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Reflections on January 6th
Finding the Courage to Hold Onto Hope and Fight for Our Democracy
Reflecting on January 6, 2021, I remember feeling ready for the day’s excitement. I was scheduled to be sworn in for my second term as a Massachusetts State Representative at 11:30 am. Just a few hours later, Congress was expected to certify the votes for the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I felt comforted knowing that the certification of votes would bring us one step closer to the stability and civility we desperately needed in the Oval Office. Many days throughout the Trump Administration, it felt like my head and heart couldn’t take another insulting tweet, inhumane executive order, or appointment of another corrupt or unqualified person to a powerful position. And even with all this, I was unprepared for the heinous acts Trump would inflict on us as he interfered with the peaceful transfer of power — one of the pillars of democracy.
Soon after my virtual swearing-in concluded, my fiancee called me into the living room, where he was watching CNN. A riotous mob had broken through the police barricades and was climbing the stairs to the Capitol building. We were too anxious about what was happening to sit down. We stood for hours feeling helpless and horrified as we watched fellow Americans smash through Capitol doors and windows, storm the halls, yell for Speaker Pelosi and Vice-President Pence, and terrorize those who serve our country and the Constitution. We also watched Capitol Police and others take courageous action to ensure the safety of Members of Congress and their staff. We were heartbroken that the day turned quickly to violence, causing injury and death. We love our country and felt betrayed and personally attacked.
Vigils and pro-democracy rallies are being held across the country this weekend to remember and honor those who lost their lives and were injured in the attacks. Vigils and rallies are cathartic salves for the soul. The speeches, songs, candles, signs, and handholding provide a space for grieving and healing and remind us that we are not alone. Rallies help us strengthen our collective voice and political muscle to work together for the common good, from fighting for bold climate and housing policies to protecting our democracy and advancing human rights.
For many, vigils and protests are safe entryways into political activism. As the Massachusetts Women’s March founder and a speaker at more than a dozen protests, I have had the privilege of watching newcomers feel inspired and activated by their first rally experience. Many have become effective advocates, political organizers, campaign managers, and elected officials. If you count yourself among these democracy avengers, thank you for your courage, grit, grace, and activism! You are making a difference. And we need more Americans to believe that U.S. democracy is at risk and that we must work together—across party lines and other differences—to save it.
We need more Americans to believe that U.S. democracy is at risk and that we must work together—across party lines and other differences—to save it.
More than half (54%) of Americans believe that the January 6th insurrection was an attack on democracy, but a sizable minority (41%) believe that concerns about the insurrection are overblown. Today, millions still deny the 2020 election results and remain blindly loyal to Trump and the radical right-wing faction of the Republican Party. I am grateful that many of us have stepped up our political activism and continue to come together to express public support for social justice, reproductive rights, democracy, and our shared humanity. The alternative—staying home and remaining quiet—will only embolden extremists to spew more lies to weaponize the unique differences that make us human beings and divide us further.
But how do we find the courage to come together in the face of increasingly negative opinions of members of the opposing party or people with different political beliefs? It starts with understanding that the cracks in civil society and our democracy are not beyond repair. There is promising research that we may not be as polarized as we think. And, because we tend to perceive out-party people much differently, we have an opportunity to course-correct. For example, a 2022 study by the Polarization Research Lab found that less than 2% of Democrats and Republicans support political violence. Still, both parties overestimated the other party’s support for political violence by over 40 percentage points. Another study found that Democrats and Republicans assume that the opposing party holds more extreme views than are reportedly held by members of that party. Understanding that our perception of other Americans does not fully match who they truly are can help us take steps toward each other and the repair needed for the good of our country.
If we don’t take steps to see ourselves in each other, the divisions will likely persist and calcify with no real way out. We mustn’t let complacency take root. We must keep showing up and find the courage to connect in meaningful ways with others who hold different worldviews. As Rachel Kleinfield suggests in her September 2022 paper, we need a “broad-based, multi-stranded, pro-democracy movement around a positive vision concretized in locally rooted action” to save U.S. democracy.
Indeed, in many places across the country, people have been building broad-based, multi-racial, intersectional coalitions. In other communities, citizens are getting engaged at all levels of government. For many, the local level is the most manageable and least intimidating place to start. Here are some examples of everyday people showing up to make their local communities a safer, more equitable, and thriving place to live:
testify against the banning of LGBTQ-affirming books at school committee meetings
call and write elected officials about policies to overturn Citizens United, protect reproductive freedoms, protect immigrants’ rights, and advance police and prison reform
volunteer or work on local, state, and national campaigns
run for political office or get appointed to a board
drop literature for climate and public health legislation
host a community conversation or book club on racial and economic justice
volunteer for a local organization that teaches others how to engage in the political process
volunteer on a local, non-partisan board to help neighbors experiencing a power outage or other disaster
I admit that even for me, it can be hard always to stay engaged and remain hopeful with the constant bombardment of threats to our safety and humanity. When I feel this way, I take a break, reconnect with friends and family, and come back recharged and ready to work with others to make an impact.
To health and self-care,
What strategies do you think are needed to save democracy? How do you build trust and goodwill with others with opposing views, especially during political turmoil and division? How have you shown up and taken action to save democracy?
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Buchanan, L and Yourish, K. January 5, 2021. What to Expect When Congress Meets to Certify Biden’s Victory. New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/ interactive/2021/01/05/us/elections/05congress-election-vote.html.
Levendusky, MS and Malhotra, N. October 29, 2015. (Mis)perceptions of Partisan Polarization in the American Public. Public Opinion Quarterly. (80):1. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/poq/article/80/S1/378/2223197.
Polarization Research Lab. January 7, 2023. America’s Political Pulse. Available at: https://polarizationresearchlab.org/americas-political-pulse/
Quinnipiac University. December 14, 2022. Lowest Opinion Of Trump Among Voters In Seven Years, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Biden Approval Rating Climbs. Available at: https://poll.qu.edu/poll-release?releaseid=3863.
Remnick, D. December 22, 2022. American Chronicles: The Devastating New History of the January 6th Insurrection. The New Yorker. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/news/american-chronicles/the-devastating-new-history-of-the-january-sixth-insurrection.