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As the daylight vanished on the night of Tuesday, January 5th, 2021, and citizens all around the nation crawled under their blankets, many thoughts lay on the Georgia Senate runoffs, which were still undecided, and too close to call. There was less than a 1% difference in votes between the Republican and Democratic candidates. If the Democratic candidates each won their runoffs, Democrats would gain control of the Senate after four years of battling a majority-Republican Senate. This would mean favorable things for Democrats and progressive politicians: with a majority Senate, progressive legislation would have a higher chance of making it up the ladder into getting passed.
The reality is, there would still be many obstacles if the Senate majority were Democratic, but at the very least, it has the potential to swing the pendulum back towards progressiveness in our administration.
In the early hours of Wednesday, January 6th, 2021, at exactly 2:10 a.m., Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock was the declared winner of his runoff, becoming the first Black Democrat to be elected to the Senate from a formerly Confederate state. Democrats rejoined around the country; this was a milestone for the American people, one of the most representative of growth through the past 200 years.
At 8:17 am, Donald Trump tweeted a message pressuring Mike Pence to send the votes of each state back to the state, so that they could be “corrected.” “All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN,” Trump claimed, despite the numerous rejections of election fraud, even from his own attorney general. He continued, placing the focus on Mr. Pence, citing this as “the moment for extreme courage.”
As noon approached, the capitol’s grounds slowly filled with Trump supporters, many wearing MAGA hats and Trump 2020 gear, and waving flags with slogans. The crowd was mostly unmasked, according to the Washington Post and The New York Times.
At 12:00 p.m., Trump delivered his speech that encouraged the pre-meditated insurrection — whether Trump was aware of it at this time is arguable, but his language definitely makes it seem so — and that he was supporting it.
“We will never give up, we will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore and that’s what this is all about,” Trump said, to the crowd of gathered Trump supporters, who likely interpreted it as permission — or even a sense of duty — to deliver on their plans and infiltrate the Capitol.
A full transcript of Trump’s speech can be found here, filled to the brim with with demagogic references to Democrats, the “fake news media,” and “Big Tech,” which all appeal to the fears of right-wing conservatives, for reasons very well-explained in this article by conservative political analyst, and New York Times’ columnist, Ross Douthat. Overall, Trump’s speech before the rally undoubtedly encouraged the insurrection — and his address of the incident later on in the day seemed to be less of condemnation than of admiration — another sign of his support or potential involvement.
“States want to revote… All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to re-certify and we become president and you are the happiest people,” Trump insisted.
The “you” in Trump’s sentence is directed towards the Trump supporting crowd who stood before him, and who watched him on television; Trump has rarely ever attempted to address Democrats in a polite manner in his speeches. Instead, he constantly uses pronouns like “you” and “we” that are solely directed towards his followers, leaving the rest of Americans feeling disconnected, and frankly, frustrated. For his supporters, this rhetoric creates a partisan identity which threatens the unity necessary for our country to self-sustain.
It should be noted that when Joe Biden spoke on Inauguration Day, he advocated unity by speaking to both groups of supporters, whether they supported him or not: “I pledge this to you: I will be a President for all Americans. I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.” The difference between the approach to leadership between Trump and Biden speaks volumes of their respect for those who dissent with their political position. In a country where freedom and tolerance is a hallmark of our identity, Trump’s ability to shame and demoralize his dissenters with immature language is alarming.
At 1:00 p.m., members of the Senate and Vice President Pence walked to the House chamber, meanwhile the first wave of Trump supporters flooded the outer barrier west of the Capitol (a video of this moment is available here). Trump continued his speech as this occurred, saying “If you don’t fight … you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
At 1:10 pm, Trump ended his speech by urging his audience to march down Pennsylvania Avenue, announcing “We’re going to the Capitol… We’re going to try and give them [Republicans] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country,” words that manifested themself in the next few hours as violence the Capitol has never seen before.
During the next hour, the pro-Trump crowd marched to and gathered outside of the Capitol; as the mob grew, they began to overwhelm police officers, who many later argued were not well-prepared, nor defending enough of the White House. Meanwhile, Pence released a letter announcing he would not interfere in Congress’ electoral count, contrary to the hopes of Trump and his supporters. “My oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority,” he declared.
At 2:15 p.m., the mob breached the Capitol building, breaking windows and opening doors for others to follow. Fifteen minutes later, members of Congress began evacuating as the mob grew closer, making their way through the building. Trump tweeted at 2:38 p.m., asking protestors to “Please support our Capitol Police and Law Enforcement. They are truly on the side of our Country. Stay peaceful!” But this was a means to no end; protestors gathered at the Louisiana, Florida, and Ohio Capitol’s, all of whom began evacuating as well.
At 2:33 p.m., the rioters were reported as making their way to the House and Senate rooms after crossing the Statuary Hall, which separates the rooms.
At 2:44 p.m., shots were reported fired in the House chamber.
Three minutes later, Bronx Science students ended their remote classes; some had heard about the mob during class, and some just caught wind of it upon closing their Zoom windows. A student wishing to remain anonymous recounts, “I just got out of my last class of the day and checked my phone. The first notification on my screen was about a mob at the Capitol, and I could not believe it.” Amelia Volpe ’21 was on the train when she heard about the riot, on the way to her doctor’s office, where she then saw it on the television. “I just stood there, shocked, staring at the screen trying to make sense of what I was looking at,” Volpe said.
Fears and questions swirled around as the violence ensued. Volpe ’21 admits, “I was immediately scared that there would be an assassination attempt (or many).” Some had trouble dealing with the reality of the situation, and did not know what to feel. “I really couldn’t believe it to the point where I couldn’t even have any feelings about it at first… Seeing the perpetrators think they were doing something right really confused me too,” said a Bronx Science student, wishing to remain anonymous.
