, the deadness of my right arm subtly abated. As the limb began to reclaim its life, it throbbed with a formidable tingling pain. I felt weak and wounded. My arm felt completely depleted of its intrinsic strength, yet I could wield it like a stub. I wondered if it would ever be normal again.

In a recent interview with reporter, Cassandra M. Bellatoni, Professor Bolte Taylor was asked what advice she would give to the family of Gabrielle Giffords…

CB: What is the most important thing you would tell her family and friends?

JBT: Let her sleep. Speak softly and leave your emotional baggage at the door. They must not bring fear, pity, anger or worry into the room. From my experience with left hemisphere brain damage, I was very much aware of body language, tone of voice, anxiety — these are the abilities of the right hemisphere and these were very active for me. They should think of Gabrielle as a vessel that they need to fill up with their love and caring.

CB: Why is sleep so important? I noticed the doctors said they are waking her regularly.

JBT: This is necessary at first but sleep is the most important thing needed for the brain to heal itself. Sleep is when the body repairs itself including and especially brain connections.

CB: Obviously you have a pretty complex job as a neuro-anatomist. How long did it take you to begin working again?

JBT: At about 4 months after the stroke. I was able to perform simple tasks for about 30-minutes per day — computer database kinds of things. Like I mentioned before, everybody has to let go of who you used to be and embrace who you are now, including Gabrielle.

While it is almost miraculous, and a victory of courage and caring over destruction, that Gabby Giffords can reach out and touch her husband, I am wary of the Great American Heartwarming Recovery Story. Recovery is a credit to the survivor and friends, it does not make the injury ok.

Gabrielle Giffords has been robbed of part of her brain. If she is able to return to Congress, she will be pushing uphill, struggling with tasks that would have been easy before the assault.

We have been robbed of her representation. Hers was a unique voice, she voted her conscience, she is not replaceable. She should be serving in Congress now. Arizona has been robbed of a representative.

It’s a long road to healing for the survivors of the shooting, and for our country.

Humiliation and Vengeance

No one is disputing that Jared Loughner is mentally ill. As more of his speech and writing emerge the picture comes into sharper focus. Some brain damage, possibly alcohol poisoning, drug abuse, symptoms of schizophrenia, behavior that frightened classmates and friends.

There’s little fear that he will get off on an insanity defense. Since John Hinkley’s attempted assassination of President Reagan, the bar has been raised. In any case, Loughner was not insane. He was not swallowing razor blades or slamming his head against a wall. He was able to carry out a plan.

What set him on this course? Why did his illness take this form? Why is the lone man who carries out a public mass murder a recurring pattern?
Loughner didn’t strike randomly. He had obsessed on Gabrielle Giffords.

[A friend of Jared Loughner, Bryce]Tierney tells Mother Jones in an exclusive interview that Loughner held a years-long grudge against Giffords and had repeatedly derided her as a “fake.” Loughner’s animus toward Giffords intensified after he attended one of her campaign events and she did not, in his view, sufficiently answer a question he had posed, Tierney says.

… “He told me that she opened up the floor for questions and he asked a question. The question was, ‘What is government if words have no meaning?'”
“He said, ‘Can you believe it, they wouldn’t answer my question.’ Ever since that, he thought she was fake, he had something against her.”

I can imagine a young man who is already becoming unmoored from reality– who is nursing grandiose visions and delusions of superiority. He approaches the Congresswoman to impress her with his insightful question, and is met by incomprehension. He feels this as a public humiliation. Who is she anyway? One word is telling…

Jared Lee Loughner, accused of shooting 20 people and trying to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, left a note in his safe that read, “Die bitch.”

‘Bitch’ is one of those words that’s harmless until it’s not. If you’ve ever heard it said in malice you know what I mean. Women in power are a conspicuous minority. Gabrielle Giffords, like every public servant, knew that she could draw hatred for her political decisions. As a woman, she modeled the role of women in power, a change we are still adjusting to.

Loughner left other writings that suggest he nursed resentment against female teachers and fellow students…

Loughner seemed at times to be reaching out for help from the online gaming community in his postings, which emphasized his inability to attract women or land a minimum-wage job.

