Alumnus Gabriel Zimmerman remembered for social conscience, consensus-building

Friends and colleagues remember Gabriel Zimmerman's organizational skills, his computer savvy, and his work for social justice. (Photo by Tory Anderson/Alliance for Retired Americans / Associated Press)

Scholarship fund established

The Gabriel Zimmerman Scholarship Fund has been established to support undergraduate students in the Social Sciences division who are committed to public service.

Information on contributing is available online or at 831-502-7275.

Gabriel Zimmerman, community outreach director for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was computer-savvy from an early age, but he also understood that technology was only the means to an end.

Zimmerman, 30, graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2002 with a degree in sociology. He was one of six people fatally wounded Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., in the shooting rampage that left his boss critically wounded. 

This week, friends and colleagues remembered Zimmerman as a seasoned community organizer with a strong sense of social justice and conflict resolution.

"People have to engage," said sociology professor Paul Lubeck, who vividly remembers Zimmerman’s eager presence in three of his classes. "They have to get out there on the ground, get out into the community, go out and get their hands dirty. He exemplified that."

Zimmerman organized the "Congress on the Corner" event that took place in a Safeway grocery store parking lot outside Tucson where a gunman opened fire shortly after the event began, fatally wounding Zimmerman and five others.

Lubeck commented on the senseless nature of his death, and the way Zimmerman’s commitment to non-violent solutions and consensus went against the grain of today’s polarizing politics. "Dialogue was key [for him]," Lubeck said.

Zimmerman enrolled in Lubeck’s religion and social movements class in 2001.

Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, he wrote an outstanding paper about "Muslim feminism … women who struggle for justice and recognition, living in Muslim majority societies," Lubeck said.

He also took a course with Lubeck on globalization information and social change, part of UCSC’s Global Information Internship Program (GIIP), which mobilizes UCSC students to work for civil rights, sustainable development, and social justice causes, while immersing them in the skills they need to succeed as organizers, from social entrepreneurship to web design.

This ambitious young man was in good company among UCSC alumni; he was part of a group of former GIIP students who Lubeck described as a "Washington crew." Another UCSC grad from the program, Daniel Weiss, is chief of staff for Congressman George Miller (D-Calif.). Another graduate is investigative journalist Dana Priest.

During one of his GIIP classes on campus, Zimmerman explored the potential of Web design. "He was looking at the role of technology in community organizing," Lubeck said. "The Web was just bursting out then so it was a very exciting time."

UCSC alumna Margaret Bowe, a college friend of Zimmerman's, spoke of his ambitions and ideals.

"Gabe's purpose, his motivation, his passion, was to help people," Bowe said. "He believed in the ideals of our political system.  This isn't to say that he did not recognize or appreciate the problems in our system and in our government's implementation of those ideals.  Of course he did. But that only made him more passionate and committed to being involved and helping to fix those problems." 

Bowe and Zimmerman met early on in their freshman year. Both of them lived in the Stevenson dorms--Bowe in House 1 and Zimmerman in House 2. 

"Gabe and I became fast friends," Bowe said. "He was such a warm, funny, energetic, smart, interesting person who was passionate about life.  Being his friend was the easiest, most natural, and only thing to do once you met him."

In college, Zimmerman, a hiking, biking, and Frisbee-golf enthusiast, never spoke directly about his own political pursuits, Bowe said, "but given his natural abilities, his charisma, and his passion for helping people, it was a foregone conclusion that he would eventually have his own leadership role in politics at either the local, state, or national level."

He was also an enthusiastic booster of Tucson, his hometown. "I went to visit him there after college," Bowe said. "From the moment I got off the plane, Gabe was telling me stories about and explaining the history of Tucson to me.  Everywhere we went, he knew somebody."

Chancellor George Blumenthal and his wife Kelly Weisberg extended condolences to the Zimmerman family. "Gabe was a passionate public servant, and his death is a tragic loss for all of us," Blumenthal wrote in a message to the UCSC community.

Moved by Zimmerman's death, UCSC alumnus Jonathan Klein has proposed establishing a scholarship fund in the young congressional aide's honor and offered an initial gift.

"It seems to me there should be something done to honor this man who is one of us and was doing good work," said Klein, a 1989 graduate in politics. Klein, now an attorney in San Francisco, said the scholarship would be designed to help other students who become involved in public service.

Information on contributing may be obtained online or at 831-502-7275.