Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Violence in American Politics

Two weeks ago, on New Year's Day as I ran along the Hudson River in Manhattan en route to the Brooklyn Bridge in celebration of a new year, I passed a young woman wearing a shirt that said, "Women's rights are human rights...," the phrase made famous by Hillary Clinton in her rousing 1995 speech delivered at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. The bold, black lettering on the runner's white t-shirt reminded me of the volunteer work I did for Clinton's campaign for the presidency. How often I was jarred while making calls to constituents throughout my country who told me they would never vote for her. "ABC," they said, "Anything But Clinton." When I asked why, it was almost always, "Because she's a woman."

For the past weeks, I've been working on a story about Afghanistan since I landed back in America two months ago and walked into the airport to face an enormous television showing CNN reports of new tanks for the War on Terror, new evidence of terror, new fear to fear. I watched non-US citizens receive ocular scans and a young Indian man lead away from the rest of us to a different room for questioning. Welcome home to America. How much fear will I find here? How much poverty? How much violence?

This past Sunday as I completed my first official training run for Comrades 2011 which I will run for Women for Women International in ode to the silenced hell of violence Congolese women have been living for over a decade; tears came at moments while I ran staring into the sun summoning their plight for my own endurance and strength. I thought again about what I see in our world and now home in my own country. I thought about Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, pictured here, and her weekend shooting, along with 19 others including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl born on September 11, 2001.

While living in Paris, I read The New York Times daily and during America's 2010 election I was at times horrifed by the language coming out of my country. The rhetoric was volatile. The NY Times piece Being Glenn Beck shared that, "during the first 14 months of his Fox News Show, Beck and his guests mentioned facism 172 times, Nazis 134 times, Hitler 115 times, the Holocaust 58 times, and Joseph Goebbels 8 times."

Enter the media's current discussion of how much violent rhetoric leads to action. The Huffington Post, along with myriad other major new sources, report cross hairs once appeared on Sarah Palin's FaceBook page of Congresswoman Gifford's district. The blog questions whether or not these cross hairs have any bearance on the shooting by noting what major news sources covered their existence versus those who bypassed it, while also citing a March 25, 2010 MSNBC article where Giffords herself says she found the cross hairs relevant. The Washington Post poses the poignant question in the headline, Gabrielle Gifford's Shooting in Tuscon, Did it Stem from State of Political Discourse?

At brunch in Chelsea yesterday, a friend asked if I thought Gifford's shooting had to do with the fact she is a woman in politics. Rather than pummel him with my litany of gender-based violence statistics facing females worldwide, I replied that nothing ever has one reason. Her gender cannot be the only reason. Instead, I shared that as this country wades through the beginning steps of untangling this tragedy and recognizes that violence in America is now undoubtedly creating outright acts of murder in the political sphere that these questions are exactly the kind that need to be addressed and soon.

The Associated Press' Tucson Rampage Casts Light on Toxic Political Tone shares the mounting acts of vandalism and threats Representative Gabrielle Giffords faced before this final horrendous act. In the coming weeks as answers to how and why are found, I hope most for America to shift focus onto what cannot be denied: volatile discourse does nothing to solve this country's mounting needs and though it is not the only reason for Representative Gabrielle Gifford's shooting, it most likely is one of them.