UK lawmaker's murder a reminder that politics is service above all

From a young age I’ve always wanted to help people. When I was 5 years old, I was hurt and  was told I would need to go to the hospital. At that point in my life the only time I’d ever been to a hospital was when someone was sick or dying. At first it was a terrifying experience,but I was lucky that when I arrived a nurse and doctor took me in and told me everything would be okay. That they would make things better. It was from that moment of compassion that I decided I wanted to make it my mission in life to help others. 

I’ve had the opportunity to meet hundreds of public servants from across the ideological spectrum. From school boards to members of the US Senate, overwhelmingly, the majority are bound by a sense of social responsibility and a desire to help others. As people prepare to run for office there are many questions that they must answer. From “Am I qualified?” and “How will this impact my family?” to “Will I make the right choices?” But there’s another question that is rarely asked out loud. That question is “Will my family and I be safe?”.

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Those of us who chose public service do so with the tacit understanding that we lose a sense of privacy. Serving the public means that you are beholden to those you represent. But alarmingly we’ve come to accept that being in the public eye means we have to deal with certain realities. Most who serve do not have security details. We shop, we eat, and we live in our communities that we represent. We hold meetings and forums where our constituents can meet with us to tell us their thoughts and concerns. We go out in public in parades and meetings because we want to be accessible.

It is that very accessibility that means at times we have people who protest us, shout at us, even threaten us. It is not unusual for public servants to receive death threats. We do what we can to cut down on the risks but at the end of the day they are a reality of modern political life.

I’ve seen first hand political violence. In 2011, I was serving as an intern for Congresswoman Giffords when a gun man targeting her came and murdered 6 and injured 13 others. Among those victims were a Federal Judge and a staffer of the Congresswoman’s office.

Today, we hear of the death of Member of the British Parliament, Jo Cox, assassinated by a person who disagreed with her. It has become an all too normal occurrence that we give into hate. Fiery rhetoric from politicians is nothing new but what is new is the acceptance of demagoguery as political speech. Our continued acceptance that hate speech is “politics as usual” will divide us at a time when we need to come together. In the face of growing violence we must also take actions to address it. Gun violence particularly is not an unsurmountable problem, instead it is one with many solutions.

I call on those of us in public service to remember the words of Jo Cox from the floor of Parliament. “"The thing that surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency, is that we are more united and have far more in common than that which divides us”. 

It is our duty as leaders in our communities to appeal to the better angels of our nature. We must rise above the rhetoric. Let us remember the reasons why we entered public service, to help others.

Daniel Hernandez, Jr. is the intern credited with helping save the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. He is a school board member in Tucson, Arizona and a candidate for the Arizona State Legislature.