The Biden administration and Congress have embarked on the Herculean task of ending the pandemic, rebuilding our economy and putting the country back on a stable course.
The task is made more difficult by the reverberations of January 6. President Joe Biden’s first speech to Congress took place at the scene of a violent siege aimed at preventing certification of election results.
Two days after the insurgency, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of yet another event that shocked the conscience of all Americans – and changed both of our lives forever.
On January 8, 2011, we were speaking with constituents in our congressional districts. One of us, Jeff, was helping the Phoenix Boy Scouts get their citizenship badge. The other, Gabby, was having a convention on your corner outside a grocery store in Tucson when a gunman opened fire, killing six people and injuring 13, including Gabby.
Shocking tragedies often lead to moments of taking our nation into account, alerting us to deeper issues. Moments like this also spark an introspective question: how am I going to respond?
For Gabby, the question of how to answer was immediate and existential. In the hours and days that followed, she fought a battle for her life.
Jeff also felt an immediate call to action: a desire to be with his friend and colleague in his fight. He headed to Tucson, where the lifelong Republican stayed up with others in the hospital, praying for his friend and fellow Democrat.
Once she won the battle to survive, Gabby then fought a battle to recover. In just one year, she returned to the House of the Union State House, where Congress erupted into a thunderous ovation.
Gabby had asked Jeff to sit down with her and other Arizona coworkers – putting their identity as co-workers, friends and Americans before their partisan identity. We both sat together for the speech, making Jeff the only Republican in the room to show up for President Barack Obama’s speech. It was a moment none of us will ever forget.
Let’s work to find common ground
In the weeks leading up to the shooting, concerned about the passionate and angry accusations that flew during the healthcare debate, Gabby had encouraged the University of Arizona to create a center that would respond to the already growing partisan resentment.
Shortly after the shooting, former Presidents George HW Bush and Bill Clinton agreed to join the university to honor its vision by serving as the founding honorary co-chairs of the new National Institute of Civil Speech.
The NICD and many other Americans have worked hard to close the supporter divide over the past decade, but the events of January 6 excruciatingly show that it was not enough. Again we ask ourselves, how am I going to respond? What am I going to do to bring our nation to a better place?
We both learned a lot working together in Congress. We didn’t always agree on the best route to take, but we always knew we agreed on the destination: a safer, more secure, and more prosperous America.
We have done our best by not belittling the language on everyone’s point of view and by listening, explaining, listening more and finding a common goal or compromise.
We passionately believe that the full realization of the promise of American self-government can only be achieved by addressing differences with respectful, factual discourse and by unequivocally renouncing violence.
Hear from our fellow Americans
But what does it look like if you’re not in Congress? Some of the most important things we can do are also the simplest. In this time of bitter polarization, we all have relationships that have been strained.
The first principle and best practice for engaging our differences more constructively is to listen through the divide in order to understand. Listening is not a passive activity; it is a practice.
NICD’s experience suggests that adopting solutions that attract broad bipartisan support is more achievable than cable news and social media suggest. In the two years since its launch, more than 25,000 citizens from across the country and across the political spectrum have joined the US CommonSense program, which aims to involve ordinary citizens in policymaking. And this is already proving effective.
Recently, thousands of members reviewed a submission on Surprise Medical Billing and recorded their opinions. The NICD then held over 150 Congressional results briefings, and members sent over 1,500 unique emails to their members of Congress urging them to end these unexpected bills. In December 2020, Congress passed a law to this effect.
Our country has been through a lot in the past year. We now have the opportunity to shape a new era.
Let us move forward in a common cause, each doing their part to ensure that government by, for and of the people thrives rather than perishes. We owe it a lot to ourselves and to our children.
Gabrielle Giffords is a former Democratic Congresswoman from Arizona. Jeff Flake is a former Republican Senator from Arizona. Both are members of the National Advisory Council of the National Institute of Civil Speech.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden’s Reconstruction Plan Offers Hope for All: Gabby Giffords, Jeff Flake