By Robert Bernstein
American Democracy nearly ended a year ago in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol in my hometown of DC.
Approaching the Courthouse I saw these signs posted: “Remember January 6 Senators – Protect Our Democracy”The event opened with an introduction by Savannah, one of the event organizers from the group Indivisible Santa Barbara.At this point the crowd was gathered in a vigil with various forms of candles.Some had signs reading “Democracy Can’t Wait”Chumash Elder Annette Cordero opened with an invocation.Local musicians Dan Diamond and Kelly Simmons performed the Bob Dylan song “I Shall Be Released”
Another event organizer, Andrew Bermant, acknowledged organizers Michal Lynch, Marilyn Brewer, Louise Rosen and Judith Effron. This was relevant to what he said next. A quote from former CBS News anchor and decades-long journalist Dan Rather on this January 6 anniversary: “… the tides of history are shaped by who is willing to show up, to act, to be counted… “. Bermant thanked the crowd for showing up and being counted. He noted that we can be grateful that democracy did prevail. This time.
He then introduced our State Assembly Member Steve Bennett. Bennett explained that he had been scheduled for another event, but he canceled that because he felt that this vigil was the most important thing everyone should be doing on this occasion.
Bennett is a former history teacher and he wanted to emphasize the historical significance of January 6, 2021. It was the first time in US history that the peaceful transfer of power was ever challenged by a sitting president. He noted that the sitting president began this attack long before January 6, 2021. It had been years in the making with his rhetoric indicating that if he lost the election it would be because it was “stolen”. A very odd claim from someone who lost the popular vote by millions of votes in both 2016 and in 2020. And one who did his best to suppress votes and steal votes after the 2020 election.
He noted that Trump was following a standard script used by would be tyrants: Tell a Big Lie. Attack any institution that can show you are telling a Big Lie. Scapegoat a vulnerable part of the population. In this case immigrants. Who Trump incorrectly claimed had voted illegally.
Bennett warned that this vigil is just the beginning. We must be vigilant in every way now to maintain our democracy or we will lose it. Here is my video of Bermant and Bennett.
Bennett then introduced our US Member of Congress Salud Carbajal who was at the US Capitol as it came under attack. Carbajal stressed that the events of January 6, 2021 were in no way a peaceful protest. He called it a violent attempted coup d’etat. Instigated by the sitting president Trump.
Yes, we should be grateful that the institutions survived. But it showed how fragile they are and how easily democracy can be lost.
House of Representatives Speaker Pelosi had asked members of Congress not to attend the certification of the electoral votes unless they were part of the actual counting process. Not because of the detailed knowledge of the attack. But because of COVID. Things could have turned out very different if the House floor had been full as usual.
He read some key statistics of the attack. 725 arrests so far. 165 pleaded guilty. 70 have been sentenced. About 30 have received prison time. The Department of Justice has brought conspiracy charges against about 40 defendants. Mostly those with ties to extreme right wing groups. Over 150 Capitol police officers were injured. Five people are now dead.
Carbajal noted that the Big Lie has continued to this day by Trump and current members of Congress. They have used the Big Lie to actually try to steal future elections: Over 30 states have introduced laws designed to suppress voting. The House has passed voter protection laws, but they are currently being blocked in the Senate due to the threat of a filibuster.
Here is my video of Congress Member Salud Carbajal’s speech.
Next, Andrew Bermant called for a moment of silence. Then he introduced Revae Moran of the local League of Women Voters. Moran noted that the League of Women Voters has been around for over 100 years. That some of their leaders have recently been arrested for standing up for voting rights.
She called for passage of the “Freedom to Vote Act” that will protect and expand the right to vote. It gets money out of politics. And ends gerrymandering where candidates pick voters instead of vice versa. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is also needed now that the Supreme Court recently got rid of the core of the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s. Moran invited people to join the League of Women Voters. Here is my video of her speech.
Next, Bermant listed other ways to take action and named some organizations to support. After that, local Pastor David Moore spoke. Here are those speeches.
Wrapping up the event was our former State Senator Hannah Beth Jackson. She showed her American flag scarf and shouted that she is an American and this is her country, our country. And we are not going to let the voice of tyranny, bigotry and totalitarianism take over our country.
She quoted Republican member of Congress Liz Cheney who said on Sunday this week: “We can either be loyal to Donald Trump or we can be loyal to the Constitution, but we cannot be both.”
Jackson noted that the Big Lie about widespread “voter fraud” revealed that the few cases of actual voter fraud involved illegal votes for Trump. She said that we need to pass voting rights legislation. For that to happen and for democracy going forward we have to end the filibuster in the Senate that allows a minority to overrule the majority.
She noted that one point of the Big Lie has been to undermine President Biden. She went on to enumerate some of his achievements in his first months in office. Getting money to people hit by the effects of COVID and getting people vaccinated and protected from COVID.
At this point someone out on the street tried to disrupt her speech by shouting anti-vax misinformation.
She paused briefly and continued, noting that President Biden also passed an infrastructure bill that will start to rebuild what has been neglected for decades, while providing millions of jobs. And she reminded the crowd of the threat of the Climate Crisis and what more still needs to be passed in the Senate. Here is Jackson’s speech.