The office complex atrium began to fill up a little after 8 on Friday morning. A crowd of 50 or more took seats on white folding chairs and awaited the arrival of Rep. Shelley Berkley for the Democrat’s special edition of Congress on the Corner.
Berkley, who flies back to Las Vegas from Washington every weekend, holds regular constituent services meetings. That’s just part of her job.
This one was different. It was dedicated to her House colleague Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was critically wounded Jan. 8 in an assassination attempt during a Congress on the Corner gathering outside a Tucson supermarket. Six people were killed, and 14 were wounded.
Some citizens turned out to pay their own tribute to Giffords, but many learned of the meeting because of the increased media coverage of the event and took their place in line to meet the congresswoman and address a wide variety of subjects.
There was Darrell Whaley, who said he was there to ask Berkley about the “housing and banking issue that the country faces. It’s my opinion that we can’t really fix the economy until we fix housing.”
And there was John Laub and Joy Marsico of the Gold Star Mothers group, which seeks to aid families of fallen soldiers.
Veteran Lawrence Weise turned out to complain about the Social Security and Veterans Administration bureaucracy.
Lu Xufeng and her friend Jackie Rios waited for a few minutes of the congresswoman’s time to discuss the persecution in China of the followers of the Falun Gong spiritual philosophy.
And there was tireless peace activist Sister Megan Rice of the Nevada Desert Experience. Rice, wearing a jacket with the words “Close Guantanamo Now” written on the back, for decades has stood at the forefront of the anti-nuclear movement.
As the crowd increased to more than 100, the chairs filled up, and late arrivals stood in the back wearing “Health Care For America Now!” stickers.
It was a photo opportunity, to be sure, in the wake of the Tucson killings. But it was also an example of representative democracy in action and a reminder that our imperfect system will prevail over those whose paranoid philosophies would rather see it destroyed.
Berkley has been fascinated by politics since childhood. After pausing to honor shooting victim 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, whose young love of public service led her to the Giffords meeting, Berkley added, “It could have been me 50 years ago.”
Like the rest of the nation, Berkley was staggered by the violence and at a loss for an appropriate way to take action.
“I wanted to do something,” Berkley said. “There was such a feeling of helplessness. I called down to Tucson and spoke with her office. ‘What can we do? What can I do?’ And there really isn’t anything. So I just decided that, in an effort to show solidarity with Gabby, and to also signal to my constituents that we’re open for business, and this is a democratic process, and this is how we work with our constituents in a representative democracy, I thought it was very important.
“I’m not a reckless person. … (Given) my belief in our system and in representative democracy, which dictates that your member of Congress is going to meet with you and hear what your issues are and try to help, there is no alternative but to move forward.”
Berkley is bound to be chided by those who would quickly write off the act as a political stunt, but one look at the diverse crowd of Southern Nevada residents assembled Friday was enough to convince me otherwise.
More than smart politics, it was the right thing to do.
The rest of the House of Representatives on both sides of the aisle should follow Berkley’s lead.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.