It’s his recent posts that are the most disturbing. On April 24, in a thread titled “Would you hit a Handy Cap Child/ Adult?”, he wrote: “This is a very interesting question….There are mental retarded children. They’re possessing teachers that are typing for money. This will never stop….The drug addicts need to be weeded out to be more intelligent. The Principle of this is that them c— educators need to stop being pigs.”

Later that day, in an even more horrifying post titled “Why Rape?”, he claimed that college women liked being raped. He wrote, “there are Rape victims that are under the influence of a substance. The drinking is leading them to rape. The loneliness will bring you to depression. Being alone for a very long time will inevitably lead you to rape.”

One woman’s voice in Congress is silenced for the near future, and may not be heard again. Women, a minority in positions of power, have lost ground in representation this year…

Despite the fact that many women ran in the primaries for the 2010 midterm elections, when the 112th Congress is sworn in this January, there will be a decline in the number of female members in Congress.
Women in the next US Congress are project­ed to make up just 16 percent of the members, down from 17 percent in the previous Con­gress. Although the actual number of seats lost is not a huge number, the change is still signifi­cant because it is the first decrease that women in Congress have seen in 30 years.

Full equality for women is not a part of our culture, not yet.

Jared Loughner is a man who was going to do something to put himself into custody, probably sooner than later. He was certainly ill. And he was haunted by voices, the most toxic in our society. ‘That bitch needs to be taught a lesson’, ‘I’ll go out in a blaze of glory’, ‘They’ll be sorry.’ This might have been what the voices said.

There were voices outside too, raising the level of hostility around him. There were weapons of mass destruction, easily available even to a young man whose behavior struck everyone around him as bizarre.

The New York Times has more on his behavior to women…

At a small local branch of a major bank, for example, the tellers would have their fingers on the alarm button whenever they saw him approaching.

It was not just his appearance — the pale shaved head and eyebrows — that unnerved them. It was also the aggressive, often sexist things that he said, including asserting that women should not be allowed to hold positions of power or authority.

One individual with knowledge of the situation said Mr. Loughner once got into a dispute with a female branch employee after she told him that a request of his would violate bank policy. He brusquely challenged the woman, telling her that she should not have any power.

Misogyny is just one element in the poisonous mix that led to this tragedy, but it’s there. One woman’s voice in Congress that may not be heard again. We feel the loss.

The President’s Address

Very powerful, and very challenging. It was a call to put anger aside and to deal with our problems in an unselfish and patriotic way.

It’s hard when the pain of this assault is still fresh and accusations are flying, but I’ll try.

Transcript of the President’s address is here.

The invocation by Dr.Carlos Gonzalez who performed a Yaqui blessing, was moving and appropriate. Those of us who are Pagans have participated in such prayers, calls to the four directions and blessing the people and animals on earth. Video of Dr. Gonzalez is here.

Dr. Gonzalez is an associate professor of medicine at the University of Arizona, and he was one of several speakers associated with the university. The invocation has drawn criticism by some who felt a Native American blessing had no place at a public event. The Wild Hunt covers the controversy here.

There were many readings from the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, and Biblical references were interwoven in the speeches. The ceremony went off flawlessly.

It matters a great deal to be included. The recognition of the First Americans, the diversity of the distinguished speakers, the words from Daniel Hernandez– this was balm for the soul…

Joan Walsh from Salon has more…

Remember how great it looked and felt and sounded, when things inevitably get ugly again. Reagan-appointed Supreme Court Justice Sandra O’Connor, now retired, sat admiringly next to Daniel Hernandez Jr., the 20-year-old Gabrielle Giffords intern who helped save her life Saturday (who happens to be gay and Mexican American). Attorney General Eric Holder was side by side with Gov. Jan Brewer, whose racial profiling law he’s fighting. The service began with an Indian blessing from Dr. Carlos Gonzales, who described his mother as Mexican, his father as a Yaqui survivor of “genocide,” and his son as a soldier in Afghanistan, who praised “this great country, where a poor barrio kid from the south side of Tucson could get an education at a fine institution like the University of Arizona – and then, even better, come back and teach here.”

The static is already hissing, but we are challenged to take the high ground. Just for now, let’s see how that feels.

