More than 150 people gathered on the grounds of West Hartford Town Hall Thursday evening, a year after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, calling for action in support of the country’s democracy.
By Ronni Newton
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal recalled how on Jan. 6, 2021, he was rushed to safety from the floor of the U.S. Senate chamber, fearing for his life as an angry crowd threatened and stormed the building, a stark contrast to this year when he stood on the steps of West Hartford Town Hall addressing an energized crowd gathered on the first anniversary of the attack on democracy.
“You are holding candles, but we all know that lighting a candle, speaking, imploring, gathering is not enough,” Blumenthal said. “We need action. Action to preserve our democracy, and this is what democracy looks like,” he said. “Voting rights are absolutely necessary to protect our democracy,” he said.
“What happened on Jan. 6 was round one – round one of that assault on democracy by violent extremism. The biggest threat to our internal security today is not a foreign terrorist with a bomb, it is violent extremism within this country. … Jan. 6 was not an isolated incident but a symptom of that violent extremism that has infected our society,” Blumenthal said, where police officers, school officials, flight crews on airlines, and others are threatened. It cannot continue, he said.
He called for federal action to end voter suppression, the end of the filibuster, and for prosecution of not only those who physically attacked the Capitol. “We need to climb the ladder of responsibility wherever the facts take us, all the way to the top,” Blumenthal said.
Fellow U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy also called on citizens to advocate, for voting rights and the elimination of the filibuster.
“The threat is absolutely existential right now,” Murphy said, but there have been threats to democracy in the country’s past. “We can still preserve this country moving forward … We’ve had moments in our history where a group of citizens have started contemplating a different form of government. We don’t have to let that happen.”
Murphy said he knows “the instinct today is to feel a combination of sadness and madness, to be sad about the state of our democracy and to be mad, to be furious about what those people did. And that’s okay, but I want you to reserve only about 10% of yourself to feel sad, and only about 10% of yourself to feel mad. I want the rest of the 80% to be gladness,” he said. “I want you to understand that the country we live in today is an absolute miracle. This is a revolutionary idea, democracy, that we all get to decide what happens in our country, the laws of our country.”
People should be happy that they have the ability to be here to make a difference, to preserve democracy, Murphy said.
Following the U.S. senators, other speakers included several state legislators and other members of the community.
“It’s vitally important that we remember the failed insurrection on our nation’s Capitol that took place one year ago today,” said Jim Chapdelaine of Indivisible Connecticut, organizer of the event. “They carried the flags of fascist enslavers while trying to hunt down elected officials to hang. … All of this was done to overturn a free and fair election and they almost did it.”
Chapdelaine said American democracy has never been so close to the edge, and called for the community to embrace activism.
Now a West Hartford resident, Esam Boray grew up in Egypt, in an authoritarian regime that he worked to overthrow. After multiple arrests, he fled to the U.S. in 2013, became a citizen, and voted in his first presidential election in 2020.
“Walking down the streets of West Hartford to the polls to cast my first vote filled me with a lot of pride, being a small part of the American’s greatest invention, democracy,” Boray said. He said he was initially excited, on Jan. 6, 2021, when the election would be finalized, but instead was driven to tears by a vocal and violent minority.
“If we are not vigilant, if we do not resist, we will awake one day to a country we no longer recognize,” Boray said. “Our democracy is fragile, and under attack, yet I’m hopeful,” he said, “because we believe in justice, we believe in equality, and we believe in fair, democratic elections.”
State Rep. Kate Farrar, from West Hartford’s 20th District, vividly recalled the morning of Jan. 6, 2021 – when she was sworn in for her first ever term in the legislature. “I took an oath of service to our community and our state … and that could not be a more marked contrast just several hours later to see that oath trampled by elected officials questioning the very rule of law that our constitution provides us,” she said.
Citizens can take an “oath” every day, to commit to supporting democratic values and freedoms. “We have a chance every day to use this role as citizen … to take that fight forward,” Farrar said.
“Our country and our world is severely polarized,” said Conard High School senior Maya Palanki. “There is intolerance, division, and hatred, and our fair democracy is constantly threatened.”
