Arizona’s wake up call

TUCSON, Ariz. – Tucsonans like to think that our city is different, that it’s a progressive oasis in an otherwise right wing extremist state.  Joe Arpaio, the notoriously racist sheriff lives up in Phoenix, as do Republicans Governor Brewer, Attorney General Tom Horne (who is attacking ethnic studies programs here) and State Senate leader Russell Pearce who authored the states draconian SB 1070 anti-immigrant law.

The deadly shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., and 19 others has made us sit up. At first we sat glued to the TV or Internet to soak in the catastrophe. Tucson is a small city. We know Gabby Giffords. We are familiar with the strip mall where it happened, and with the hospital where they took the wounded. We waited for the names of the victims knowing that the list will probably include a friend or a co-worker. People cried.  Folks came down to Gifford’s office and to the hospital to light candles and begin vigils that are still growing.

Tucsonans are sad but angry. We’re sad because we can no longer pretend we’re Baja Arizona, somehow separate from those right-wingers in Phoenix. Now we remember the bomb threats, vandalism, and gunshots directed at the Congressional offices of Giffords and Grijalva, our other congress member. So we’re angry at the political climate in Arizona that encourages these acts of terrorism. We’re angry at the talk radio shows, the right-wing legislature, U.S. Senator Kyl, R-Ariz., and the elected officials who come up with one racist anti-immigrant or anti-worker bill after another. Meanwhile our schools and health care continue to rot. And we’re angry with the corporate interests who own the politicians and the hate spewing radio stations.         

Every event here is turning into a memorial. A press conference that had been scheduled to denounce the attacks on the 14th amendment and ethnic studies in schools was a case in point. Kat Rodriguez of the Coalición de Derechos Humanos summed it all up, “Our legislature started the year walking in hate.” All the speakers pointed out that it’s not only the talk shows that encourage violence but it’s the governor, legislative leadership and other right-wing elected officials who have created a climate that encourages acts of violence and terrorism.

This tragedy is a wake up call for all Arizonans. It’s time to take back our state from the right-wing, anti-people demagogues and their corporate masters. We must demand that they stop blaming immigrants for their failures. We need to organize to resist their coming assaults. We need to sweep them out of office. We have much work ahead.

Photo: Vigil for the victims of the Arizona shooting in Tucson. Courtesy of Alexander Monarrez-Maldonado.





  • Right on! The rhetoric from the right is about taking up arms and taking a stand and it creates an environment where this type of shooting is okay for a certain segment of the society.

    Thanks Mr. Bernick for another good read.

    Tex Shelters

  • Hi, great article. I spent a lot of time on fb having to defend mentally ill labeled people too after the tea partiers sent out an email urging supporters to emphasize that the killer was a “lunatic” and a “liberal.” true our mental hell system needs some work but this was an issue of violence and hate vs. mental illness. studies show that 90 percent of mentally ill labeled people, me and my mad kin, are not violent and on a whole, proportionately so called normal people commit more acts of violence, yet the media always has to play up the “mental illness problem” whenever a violent act occurs from someone who also happens to be mentally ill. I have been grieving like everyone and yet found myself in this position again of having to speak out. I just wish people would get it already, mostly me and my mad kin are very sensitive people, and are more often the victims of violence than perpetrators. much love, and may love replace all this hate in this state. thanks for writing this. Peace, Nancy

  • I was born in Detroit and lived there my entire life. Detroit has a very high murder rate. I estimate that an equivalent carnage to the Tucson one accumulates every 7 to14 days! Someone please explain the reason for the great dispariy in press coverage.

  • Joe Bernick is absolutely right. Arizona has become one of the most volatile, hate-filled states in the union. You see it reflected in every walk of life.
    I have been a Realtor since 1985. The abandoned properties all over town disturbingly reflect the violence of poverty and being uprooted. While the banks are bailed out and bonuses continue, nobody is held accountable for this huge, orchestrated transfer of wealth. Most families can’t get loans readjusted by the banks and still face foreclosure even though the new sales price when the property finally is put on the market is often 50% of the original loan amount and would have easily accommodated the struggling owner had he been allowed to adjust his mortgage this drastically. Instead 1 out of 4 homes is upsidedown, oweing more than they are worth. Divorce, domestic abuse, and unemployment rates soar. Realtors often wait for months to hear back from banks on offers. The frustrated Buyers must then sign new contracts designed by slick lawyers that favor the banks. Normal people are rendered powerless. It is a state sanctioned game of economic violence and has real consequences. Arizona is one of the worst hit states.
    When public policy favors the rich top 2%, as it so blatently does in this country, and while we continue to abandon the safety nets in place for those who fall through the cracks the chaos inevitably turns to violence and hatred. Two million soldiers are being cycled through and back from Iraq and Afghanistan with mental problems that will not be addressed. Many people are falling through the cracks as they widen.
    Arizona on all fronts is experiencing the worst violence and hate politics I can remember and that is saying something. I don’t know what it will take to quell some of the violent rhetoric in our state legislature. These are very sad times for Gabby and many others. Let’s just hope some sanity prevails soon.

  • Thank you for the article and for the fightback you are organizing in Tucson. Before the recent shooting in Tucson, there had been many other violent incidents which were incited by the ultra-right and focused against specific vulnerable groups. There were murders of working class immigrants in Pennsylvania and New York and probably other areas, attacks against the offices of politicians and activists who supported health care reform or a more just immigration policy and other progressive stances. Even in cases where the shooter appears to be suffering from severe psychiatric problems, there is no doubt that the vituperative and racist language the ultra-right is employing can be a major factor in setting such people off.
    In Germany in the leadup to the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, violent language similar to what the right is using in the United States today certainly was a factor in both the Nazi victory and in what they were able to do afterwards. Likewise, the fact that there was not a sufficient response to the Nazis’ lies and provocations, except from communists, some socialists and a few others, made what happened not only possible but inevitable. So we must never fail to oppose such language and such lying propaganda.

  • Rise UP!

  • I have such sorrow in my heart for Tucson. I am mindfufl that we citizens are the ultimate peacemakers. We must listen with empathy. We must use active listening to one and all. Finally, we must use our moral compass. Only by channeling our inner Gandhi and our inner King, might we take the violence out of the conflict mediation.

    Through public education in a great school in NYC, it’s alums include the immediate past MN senator, the senior NY senator, and the junior senator of VT. These elected officials, past and present, need to calmly diffuse the sting of violence and aggressive death through guns. I seek the dialogue. I urge the legislation as authored by US Rep Caroly McCarthy in reducinf amounts in magazines. I have faith that members of the Senate and the House will innervate their inner peacemaker.

    Thank you for sharing these observations. I want us all to remember, that yes, we are the peacemakers. Bless us one and all.


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