On Jan. 13 at 6 p.m., Rep. Sam Farr (D-Santa Cruz) held a joint memorial-town hall meeting at the First Congressional Church, in order to honor those who had died in the Arizona shooting.
“I needed this,” Farr said. “This moment needs to be confronted.”
Nineteen were shot and wounded at a supermarket in Casas Adobes, Ariz. on Jan. 8. Six were fatally wounded, including Arizona’s chief federal judge John Roll and UC Santa Cruz alumnus Gabe Zimmerman. Targeted was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was shot through the head but is steadily recovering.
“This is a time when it’s extremely important for people who care about public issues to get involved,” said Paul Johnston, a local community organizer.
The town-hall style meeting allowed members of the community to bring up questions and make statements to Farr. In light of the shooting, gun control and mental-health advocacy were hot topics, as well as the violent politics that have been prevalent in the public scene lately.
“A democracy based off of negative talk cannot survive,” Farr said.
To questions about gun control, he responded, “I hope that we can pass a national law on background checks.”
He also spoke about the benefits of living in Santa Cruz, in light of the violence in Arizona.
“There is no town in America that has more emotional feelings than Santa Cruz,” he said. “This community has such a great awareness … [people have] been able to have civil discourse that has not resulted in violence.”
The gathering attracted all types. In attendance were teachers, students and political activists, young and old, black and white. Teresa Barnett, 84, explained how important it was to be there.
“[It’s] absolutely it’s important,” Barnett said. “We have to get over this partisanship in politics and get informed.”
As the event was part memorial, those in attendance also paid their respects to those who had fallen. Paul Lubeck, a UCSC professor of sociology, spoke about Gabe Zimmerman, who had been one of his students.
“Gabe Zimmerman did as we told him — he went out and worked in the world, to pursue social justice,” he said. “This was someone who fulfilled the ideals that many of us hold. I hope we can support the public institutions that are committed to these ideals.”
Zimmerman, a sociology major, was the director of community outreach for U.S. congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. He organized her public outreach events, including the “Congress on the Corner” event that was held on the day of the shooting. A scholarship will be established in his name for those pursuing work in public service and social justice.
Santa Cruz Mayor Ryan Coonerty spoke as well, addressing the importance of the community gathering together.
“It is my honor to represent you in public office,” Coonerty said. “We hold sacred public spaces like this so that people of all views can participate in the public process.”
Pastor David Grishaw-Jones and Rabbi Paula Marcus were present as well, and spoke of the connectedness within communities. Marcus finished their time by leading the group in a hymn.
Police officers provided security at the event. Santa Cruz Police Department officer Steve Clark made it clear that they were not taking any chances.
“There is an inherent danger in the public eye…you can’t let that stop the process,” Clark said. “[These meetings are important because] they’re part of what makes democracy work.”