Despite short notice. Despite terrible wet, cold conditions. More than 50 hardy citizens joined together Thursday evening as a community to take pause and reflect on how fragile our democracy is and how we must continue to proudly use our voice to reflect our opinions.
As I switched on the microphone, I took a quick look out at the gathering and saw a sea of serious faces lit by candlelight. I immediately felt a wave of emotion that made me proud to be part of a community that is willing to brave the elements to show unity in purpose and a willingness to have their voices heard—part of the very foundation of what our democracy stands for.
I made a few opening comments which I strongly believe to be true. I believe the most salient comments suggested that we are in the midst of a culture war for the soul of America.
Red Vs. Blue. Mask Vs. No Mask. Vax vs anti-vax, etc. I suggested we must transcend beyond the cultural media battlefield. We must remember that we may disagree on many things, yet we need to remember to agree that we are all part of the fabric of one nation.
I turned the microphone over to Benicia’s Poet Laureate Mary Susan Gast who read four very powerful poems. One in particular still echoes in my mind. It is titled On the day after the Insurrection, by former Benicia Poet Laureate Johanna Ely. The final three lines struck me soundly:
As I cry for my ravaged country,
how exquisitely the landscape blurs,
my eyes weeping water and light.
Following the poetry readings, I asked if anyone wished to speak. Former Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson and our Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown both spoke with emotion and yet with clear purpose of what can happen to our democracy if we do not continue to be aware, educated and ready to fight for our democracy. With each speaker came a new perspective on the impact of the January 6 Insurrection and how we must be united in purpose as we move forward.
Each speaker adding an additional emotional layer on top of the speaker before. It was so genuine. So energizing. But also a bit scary that we are sincerely discussing the possibility of losing the precious gift of democracy.
As the event ended, I could see groups of four and five people sharing comments and observations. I heard a group of folks singing behind me like a subtle sound track for the closing moments.
Clearly those who came out did not want to stop sharing this moment. It was a heartfelt expression of a community bonding together.
With 24 hours to take a breath, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson hasn’t wavered. He wants Donald Trump ousted, no matter that the one-term president’s time expires at noon, Jan. 20.
After Wednesday’s siege by an unruly mob at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., the congressman Tweeted that he’s “calling on the Vice President to initiate proceedings under the 25th Amendment to gather the Cabinet and remove the President from office. On this dark day for our nation, we need to stand up and end this immediately. Nothing less than the future of our democracy is at stake.”
In a 20-minute phone interview Thursday afternoon, Thompson reiterated that he “absolutely” wants Trump’s reign finished immediately.
“We need to do whatever we can to remove him from this position of power,” Thompson said. “In addition to that, he needs to be impeached for a second time. The articles of impeachment have been drafted and I’ve signed onto that effort. I believe it should be done as quickly as possible.”
There’s no waiting out Trump’s term, Thompson emphasized.
“You saw how much damage he did yesterday — one day. I’m frightened to think about what else he could do,” Thompson said.
Trump “is completely off the rails. He’s become an enemy of the state,” said Thompson, believing the president incited the rioters to seize the Capitol building “to try and prevent a peaceful transition of power” to President-elect Joe Biden.
“He set up a coup attempt yesterday (Wednesday), trying to encourage the vice president to steal this election,” Thompson said, calling the siege aftermath “a sad, sad day in this country.”
Trump “encouraged people to break the law, take up laws against their own country and march to the Capitol and stop the peaceful transition. He asked them to march with him, but when they started marching, he went back to the White House,” said Thompson. “That speaks volumes to what kind of person he is.”
Explaining the lack of law enforcement to help thwart the Capitol siege “is the $64 million question,” said Thompson, adding that he sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “asking to do a top-to-bottom review to find out what went wrong and that we ensure it never goes wrong again.”
Thompson said he also sent Pelosi a text Wednesday night requesting the head of the Capitol State Police be terminated.
“Folks that run security should be fired by morning,” Thompson said. “Whomever was in charge not only put our institution of representative government at risk, but put at risk of the lives of every person in that Capitol building, every staff person, every member of the House, every janitor. And they put the life of every cop at risk by putting them out there ill-prepared to do the job they were asked to do.”
Thompson said he was safely in his office when the mob entered the Capitol, though he was evacuated once when “some kind of explosive device” was located and a second time when shots were fired.
“When hooligans broke through security, I was over in the library,” Thompson, managing to quip, “I don’t think they could find a library with a GPS.”
Seriously, added Thompson, “they need to arrest every one” of the infiltrators “and try them for treason.”
“They call themselves ‘patriots’ but they are really traitors,” Thompson said.
Four people died during the siege, including one woman by gunfire.
“I think the president bears full responsibility for what happened,” Thompson said. “He did this. He did this whole thing. He convinced people to participate in a coup. That’s why he needs to be impeached.”
Thompson said Trump will “definitely be impeached by the House, I’m sure of that. I hope the Senate drums up some courage since they didn’t last time.”
Thompson sees a window of opportunity.
“The dam is starting to break. Some Republicans are calling for his removal. I move to convict him,” Thompson said.
Though 9/11 and school shootings “were terrible, this is in a different league,” Thompson said. “It’s armed insurgence with a treasonous effort to topple our government. It’s an attack on the institution, an attack on democracy, an attack on our republic.”
Almost lost in the scuffle — Democrats flipped the Senate earlier this week, thanks to Georgia, with Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff emerging with run-off wins.
“That’s a shining light in all of this,” Thompson said, reflecting on 500-plus bipartisan bills languishing on Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s desk.
With McConnell on the verge of becoming Senate minority leader and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaker in a potential 50-Democrat, 50-Republican vote, “it’s now a different story,” said Thompson, awaiting the Inauguration Jan. 20.
“Everybody I know — Democrats, Republicans, Independents — don’t want a revolution. They want a return to normalcy,” Thompson said. “It’ll be a much better world.”
Trump called for yesterday’s rally (“Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!”). Then he spoke at the rally:
“We’re going to have to fight much harder. We are going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators, congressmen and women, and we are probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you will never take back our country with weakness.”
The crowd listened. Egged on by Trump constantly telling them the country’s election had been stolen, they acted accordingly and attempted (in their minds) to seize the Capitol back for the people.
As you discuss this on social media and with friends, please make this point clear: yesterday’s actions were direct outcomes of Trump. The radical actors were not only the protestors scaling the walls, it was led by Trump. This is Trump’s failed coup.
And it was not exclusively Trump. There is severe hypocrisy by Trump Republicans who backed this all along the way — Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and the list goes on.
We are glad they decried the violence yesterday. But they planted the seeds. When they talk about a stolen election or non-existent fraud, they are still watering them. We will not forget that.
In a situation so fast-moving, we want police to use minimal force and, with at least one protestor killed by police, it’s hard to know exactly how to characterize what happened. But we saw lots of behavior by Capitol Police that raises severe questions. A full accounting needs to happen.
THE NEED TO IMPEACH
There have been initially uncoordinated calls for the 25th Amendment to remove Trump or calls for impeachment. We didn’t see a mechanism to join last night.
Strategically, we think both are appropriate responses. Ending Trump’s reign with either of these actions discourages future coup attempts.
We’re encouraging people to get behind the NAACP’s call for impeachment. Impeachment has two advantages: it forces Congress to be on the record and it can bar Trump from holding federal office again. Further, it creates a public platform to further decry this behavior.
Of course you’re feeling some way about all of this. One of the aspects of violence is it elicits psychological responses: fear, heightened sense of anxiety, revenge, desire to hide under covers or strike out…
A movement that doesn’t pay attention to its own emotional state will stay reactionary. We’ve tried to chart a path dictated by what will be strategically useful. Today, that’s spending energy to correctly frame this as Trump’s coup attempt, to identify its co-conspirators, and to impeach the leading coup plotter.
We also encourage you to tend to your own emotions. Note the parts of yourself that are feeling reactive, even seeking more awful news to remain in a pattern of reactivity. Anger and outrage are natural responses and we encourage you to give space for them.
Many of us in the Choose Democracy team have turned to Finding Steady Ground as a resource. They have a practical 7 behaviors for people in tumultuous times.
Our analysis remains this: the coup attempt was not successful and remains extremely unlikely to succeed. The pillars of democracy are holding against an attempted coup and there’s no legitimacy for a full seizure of our duly elected government. As people return home on their buses from DC, we may see more local actions at state capitols. But the center is strongly rejecting these efforts. Let’s remember that millions of poll workers, election officials, and citizens did their jobs to allow 160 million US Americans to have their votes fairly counted.
Choose Democracy came together to prepare a strategy and tactics to stop a full-blown active coup. Now we need a different set of tactics: rebuilding Democracy, punishing coup plotters and those who assisted them, and using levers of grassroots and political power to enshrine voter access and build accountable institutions of government.
We’re glad to hear some of the networks built around Choose Democracy are turning into those efforts (and many others have been doing this work for a long time). We’d love to hear what you plan to do afterwards — and would love to echo efforts that you think are worthy to continue when Choose Democracy folds after January 20.
The days up until Inauguration Day will likely be very rocky, so naturally we’ll keep monitoring this.