“I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it.”
– Barack Obama, Tucson, Arizona
January 12, 2011
Like Christina Green I was a young girl who wanted to be class president.
So, that Saturday afternoon when I heard the story of Christina Green’s tragic death, I cried. For, I could put myself in her shoes. I could imagine how she felt as she got ready Saturday morning to meet her Congresswoman, getting dressed to meet her dream come true. I’m thinking she was thinking that Saturday morning: I’m dressing to go to meet the person I will be, one day.
Indeed, I’ve kept remembering ever since, while watching Christina Green’s funeral service and while hearing the reports about Congresswoman Giffords’ condition, what it felt like to be that starry-eyed young girl Christina Green was that Saturday morning: The one whose loving mother said yes; yes, you can do anything; yes, you could even be President one day.
I’ve remembered loving singing the Star Spangled Banner; attending the Fourth of July parade and saluting the flag; getting to meet my parents’ friends, public officials who, my parents told me, were engaged in the noblest of callings, public service.
In these jaded days and tragic times, it’s hard to believe such a time existed, but it did.
And, as it turns out; as we’ve now all learned, in the worst possible way, that time exists now, too. That time existed in the life of Christina Green, in that life now snuffed out.
Over the New Year’s holiday, I read a book about the summer of 1964 in Mississippi, the summer when a grown-up American girl–American woman Fannie Lou Hamer–voiced the political dreams of another generation of American women, of African-American women who just wanted to be some part of this democracy—in their case, just to be able to vote and state their case.
As I was finishing the book, I remembered attending the Democratic National Convention that summer, the very convention where Hamer and her colleagues fought so hard to be a part of a democracy that would be as good as they had imagined it, a democracy as good for African-Americans as it was for whites.
I had begged my parents to take me to the convention, for I had big political dreams. Political activists that they were, they agreed. I was thrilled. To this day, over 40 years later, I can remember sitting in the balcony, leaning over to watch the proceedings and hear the speeches. I can even remember what I wore that day: A navy blue suit I thought befitted an American girl who might someday speak from such a stage.
I’ve thought, over and over these few weeks: Christina Green was my kind of American girl; she had that same American dream.
And, so, she went, one sunny Saturday morning, to meet her Congresswoman.
In fact, American girls have dreamed Christina Green’s American dream for generations.
Just think about another Arizona American girl: Justice O’Connor.
As the Justice sat there at the memorial service last week, I wondered what was going through her mind, as she listened to the President eulogize an Arizona girl of a different generation. I bet she thought some of what I thought; I was that girl, too.
Just think about Janet Napolitano, another Arizona American girl, also sitting there, just a couple seats away from Justice O’Connor. Janet Napolitano, young enough to be Justice O’Connor’s daughter, yet old enough to remember a girlhood two generations ago, when she first dreamed of public service.
Just think about First Lady Michelle Obama, also sitting there: Michelle Obama, a daughter of Fannie Lou Hamer in her fight to be a part of this democracy.
In fact, American girls dream the very same dreams American boys do.
It’s just that, for too many generations, those dreams have been denied to all but the most brilliant among us: Say, Justice O’Connor, Secretary Napolitano and Michelle Obama.
But, we still dare to dream.
And so we come to Christina Green’s generation of American girls: What will they take away from Christina Green’s death and the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords? Will there now be fewer of them who dream Christina’s American dream?
That would be tragic, too. For, due to the trailblazing of American women like Justice O’Connor, Secretary Napolitano and Michelle Obama, today’s American girls, in Arizona, or Illinois, or Mississippi, or wherever can both dream (political) big and realize those dreams.
How many young girls will be told now, as Congresswoman Giffords tries to learn how to speak and walk again—look what happened to her and to Christina Green; that life is too dangerous; best to stay behind the scenes; best not to dream their dream.
And how many American girls, in the generation coming up behind right behind Gabby Giffords, girls like the student government president, Emily Fritze, who spoke so eloquently at the memorial service, will wonder today whether to choose a life of public service?
How many will give serious second thought to whether life in the public domain is worth it; to whether a life in the very bull’s-eye is worth the price Gabby Giffords is now paying and Christina Green has already paid?
In my growing-up days, American girls’ dreams of holding public office were, if largely unachievable, innocent. In Gabby Giffords’ growing-up days, these dreams had come into the realm of reality, as something both attainable and manageable. Today, in Christina’s and Emily’s day, this dream of a life of public service seems, instead, like a nightmare of a life at war.
Memorably, at that memorial service, President Obama said: “[he]… want(s) us to live up to her (Christina’s) expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it.”
The consensus is that the President was talking about his oft-expressed dream for an American democracy that is more civil, one in which, (as he put it last night): “We are talking to each other in ways that heal, not that wound.”
But, this American girl takes another meaning from the President’s words: That we all pledge to make our democracy good enough so that millions of American girls will choose it for themselves and for their life’s work—choose to wrest the good of it from the evil they saw in Tucson that Saturday.