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Remembering Jamie Hahn, a positive force in a cynical time

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As I write this, a week has passed since I finished my last column and went online to be rocked by horrendous news. Jamie and Nation Hahn, a young couple making their mark as progressive leaders in North Carolina, had been brutally attacked in their Raleigh home on Monday night. Social media was ablaze: Jamie was fighting for her life. The attacker worked for Jamie in her fundraising business. He grew up with Nation, was best man at his wedding. The three were inseparable.

I was in tears.

Friends of the Hahns—and there were many—poured out their hearts on Facebook and Twitter. Others, who knew them slightly or not at all, read the tributes and, grief-stricken, realized this was their loss, too. Remarkably, at least 100 people went to WakeMed to wait outside the intensive care unit. Many stayed all night.

Their coming-together in spontaneous community was the best tribute they could offer the Hahns, whose lives have been dedicated to growing the progressive community in our state—using, yes, their mastery of the latest online tools—but also using their old-fashioned, personal virtues of generosity, passion and compassion for those in need.

I should say their lives are dedicated to building a progressive community.

As The Rev. Nancy Petty, the Hahns' pastor at Raleigh's Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, eulogized Saturday at Jamie's funeral, with our help and through Nation, Jamie's light will continue to shine through the darkness of her death.

I wrote these words after Jamie died, still stunned by the violence of the attack against two of the nicest, most positive people you could imagine:

I knew Jamie to say hello and chat about politics. She was always smiling, always welcoming, and not because we were close. It was because—I realize now—that's the way she was with everyone. I know Nation better, and he's helped me connect to some stories. We're friends, but I wouldn't have said we were close friends before. Only in this tragedy do I register what I knew before, had I been more aware, that Nation makes close friends easily—Jamie was his soul mate in that—and they have many, many of them, young and old. They never met a stranger.

Jamie was 29, an organizer and fundraiser for high-level political candidates and for such unglamorous groups as the Hope Center at Pullen, which aids the homeless and where she served as a board member.

Nation, who was injured in the attack but will recover, is a wunderkind strategist for many progressive causes, from public schools to gay rights.

Why would anyone want to...? There's never a good answer to questions like that.

Without an answer, I was grateful to attend a hastily arranged prayer service at Pullen Tuesday evening, when Nation, speaking through choked tears, helped us believe that Jamie wasn't gone and, if we held onto her memory, she never would be. More than 200 of us filled the pews.

That night, I went to WakeMed, where again a large and racially diverse group of people, young and old, high-ranking and not, came to be with Jamie's and Nation's families. I was grateful to be there, too, and for the fact that the families, and Nation especially, welcomed our desire to support them—while they were supporting us.

Jamie was pronounced dead just before 2 a.m. Wednesday. I came home and struggled for a day with how to explain why so many in Raleigh and across the state were hurt so deeply by her loss. She and Nation were being described in the mainstream media as a political power couple. I suppose so, in the best possible sense of that term.

The website for the consulting firm, New Kind, lists Nation as director of engagement. What a good word for what he does—and what Jamie did. They engaged so many of us, and helped us be engaged with one another.

New Kind's slogan is: "Nothing is more powerful than a community of passionate people."

It prompted me to write:

Politics can be a nasty business. It can also be an uplifting, wonderful one. At its best, it's about making connections, building networks and gathering power, not for power's sake and certainly not for self-advancement, but for the chance to make the world a better place and help people to find their way in it. Especially people in need.

If this sounds trite, it's only because ours is a cynical time and we've seen so many people grasp for political power only to do the wrong things with it—and so few do right.

Jamie and Nation are two who're in it to do right. Were in it? No, she's still in it, through him.

And among that too-small group of idealists, Jamie and Nation are two who were blessed with a rare combination of talent, warmth, insight and energy—and blessed with each other.

They're naturals at connecting to people, and at helping people connect to one another, which is why politics so suited them and the tools of the social media fit so well in their hands....

They're helpers. You didn't really even need to ask.

One last thought. Jon Broyhill, the Hahns' close friend, is accused of stabbing Jamie and wounding Nation when he tried to save her. Money is missing from some political accounts. That may be why. But not once during the week did I hear anyone in the extended Hahn community-family express anger at Broyhill—or anything except disbelief, sadness and sympathy for him.

Why would anyone...? There's no good answer to that.

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