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Dear Sarah Palin:
I am writing today about how you are responding to and how you will respond to the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the murders of six other people.
By way of introduction and background, I am a cousin of Congresswoman Giffords. I am also an ally of Dr. George Tiller, the Kansas doctor who provided abortion services and who was assassinated on May 31, 2009.
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When the Congresswoman’s offices were vandalized after her vote on healthcare reform, I wrote to her. As I recall, I congratulated her on her strong spirit in the face of that attack and other threats. I told her that I was proud of her courage on behalf of health care reform and sorry that she had to show the same courage as those who provide health care to pregnant women who need abortions and other reproductive health care services. Both have been the subjects of hateful, vitriolic language. Both have been put in rifle crosshairs.
In the aftermath of the murder of Dr. Tiller and the attempted murder of Congresswoman Giffords, many have spoken out about the role that hateful language played or might have played in encouraging these acts of violence. Immediately after Congresswoman Giffords was shot, many people voiced concern about such things as your “Take Back the 20” map targeting congressional districts of those representatives, including Congresswoman Giffords, who voted for health care reform by placing their districts in the crosshairs of a gun sight. Commentators have also noted your advice to people disappointed in the outcome of the 2008 elections to “lock and load” and “don’t retreat, reload.”
As I am sure you are now aware, Congresswoman Giffords herself had expressed concern about your map in particular. She said: “We need to realize that the rhetoric, and the firing people up and … for example, we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, the way she has it depicted, we’re in the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize that there are consequences to that action…”
Your response so far, has been to defend the images and language you use. In an e-mail to Mr. Glenn Beck you said, “Our children will not have peace if politicos just capitalize on this to succeed in portraying anyone as inciting terror and violence.”
Ms. Palin, the moment calls for more than this. I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment and of your right to defend your words and to challenge those who seek to connect them to the assassination attempt and murders in Tucson, Arizona. I also know that there is often a very long distance between words and actions.
But even if your map and your language had nothing to do with these murders or any others that might occur in the future, a compassionate response would acknowledge that possibility and indicate a willingness, in her honor, in honor of the people who died, to consider this concern.
Whether or not you are willing to take this concern seriously, it is, nevertheless a critical moment to clarify your beliefs and principles. Now is the time to answer these questions and lead.
Do you believe it is appropriate to bring about political change in America through the use of or threat of violence?
When you suggest targeting candidates, use gun-sight crosshairs to do so, and speak repeatedly about guns, locking and reloading do you mean that violence is or could be properly used to encourage or ensure certain outcomes of elections or legislative votes?
If you do not mean literally that elected officials should be targeted with rifles and threatened by political activists armed with loaded weapons, what do you mean? What should politically frustrated Americans do when their views are not prevailing?
Throughout the course of history people have demonstrated that the most effective change comes through non-violent action. Many of us believe that the most courageous leaders and activists are those who are willing to be attacked for their beliefs not those who threaten to attack.
Ms. Palin, if you are among those who believe that political change can come about non-violently, without hate, violence, or the threat of violence, now would be an excellent time to say so.