Via Infoshop News
haloka at riseup dot net
January 8, 2011
As I write, it’s less than 12 hours since the shooting of Arizona U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an attack which has sent much of the United States into shock and mourning. First reported dead, along with a federal judge, a nine-year-old girl, and others, Giffords is currently in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the head, along with several more wounded in a Tucson hospital.
It’s inevitable that this act will dominate news cycles and conversation for some time to come. And it’s vital to point out what would be obvious on a day with less patriotic fervor: that there is little reason to mourn any more for Giffords and the judge than there is to mourn for all others killed or wounded by violence, both clear (the shot of a civilian’s, or police officer’s, gun) and less visible (the stroke of a politician’s pen).
Although not all the facts about the incident and its motivations are yet known, the national reaction to the incident has immediately lifted the curtain on what is most sacred to America’s dominant culture. What is most sacred is the perpetuation of violence in only one direction: from the top of the social hierarchy towards the bottom. Violence, we are told, must flow from government and the law down upon the populace, especially the most marginalized–and never vice versa.
The shooter, Jared Loughner, 22, is said to be an Afghanistan war veteran – which should of course call attention to the trauma and turmoil inflicted by the kings of the U.S. military upon its pawns. Loughner is also said to be a social outcast and mentally unstable – convenient brooms with which to sweep away the myriad reasons, meritorious or not, someone might possibly be driven to kill a politician or judge.
The Associated Press wrote, “The shooting comes amid a highly charged political environment that has seen several dangerous threats against lawmakers but nothing that reached the point of actual violence.”
This framing, pervasive in both corporate and independent left media, focuses on threats against politicians, a relatively small number of threats compared to those coming from politicians themselves. Much has already been made of Sarah Palin’s inflammatory rhetoric “targeting”–with the image of a rifle sight–Representative Giffords’ district, and of Giffords’ November challenger, who held a fundraiser that offered, “Get on target for victory … shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.”
But what, too, about the statements made by politicians such as presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee or Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers that U.S. Army whistleblower Pfc. Bradley Manning should be executed if found guilty of his alleged efforts to shine light on the military’s inner workings? What about Minnesota U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, who advocates life imprisonment for Manning–another sort of death sentence, and violence by any measure? Is this not also evidence of a “highly charged political environment”?
Such statements as these will likely not come under fire from pro-government media, because instead of being part of the theatrical discourse that provides the only real differentiation between the fundamental practices of Democrats and Republicans, these statements are targeting outliers from the top of the U.S. political hierarchy. In the case of Bradley Manning, it is not just Manning who is the target, but all potential whistleblowers, as well the left anti-war and anti-authoritarian grassroots movements that have sprung to his defense.
And this doesn’t even begin to address the dangerous threats–and overt actions or inactions–conducted every day by lawmakers in the form of their social and economic policies… not to mention the wars that murder far more civilians daily than any one “social outcast” ever could.
Many politicians and pundits have said they hope the incident will be a “wake-up call” for the American people. But we have already had our wake-up call, and it’s a blaring alarm clock that won’t shut off: austerity measures, crisis capitalism, the highest prison population in the world, anti-immigrant crackdowns, in short–systemic violence traveling down the hierarchy.
No, it is the politicians who need the wake-up call. Unfortunately, Jared Loughner’s act alone is unlikely to have delivered it.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik demonstrates:
“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.”
“Serving” in “public” office is rather incompatible with the qualities of reason and decency, of course.
But Dupnik is right that Arizona–particularly the state government whose law he upholds–has become a sort of capital of prejudice and bigotry. Unfortunately, he does not discuss Sheriff Joe Arpaio, SB1070, the attacks on ethnic studies education, or the culture of xenophobia and white supremacy which has come to a head in Arizona, thanks in part to the state government’s tacit approval. Instead, he identifies “certain mouths [talking] about tearing down the government” as the source of the problem, which reveals what law enforcement, politicians, and mainstream America see as the real target of Saturday’s attack: government, the idea that there is no alternative, and the hierarchy of violence. Dupnik, and the chorus asking for a “wake up call,” are not interested in decency or reason, at least not from their position in the social ladder. They are interested in maintaining their power, and that is about it.
Who has the power now?
“My tears are flowing, and I am stunned and angered,” said Michelle Bachmann, Minnesota’s notoriously right-wing Congresswoman. But of course she has no tears when young people are murdered or commit suicide as a result of anti-gay bullying, or when immigrant families die in the Arizona desert seeking nothing but a chance at survival. She is not stunned and angered at the idea of violence. She is stunned and angered because she realizes it could happen to her, too.
I’m not arguing that this particular shooting is justified or appropriate; more than likely, it isn’t. I take that stance 1) because I do not know the facts of Loughner’s motivations, 2) because I have not thought through the political context from the perspective of holistic movements for social upheaval, and 3) because frankly, when you think of prominent Arizona politicians the world would be better off not having to deal with, Giffords is far from first in line.
I do not, however, hold any notions about the inherent worth of nonviolence, nor any misunderstanding that powerholders from above should somehow be immune to the sorts of violence that the rest of us, the powerholders from below, risk every day. (And at any rate, I will have more compassion for Loughner, who will likely face a lengthy death penalty battle, than I will for any politician.)
It is not difficult to imagine such an attack that might well be appropriate, though. Many people have pondered whether we might see an attempt on the life of Barack Obama, most likely from a white supremacist, and as a result this sentiment may seem rather unsavory during an administration led by the nation’s first black president. But let’s again think back to a day with somewhat less patriotic fervor. Sometime, say, shortly before or after the re(s)election of George W. Bush in November 2004, when tens of millions of people—Americans, even–would secretly or not-so-secretly agree with the idea that this sort of violence with the potential to stop greater violence could be justified.
It’s also not difficult to imagine other ways to stop greater violence, and not difficult to imagine a combination of many ways, violent and not, that might actually succeed.
And that is how we can subvert the dominant narrative of Giffords’ shooting: by turning off the TV news, putting down the paper and exercising our imaginations. The powerholders from above want us to think they are infallible, immortal, and there to stay. Jared Loughner, deranged or brilliant, lefty, fascist or none-of-the-above, proved that this myth is not true.
Let us use this moment to speak the many ways.