Palanki said it’s important to move past the polarization and gridlock toward unity, tolerance, and a willingness to consider others’ views. “Solving what you believe to be unjust with an entirely unjust action is not only unwise but it is immoral, it is dangerous … it sets an unsafe precedent.”
Advocating for your beliefs can be done without debasing the democracy, she said. “To address them protest peacefully. Utilize the law or try to change it instead of breaking it, participate in grassroots organizations, create petitions, advocate, but do not harm,” Palanki said. “We must keep fighting for free elections, preserving the right to vote, emphasizing peacefully assembling.” This vigil, she said, is a first step for the community.
“We must work together, and instead of hate we need hope,” Palanki said.
State Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, who represents the 18th District in West Hartford, said like Farrar she also clearly recalls taking her oath of office on Jan. 6, 2021, when she was sworn in for her second term in the state House.
Later that day, on her way home with her children in the car, Gilchrest said she received a text from her legislative aid that said: “The Capitol is under attack.” She pulled over, looked at her phone and learned what was going on in Washington.
“I’ll remember that day for the rest of my life, as will my children because for the remainder of the day I could not turn off the TV as I freaked out at what was happening before my eyes,” she said. She worried for the lawmakers, their families, the security personnel who were in danger. “And I was angry – angry at Donald Trump, angry at his supporters, angry that they would trample our democracy.”
While Murphy said he was 10% angry, “I think I’m at a 40 today,” Gilchrest said, because she can’t stand that anyone would deny what happened on Jan. 6. “And I’m gong to use that ‘angry’ for the democracy I want. … I will continue to work with you all, I will continue to speak out. They can’t stop me,” she said.
Poet Nadia Sims read her poem, “Our Flag Still Waved.”
“Where do you go after an idea has been disturbed, foundations shaken? We are a nation of states, what’s the state of our nation?” she read. … “Did the Declaration cry, did Lincoln’s statue weep? … Can it last? … Our flag still waves, and through it, democracy lives on.”
“I know this is a vigil but I feel like it’s also a call to action,” said State Sen. Derek Slap of West Hartford, who represents the 5th District. “Every day democracy is under attack. It didn’t stop on Jan. 6.”
Punches were recently thrown at a school board meeting right here in Connecticut, members of Congress are blocking legislation that would enfranchise more people, he said. There has been progress in the state, but more is needed, Slap said.
“We need your help to get early voting … We also need no excuse absentee ballots … We can’t do that without you,” Slap said. Every vote counts, he said, because “every single person counts and their vote has to count.”
Sen. Matt Lesser of Middletown (D-9th) also spoke to the crowd. “It’s cold but I’m fired up with righteous anger,” he said. Throughout history those who have lost an election have peacefully handed over power, which is what should happen.
“We know that the last attack came from the outside, but the next attack is going to come from the inside,” Lesser said. “We don’t just need to keep an eye on those who attacked the Capitol last year … but we need to make sure that our state Houses are safe, that our registrars of voters are safe, that our town clerks are safe, that Connecticut is safe,” he said. “We’ve got more work to do here in Connecticut. … We’re not safe in our democracy until the voting rights of everyone in this state are protected.
Jeremy Pressman, a West Hartford resident and associate professor of political science and director of Middle East Studies at UConn, suggested a list of actions the community can take to help preserve and strengthen the country’s democracy.
“One year ago there was an insurrection and there was a coup attempt, and this tonight is a crucial moment for each of us to renew our commitment to American democracy,” he said.
His suggestions include continuing to call our senators in support of the “For the People Act of 2021,” contacting other legislators, exercising our constitutional rights, writing letters to the editor, financially supporting groups that are active in support of voting rights, volunteering, posting experiences about this rally on social media, and only electing candidates, at all levels, “who explicitly reject the lies about the presidential election of 2020 and explicitly reject the idea that voter fraud is dominating our society,” Pressman said. “When the losing candidate will not concede it is a major red flag in any democracy. … This fragile democracy needs your help now.”
The event was organized by IndivisibleCT, Progressive Women (ProWo), Rapid Organized Action Response (ROAR), and the Universalist Church of West Hartford.
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford! Click the blue button below to become a supporter of We-Ha.com and our efforts to continue producing quality journalism.