We speak with Daniel Hernandez, the 20-year-old intern for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who has been credited with likely saving Giffords’ life immediately after the shooting. "I think a lot of people are realizing that the political discourse has, for years, become completely destructive and more about tearing the other people apart instead of trying to work together to build up the nation and the state," Hernandez says. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: On Wednesday night, more than 26,000 people attended a memorial service to remember the victims of Saturday’s shooting in Tucson that left six people dead, 20 wounded, including Congressmember Gabrielle Giffords, who remains in critical condition.
One of the highlights of the event was a short speech by Daniel Hernandez, Giffords’ 20-year old intern. He’s been credited with likely saving her life immediately after the shooting.
DANIEL HERNANDEZ: One thing that we have learned from this great tragedy is we have come together. On Saturday, we all became Tucsonans. On Saturday, we all became Arizonans. And above all, we all became Americans. Despite the horrific actions that were taken on Saturday, where so many were lost, we saw glimmers of hope. These glimmers of hope come from people who are the real heroes. Although I appreciate the sentiment, I must humbly reject the use of the word "hero," because I am not one. The people that are the heroes are people like Pam Simon; Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords; Gabe Zimmerman, who unfortunately we lost that day; Ron Barber; the first responders; and also people like Dr. Rhee, who have done an amazing job at making sure that Gabby is OK and those who are injured are being treated to the best of our ability.
AMY GOODMAN: That was 20-year-old junior at the University of Arizona, Daniel Hernandez, addressing 26,000 people, sitting next to President Obama, hugging the President and his wife Michelle Obama, as well as Captain Mike Kelly, whose wife Daniel Hernandez life probably saved. Daniel Hernandez saved the life of Congressmember Giffords simply by — well, Daniel, welcome to Democracy Now! Why don’t you describe what you did Saturday morning — what was it? — around 11:00 your time in the supermarket parking lot?
DANIEL HERNANDEZ: I am an intern with the congresswoman’s office, and I was helping with an event called Congress on Your Corner, where the congresswoman had the opportunity to speak with her constituents one-on-one. I think that’s one of the things that I’ve always admired about Gabby, that she took the time out to really listen to her constituents. And she always said, "'Representative' is not a job title, it’s a job description."
So, we were doing this event. At about 10:00 a.m., we started off. I was in charge of controlling traffic and signing people in. About 10 minutes into the event, so about 10:10, the first shots were fired. When the first shots were fired, the first thought that came into my head was, if there is a gunman, Gabby is likely to be a target, and anyone around her is likely to get injured. So I then ran towards where I knew the congresswoman would be, because I was at the end of the line signing people in.
When I got there, I noticed there were a few people who had been injured, so I started checking for pulses and I started checking to see who was still breathing. The first rule of triage is, you find out who’s stable enough, get them the help that they need, and then you move on. But I was only able to get to two or three people, unfortunately, before I noticed that the congresswoman had been hit. She had been hit in the head. And because she was still breathing, she was still alert, and she was still conscious, she became my first and only priority.
I then tried to do what I could for the congresswoman. The first thing I did was lift her up, because in the position she was in, there was some risk of asphyxiation, because there was blood loss, and she was starting to inhale some of her own blood. So I picked her up, and I sat her in an upright position, propped up against my chest so that she could breathe properly. I then started looking for other wounds. There was only the one obvious bullet wound to the head. So I started applying pressure to the wound, until someone else could come in and take over who was better qualified.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, Daniel, you had had some prior training in terms of CPR and medical training. Could you talk about that?
DANIEL HERNANDEZ: That’s correct. In high school, I actually did a program in certified nursing assisting, as well as phlebotomy. So I had had the most basic training in first aid and in triage. However, I actually never took my certification test because I was interning for Gabby’s congressional campaign in 2008.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, you’re only 20 years old, but you’re already a veteran of political campaigns, aren’t you? You worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and have worked on some others?
DANIEL HERNANDEZ: That’s right.
JUAN GONZALEZ: What drew you to electoral politics to begin with?
DANIEL HERNANDEZ: I think I’ve always just been interested in American government and how it works. And in, I think, late 2007, when Hillary Clinton announced that she was running for president, I saw the first time that a woman candidate had a viable chance of actually securing the nomination and maybe even the presidency. I think that’s when I first became interested. And then, once I had my first taste of electoral politics, I just didn’t want to stop. So I then started looking for someone else who I could work for, who I respected, and I ended up finding Gabby, who I’d known about for years, but I had never had the opportunity to meet in person until I became an intern for her congressional campaign.