Won’t Be Okay

I hope that Gabrielle Giffords will survive and recover. Her doctors are optimistic. It’s possible that by random chance the bullet that went through her brain will not leave her with deficits that prevent her from enjoying her life.

But there is no good kind of traumatic brain injury. Even if she recovers now, there will most likely be effects later. You age, you use up your reserve, and the damage becomes apparent.

She’s a courageous woman. But don’t buy 100% into the great American redemption story. Brain trauma is a severe and atrocious injury. Gabrielle Giffords won’t be okay. She may prevail, but she’s suffered a loss, and one that should not have happened. Like so many of our young veterans, she’s been robbed by violence of what nature gave her.

Arizona has been robbed of her representation. Will a special election be called or will someone be appointed to fill her seat?

Season of the Gun

Where were you on Friday, November 22, 1963?

I was a second-grader in St.Benedict’s School, playing at recess when a boy ran up to me and said, “The President’s dead! He got shot!”

Then he pointed his finger at his temple and laughed.

We lined up, boys and girls separately, and went back into class. The nuns were perturbed. The nuns were inscrutable women swathed in black with only their faces and fingertips showing. They had a short fuse and flew into rages frequently and randomly, so in my child’s mind there was no way to understand that the assassination of President Kennedy was more unusual than any other unpredictable event that might set them off.

I walked home, and mentioned it to my mother, who fell to the couch in utter shock. For the next few days, my mother sat glued to the set, weeping as her handsome, first Catholic, Irish-American President was buried in the ground.

There were other assaults on Democracy, and martyrs to the cause of justice in that time.

June 12, 1963, Medgar Evers shot outside of his front door, with his wife and little children as horrified witnesses.

September 15, 1963, four little girls, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair, murdered by domestic terrorists in opposition to rule of law and civil rights.

February 21, 1965, Malcolm X shot because he he had a wider vision of racial equality than the Nation of Islam would tolerate.

April 4, 1968, The murder of Martin Luther King. I had recently read a book about him from the library. I was saddened by his death, and said so to a classmate. “We’re white. You have to stick up for your race,” she said.

June 6, 1968, Robert Kennedy took up the torch of his martyred brother and had just won the California primary. He was out front in the Democratic run for the presidency, when a bullet ended those hopes.

George Wallace, shot and paralyzed by Arthur Bremer on May 15,1972. He was taking his second run at the presidency on a racism lite platform. Put in a wheelchair for life. George Wallace committed crimes against humanity, but I wouldn’t wish paraplegia on a dog. Better he were tried in the court of democracy than that democracy be wounded by a failed assassin.

September 5, 1975, Gerald Ford is in the sights of Squeaky Fromme, a Manson Family disciple with a gun. She fortunately fails in her attempt to murder the President. September 19, 1975, a secret service on high alert foils a second attempt.

March 6, 1978 Larry Flynt, (a boil on the body politic whose contribution is only that his Supreme Court case affirmed freedom of speech for people who have something better to say), is paralyzed by a sniper. Words hurt, but putting a bullet into someone’s spine is an unforgivable violation.

March 30, 1981, John Hinkley tries to get famous by shooting President
Ronald Reagan. Reagan survives and recovers. His press secretary, James Brady catches a bullet in the head and is permanently disabled. His wife, Sarah advocates for gun control and becomes a political target of gun rights organizations.

We fast-forward twenty years, and the question for today is, “Where were you, on September 11, 2001?”

It’s not that our most visible public servants don’t live under threat. We assume that. We’re not some small-time country where our leaders can take the public transit and meet their constituency face to face without the guys in dark glasses and the wires in their ears.

We’re important. We’re advanced. We’re scared. Because any lunatic with a gun can murder a ten year old girl or a Federal Judge or their Congresswoman or the President if they just get lucky. We love our Second Amendment, the right to bear arms.

The First Amendment, read by Congresswoman Giffords in Congress this week, guarantees the right to peaceably assemble. In the real world of competing claims, will we decide that the Second Amendment protects the right to arm madmen and accept the carnage as an act of nature? Or will we come to an agreement to tone down the violent speech and demand that gun owners take responsibility for the power they can’t feel safe without– to take or destroy a life?

