Promote Peace in Our Politics

Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of Saturday’s shooting in Arizona. We mourn the dead and pray for a speedy and full recovery for those who were injured. It is especially heartbreaking that this brutal attack took place while Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with her constituents. Coming together to discuss, peacefully debate and learn from one another is what our democracy is all about.

This tragedy serves as a terrible reminder to all of our political and civic leaders about the need to end the use of appeals to violence in our political rhetoric. We must find ways to passionately debate—and even disagree with each other—without using words that can give unstable individuals an incitement to engage in violent acts.

Over the past couple of years, violence in political dialogue has gotten out of control. We do not know why the shooter targeted Rep. Giffords, or if he was influenced—directly or indirectly—by the outrageous rhetoric that’s become all too common in our politics.

Here’s what we do know: Threats against members of Congress surged more than 300 percent in 2010, according to As Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik, who is investigating this terrible tragedy, notes:

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.

Too much vitriolic, hate-filled rhetoric that we hear on radio and television has demonized public servants and candidates as “enemies” and has made them sound less than human. In the short run, it may inspire passions and votes. But in the long run, it’s toxic to the survival of rational discussion in our democracy. And it’s not worthy of our great nation.

Before Saturday’s brutal attack, Rep. Giffords had been targeted. Windows were smashed at her district office last March, just a few hours after the House vote on health care reform. At a town hall event in August 2009, a man attending the event dropped the handgun he had been hiding under his arm.

When things heat up like this, our leaders have a responsibility to come together, denounce the violence on the fringes of our politics and do whatever we can to tone things down and bring back respectful debate. When there’s talk of “target lists” illustrated by gun sights, when there’s talk of “Second Amendment remedies” for political problems, when vitriol has gone as far as it did in the recent election season, it must be condemned as dangerous and unacceptable by leaders and citizens across the political spectrum.

As Rep. Giffords said after the vandalism of her office, we all—Democrats, Republicans and other leaders—have a responsibility to reject appeals to violence wherever they occur in our politics.

She was right. It’s up to all of us.

Today, working people have every right to be angry. Our economy has betrayed them. But all of us must work to keep that anger from turning into hatred, to keep it from turning us against one another and to channel it in a positive direction toward change rather than toward hatred and violence.

I hope that from this tragedy, all of our leaders and media learn that we must find ways to debate passionately with each other without using words that can give unstable individuals an excuse to engage in violent acts. We should be passionate, and even partisan—but it’s important our words be peaceful and we recognize each other’s humanity.

I’ve always believed America works because many people contribute many ideas—and that’s good, even when
I flat-out disagree with some of them. But all people must come to the table in good faith. Those of us in the public eye have a special responsibility not to employ violent rhetoric, because it can have dire consequences. As leaders and activists, we have the responsibility to weigh our words carefully and to foster respect and understanding, not violence.

In solidarity,

Richard L. Trumka
President, AFL-CIO

Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.


No one has commented on this page yet.

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments