PHILADELPHIA, January 6, 2022 – Vigil-goers gathered for a candlelight vigil at Thomas Paine Plaza to remember the terrorist attack on the Capitol one year ago and to call on President Biden and Senators to pass voter protections to combat the slow-rolling coup that continues to play out at the state and local levels by the GOP.
This vigil is one of more than 350 such vigils held across the county, some big many small. But while patriots were marking the close call coup on January 6, 2021, the terrorists and their supporters were holding their own rallies. Rallies intended to lionize the terrorists who died trying to overthrow American democracy and support the terrorists who have been charged for their criminal behavior and incarcerated in federal jails just like any other dangerous criminal.
As the vigil-goers gathered in the cold, their fear was almost as palpable as the biting wind, chilling them to their old bones. Many had been fighting for voting rights since the ’60s. Those that weren’t on the front lines wished they had been or had parents who were.
As Desiree Whitefield read from the letter that John Lewis left to be printed on the day of his funeral, you could feel the fear and angst that folks arrived with slowly give way to determination and hope.
“This is one of those fights I had thought we’d already won; I hope if something good is to come out of the attack on the Capitol it’s that we are more aware of the precarious nation of our democracy and are motivated to save it,” said Pat Clark, a Center City resident.
State Sen Sharif Street (D-Phila) points out the direct connection between the current attacks on our democratic republic to the voter suppression and violence of the Jim Crow era, “segregationists … wanted to nullify elections because people of color were voting in them.”
“Even in Dr. King’s I have a dream speech, he understood we had to defeat those who wish to disenfranchise us systemically through the law, through the very same principles the people were advancing on January 6, so we challenge people to remember what happened that day and never let it happen again,” said Sen. Street.
“The enemies of democracy are still in the house, they’re in Congress, the State Legislatures and increasingly they’re being put in charge of the vote at the country and state level, some of these folks were part of the mob that attacked the Capitol and tried to overthrow our democracy,” said Desiree Whitfield, a voting rights activist in Philadelphia and Delaware County. “We can not let them win, we have to fight them in the street and in the voting booth, losing isn’t an option.”
More than 700 people have already been charged in connection to their activities related to the terrorist attack on the Capitol. The FBI is still seeking 350 people alleged to have participated in some of the most violent acts during the attack, and none of the people who planned or incited the attack have been arrested.
As the sun settled and night took hold, multiple prayers for those who lost their lives or were injured, for our weakening democracy, for the strength to fight back, and the will to put our bodies on the line to save it, were offered up.
Protesters had three specific demands, each one depending on ending the filibuster in this 50/51 Senate. Voting rights advocates say if we want to save our democracy, the Senate needs to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, making it easier to vote and protecting voters from GOP suppression tactics; the Protecting Our Democracy Act, to protect the nation from executive overreach and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore many of the remedies the SCOTUS had stripped from the original Voting Rights Act.
The problem is that President Joe Biden and the Democratic leadership in the Senate have proven to be toothless, and Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema have chosen to side with those who want to overthrow American democracy. So, short of radical, sustained direct action, none of them are likely to pass.
“I’m Reminded of something Plato said, one of the Consequences for those who don’t get involved in the political process, you end up being ruled by idiots and cowards, I’m paraphrasing of course, nothing is handed to us, we have to get out and make it happen,” said Germantown artist Dani Finger.
If you are interested in learning more about how you can get involved with the fight to protect voting rights, check out these organizations and the extraordinary work they’re doing!