American Democracy has some bullet holes in it. Some deep wounds, some close calls– all harmed us. All violence against speech and Democracy leaves us more frightened and less free.

Gabrielle Giffords is not going to be fine. If she makes a miraculous recovery, she still suffered major brain trauma. One moment changed her from a public servant and mother of children to a woman clinging to life in a hospital bed. One act of malice from a young man with a weapon of mass destruction. I wish her the best but don’t be fooled. Brain injury has effects that devastate years after. Our veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan know that well.

Now is the time to say, ‘never again’. Let those who think it’s glorious to wield a gun take the same place as child molesters in our public life if they ever fire that gun for any reason other than self-defense. Get real, and face the damage it does to the individual and society when a bullet cuts the flesh of a fellow-citizen. It’s a last resort, only justifiable to save a life.

In 1963, when we discovered that the President was only a man, who could be taken out by a sniper hiding behind a window, the Season of the Gun lasted twenty years. Let the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords be not the beginning, but the end. Let it stop now.

A Shot at Democracy

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head and several people with her wounded at an event where she was planning to speak to her constituents.

We don’t know yet the motive for the attack, apparently by a young man who was able to get a semi-automatic weapon. No count on those injured.

We do know that the level of viciousness and personal spite has been a stain on politics. Congresswoman Giffords would not be the first or only American to be shot for her opinions or her principles.

Rep. Giffords official site is here.

Think of all our representatives who face the public every day. All of us who lived through the decade of assassinations remember the fear and the harm. Let us not see this again.

Let all Americans unite in condemning this violence. is posting an eyewitness account…

The event was very informal: Gifford had set up a table outside the Safeway and about 20-30 people were gathered to talk to her. The gunman, who may have come from inside the Safeway, walked up and shot Gifford in the head first, “point blank”. According to Rayle, who is a former ER doctor, Gifford was able to move her hands after being shot.

After shooting Gifford, the gunman opened fire indiscriminately for a few seconds, firing 20-30 rounds and hitting a number of people, including a kid no older than 10 years old. Rayle hid behind a concrete pole and pretended to be dead. When the gunman apparently ran out of ammunition he attempted to flee, but a member of Gifford’s staff tackled him. Rayle helped hold the gunman down while waiting for the sheriff to arrive, about 15-to-20 minutes later. The EMS came about 30 minutes later. Rayle said he was “stunned” by how long it took medical help to arrive.

From NPR…

Giffords was first elected to represent Arizona’s 8th District in 2006. The “Congress on Your Corner” events, which she holds regularly, allow constituents to present their concerns directly to her.

Giffords is married to astronaut Mark Kelly, a veteran of Desert Storm. They have two children.

MSNBC is reporting that the judge who was shot and killed was the target of extreme language from the far right for his ruling on an immigration issue. John McCarthy Roll, federal judge for the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, had faced death threats for his ruling in a 2009 civil rights case, for a time traveling with a security detail.

We don’t know yet what motivated the shooter, or whether he acted alone. We do know that violent rhetoric in times of great stress can lead to violent action. Having lived through times when several leaders and public people had their right to free speech stopped with a bullet, I can say that I never want our country to go through such a time again.

MSNBC is saying that the ‘bullet went through’ Gabrielle Giffords brain. There is no good brain injury. She has been greatly harmed and diminished– not in her value as a human being, but in her natural powers which have been stolen from her by a man who vandalized her brain with a gun. It is a shame and a disgrace to put a bullet into a human being. Only in last resort and immediate self-defense is it even thinkable. If Rep. Giffords makes a good recovery, which I devoutly hope, don’t think it means that guns don’t destroy lives.

If the gunman was truly deranged, he has still undone the will of the people by violence. This must stop now.

MOTIVE: From the HuffPo, reporting from Arizona…

[Pima County] Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, speaking about Arizona:

“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And, unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.

“It’s not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included. And that’s the sad thing of what’s going on in America. Pretty soon, we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serve in public office.”

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S STATEMENT: Measured and reserved. The President spoke a few hours before the infosphere erupted with indictments of the violent political rhetoric of the past few years, including tape of Gabrielle Giffords herself describing the level of threat they were under. I hope for more from the President when the facts are established.