AMY GOODMAN: Danny Hernandez, how did it feel to be contradicted by the President of the United States? You said you don’t feel like a hero, and he got up and said, "Well, sorry, that’s just what we’re going to call you."
DANIEL HERNANDEZ: I think it’s humbling when anyone calls you a hero, especially when it’s the President of the United States doing it in front of a crowd of 26,000 and in front of hundreds of cameras. But I still reject the sentiment, because, like I’ve always said, I don’t think that I am a hero, because what I did is what anyone would have done in my position.
AMY GOODMAN: Daniel Hernandez, your activism goes way back. You have been brave in so many ways. You have served on the City of Tucson Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues. You’re a well-known gay activist in the University of Arizona community. Can you talk about your activism and how it fits into your support for Congressmember Giffords?
DANIEL HERNANDEZ: Congresswoman Giffords has just been someone who has been right on almost every issue that I’ve cared about. But my activism, for a long time, has really been centered around higher education, because I really think that higher education advocacy is really what leads to just about everything else, because you can tie higher education and cooperation amongst people to everything else. So, although I have been involved in other causes, to be 100 percent frank, my main attention has been working for a statewide nonprofit called the Arizona Students’ Association, which advocates for a higher education that’s affordable and accessible to all Arizona students. And we represent 130,000 public university students. So we advocate for them so that we can advocate for other causes.
One of the things that I did in 2009 was actually draft a piece of legislation that made it easier for college students in Arizona to register to vote, to vote on campus, because when we engage students in these nonpartisan ways and get everyone registered to vote and everyone to express their opinion at the ballot box, I think it’s a constructive way to get everyone to move forward. So I’ve been focused on higher education, because it’s just, I think, the key to moving everything forward.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Daniel, that this tragedy should occur in your hometown in Tucson, Arizona once again being the focus of national attention in a — not in a positive way, in terms of this shooting, but the — and as a Latino, your sense — many people around the country now look at Arizona as the new Mississippi, that so much intolerance seems to have developed there among — even among top leaders in the state, and the move against teaching of ethnic studies in Arizona, the Senate bill, the "show me your papers" law, and the efforts now of Russell Pearce to attempt to have legislation against citizenship in Arizona for what he calls "anchor babies." Your sense of how this tragedy may affect how the people of Arizona see how their state is — the image of the state across the country?
DANIEL HERNANDEZ: Although I do agree that Arizona has probably — has been at the forefront of the negative rhetoric, it’s been both sides. So I’m not going to say that either side has had their hands clean of it. Of course, in Arizona, there’s one party that has more of a platform because they have more power in elected office. But I think it’s not just something that’s going to be happening in Arizona; I think it’s something that’s going to be happening nationwide, which is a moving forward with the political discourse. And I’m under no illusion that it’s going to happen under night, but I definitely see a gradual move towards more constructive political discourse, because even at the State of the State that the Governor gave, where she recognized myself and others, she made a promise to kind of take a look at some of the rhetoric that’s been used in the past in order to move forward and trying to work cooperatively. And I know that those promises are being made in a sensitive time, but I really do hope that, for the best for Arizona and for the country, that they will hold true to their promises, because it’s been both sides that are making these promises. And I think a lot of people are realizing that the political discourse has, for years, become completely destructive and more about tearing the other people apart instead of trying to work together to build up the nation and the state.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you a supporter, Danny Hernandez, of the DREAM Act, as you talk about focus on higher education, immigrants being able to become citizens who go to college?
DANIEL HERNANDEZ: Some of the work that I’d done with the higher education advocacy group was centered around trying to get the DREAM Act passed, which we worked closely with Congresswoman Giffords and Gabe Zimmerman, her outreach director, as well as Ann Kirkpatrick and Harry Mitchell of Arizona, when they were still in the Congress. So, it’s of course something that I had supported, but it’s something that, like I said, issues that Gabby and I were really close on in terms of our beliefs.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, we’re moving into Martin Luther King Day weekend, honoring his birthday, Arizona one of the last states to recognize it. You certainly, in your own actions, have made such a difference in representing diversity, beauty and love in your state. Final thoughts that you have on this weekend?
DANIEL HERNANDEZ: I think that the actions that one person took will not be able to define who Arizonans, Tucsonans or Americans are. And I think we are coming together as one big American family, like the President said, that’s 300-plus million members strong, to support those who have lost family members, unfortunately, and also those who have still remained in the hospital in critical condition. So I think, as we move forward, it’s important to support them as one big family, instead of trying to define what is the differences.
AMY GOODMAN: Danny Hernandez, thank you so much.
DANIEL HERNANDEZ: Thank you.