Nearly 40 people gathered at the base of the Capitol on Saturday night for a vigil honoring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Democrat shot earlier in the day at a constituent event in Tucson, Ariz.
The group of mostly 20- and 30-somethings lasted less than an hour and carried an understated tone. Vigil attendees formed a circle and stood silently for several seconds before some offered a few words on what brought them to the Capitol on a chilly winter night.
Attendees, who learned of the event via Facebook and Twitter, shared their hope for Giffords’ recovery and complained of the heated political rhetoric that some say was to blame for the shooting.
“I never thought it could get this bad. Ever,” said Jason Gooljar, a 31-year-old information technology director who helped organize the vigil. “Ever since the president got elected in 2008, it’s gotten pretty bad, but it hasn’t stopped.”
Gooljar said he read of similar events being organized in Arizona, which prompted him to start a social media effort to schedule something similar in Washington.
“This is the nation’s capital and we had to do something,” he said.
Fellow vigil attendees seemed to agree. Two women from Arizona said they were prompted to join the event because they wanted support to help cope with what was going on at home. Another man showed his state pride by donning a University of Arizona baseball hat, with the cap worn low over his face. Many were bundled up and visibly shivering as the temperature hovered around 25 degrees, and the cold winds prevented any candles from being lit.
One young woman who helped Gooljar in organizing the event said she was moved because of a need to find solidarity.
“We’re just really upset, [and] we wanted to be with people who felt the same way,” said the woman, who would not give her name.
Indeed, many of the attendees were quiet and reserved and either would not grant interviews or would not give their names. A few did note that they were Congressional staff for Democratic Members, and one of those staffers noted just how close Saturday’s events hit to home.
“It could have been any one of our bosses,” the aide said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.