Photos began to surface of rioters inside Capitol rooms – at 3:03 p.m., some were photographed sitting in the Senate floor. Trump supporter Richard Barnett, was photographed sitting inside the office of assistant to U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. At 3:34 p.m., CBS reported that Ashli Babbit, former Air-Force veteran and avid Trump supporter, had died after being critically shot in the neck when breaking through the windows of the Capitol building.
At 3:36 p.m., White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tweeted that the National Guard was on their way to the capitol. The ensuing half hour, protests began to sprout in different places across the country, like a domino effect. In Sacramento, such were met with counter-protests and police presence, which raised tensions led to many turning violent, like in Los Angeles. As the day continued, many took to social media to point out the lack of authority with which the police treated the Trump supporters. “Throughout the rest of the day, watching and reading the news, I was just more and more frustrated with the treatment of the Trump supporters in comparison with the BLM protests over the summer,” Volpe said. Video was posted of certain officers nonchalantly handling the situation, taking selfies with protesters and even helping some move back barricades.
At 4:05 p.m., then-President-elect Joe Biden, in a speech that was going to be dedicated to discussion of the economy, instead turned the focus towards the insurrection, calling on Trump to “demand an end to this siege.” Twelve minutes later, at 4:17 p.m., Trump tweeted a video (link here) of himself, saying he loved his supporters and he understood how they felt about the “fraudulent election,” but that they had to “go home now” in order to have peace. Trump’s dialogue focused nearly as much attention on the false claim of election fraud as his direction to go home to his supporters, making the video of little help to the situation in the White House.
At around the same time, a small light shone from Georgia during the rest of the country’s moments of despair: Joseph Ossoff was announced winner of his runoff, becoming the first Jewish senator to be elected from Georgia and the first to be elected from the Deep South since 1879 – or 163 years ago. “I did not think Ossoff was going to win since Perdue was a more popular candidate than Loeffler,” said Carolina Hohl ’22, who cited the win as a pleasant surprise. With Raphael Ornock’s morning victory, this meant that the Senate would be flipped blue. “Georgia has not been blue for a while, so the people of Georgia electing two blue senators – especially their first black and first Jewish senator – was amazing,” Hohl said. But more unfortunate matters continued to press our nation, erupting on the doorsteps of the capitol. “Unfortunately, I think the events in Washington D.C. overshadowed the election in Georgia,” said Volpe.
The tumult eventually died down, with the National Guard finally taking more effective control. Hours later, at 8 p.m., Congress finally reconvened and continued to count Electoral Votes — but the damage was done, and the country was shaken.
The following days, remote Bronx Science classrooms filled with discussion about the January 6th events at the capitol. Students and teachers alike felt depressed after witnessing the scene, worried about more to come, or purely disappointed in how far our country had fallen. “The discussions during class the day after really helped me unpack what happened. I’m glad students were given the opportunity to talk about it with other students and their teachers, because sometimes these conversations aren’t easy to have with family members,”said a Bronx Science student who wishes to remain anonymous. With teenage mental health issues on the rise due to the dramatic changes students have faced in the past year, the opportunity that Bronx Science students were given to discuss the events during the following days was incredibly helpful.
But when classes ended and the dust settled — even with many students feeling slightly better — a collective knowledge fell over every American citizen who had watched the chaos erupt: January 6th would be engrained in our minds forever. A breach of our democracy, an insult to our democratic process — this would be a day for the history books. But how will we remember it — how will it be written?
“I don’t know how future history books will be written, but I have hopes for how they will be. I hope that the history books really stress that the words politicians say have an impact, and paint this as ‘Anti-American’ in the sense that it challenged our system of government,” said an anonymous Bronx Science student. Volpe shared similar sentiments, acknowledging, “This country has a history of downplaying major events in history textbooks when they don’t make us look good. I hope younger generations make sure this is talked about.”
As the generation who is growing up amongst one of the most difficult years America has ever faced — with the Coronavirus pandemic, the intense political polarization, a previously inactive president, and now ensuing undemocratic violence as a result of all of this tension — we will be forced to reckon with the roots of these issues in order to move forward. In the same way that previous generations have left the climate crisis up to the youth, political factions also appear to be being left in our hands, at least more than before. “We must try for the good of the country, but it will be a hard to de-radicalize those people,” said Hohl, when asked about her thoughts on what path the county should take, to prevent another excursion like the one at the capitol.
Although the event at the capitol makes forward movement seem hopeless, its aftermath reminds us that our leaders are genuinely concerned with the unity of our nation, as members of both sides condemned the actions. Seven Republican senators voted to impeach Trump, while others, like Senator Mitch McConnell, agreed that he had incited the riot, but chose to acquit him. Many stood confused at this result, but the action was likely to prevent a schism in the Republican party — a possibility, considering the historical demise of the Federalists in the early 1800s, and the nature of history to repeat itself.
Either way, a new leader sits in the Oval Office, and already our country has seen progress. Whether or not our country can sew back the tears in our flag — slit by the past four years of accumulating hate — is up to the rest of us. Our everyday actions matter: respecting one another, listening to one another, striving to understand one another. In a nation of incredulous numbers of people, with millions of differing backgrounds, empathy will be the key to unity. Hopefully, we can reflect on January 6th, 2021 in the future as a turning point in American society, where we realized that the hate of our nation had grown too strong — so we can tell our children, “This is when we turned it all around.”
As the generation who is growing up amongst one of the most difficult years America has ever faced — with the Coronavirus pandemic, the intense political polarization, a previously inactive president, and now ensuing undemocratic violence as a result of all of this tension — we will be forced to reckon with the roots of these issues in order to move forward.