Six years ago today, our country and community changed forever when a deranged gunman killed six and wounded 13 at a Congress on Your Corner event hosted by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Few of us will ever forget how we felt upon first hearing the awful and shocking news. Now, as a way to honor the victims and educate future generations, we are working together to establish a permanent January 8th National Memorial in Tucson.
On that chilly Saturday morning, people came to that Safeway for a simple reason: to meet with their elected representative and share their thoughts, ideas and concerns. This conversation is critical to the healthy functioning of our republic, and for that reason, this shooting wasn’t just an attack on our community, but on our very democratic foundations.
Jan. 8, 2011 was the first time in our country’s history that an assassination attempt was made on a Congressional Member while she was engaging with constituents. It also is remembered as the first assassination of a congressional staffer, Gabe Zimmerman, in the line of duty.
In our community and all around the country, this tragedy sparked a sense of civility, unity and understanding. For example, at the State of the Union Address a few weeks later, lawmakers broke with tradition by sitting not by party, but as one Congress, united.
Not long after the shooting, our community began discussing ways to permanently honor the victims and tell the story of the courage and compassion the attack evoked. Thus, Tucson’s January 8th Memorial Foundation was established in February 2012.
Since then, board members have held regular meetings with survivors, victims’ family members, first responders and medical personnel and solicited input from the public. More than 60 design teams submitted applications, and, after lengthy review, a final design was selected in January 2016. Representatives from the foundation also have met with members of Congress, the Senate, and the administration to advocate for the national importance of this effort.
The permanent memorial, planned for El Presidio Park near the Old Pima County Courthouse, will serve as a gathering place for citizens to remember and reflect. It will highlight those whose actions saved lives: private citizens, law enforcement and medical personnel. Carved symbols in the memorial walls will tell the stories of the victims and who they were.
In addition, six gardens will be situated outside the memorial, one for each life tragically taken that day. For example, the garden of 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, who loved butterflies, will be a butterfly garden.
The Jan. 8 attack affected our entire country and was an assault on the very foundation of a representative government.
For that reason, on Jan. 6 I introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to designate the memorial an “Affiliated Area” of the National Park Service, making it one of just 36 national memorials. The bill has the bipartisan support of members of the Arizona House delegation. In addition, Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake plan to introduce companion legislation in the Senate.
Today, we remember those we lost six years ago and the grief felt by their loved ones and our community. We reflect upon the ideals that brought them together that day — freedom of speech and the importance of engaging with our elected representatives.
The January 8th National Memorial will be a beacon for those ideals. It will serve as an enduring reminder that what unites us will always be greater than what divides us. It will be an example of not hate, but hope, and just as our community led the way six years ago, it can be an example the whole country can follow.