On the anniversary of the violent insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021, lawmakers present at the U.S. Capitol that day recalled their trauma, and the work still left to do to protect American democracy.
In emotional testimony from the House floor on Thursday, U.S. representatives recalled ducking and crawling, putting on gas masks and fashioning makeshift weapons out of ordinary office tools as Capitol officers helped them to escape from incoming rioters.
“We saw the mob at the doors,” recalled Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas). “As we were exiting, I saw the glass breaking, the officers staying behind, their guns drawn.”
The congressman, who had a 23-month-old son at home and a baby on the way, noted that “had those officers not held that line, I would not have met my son.”
One year ago, an armed mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol as lawmakers were gathered to certify the 2020 presidential election, which Joe Biden won over then-President Trump.
Before the riot, Trump incited the crowd at a nearby rally by claiming the election had been stolen. Five people died in the ensuing mayhem and its immediate aftermath, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer.
The parents of officer Brian Sicknick, who had two strokes following the riot and died the next day, were present as lawmakers gave testimony Thursday, and Allred said to them: “Your son’s sacrifice allowed me to meet mine.”
The day of the insurrection was only the fourth day in office for newly elected Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), who said she will never forget “the sound of the doors closing and being locked … fashioning weapons out of pens and my high heels … climbing over chairs and under rails … looking to my right and seeing the mob as we rushed to get out.”
Lawmakers urged the importance of securing the right to vote in order for democracy to prevail.
“Our democracy is very fragile and the cult of the ‘big lie’ is still very much in action with the help of the vast majority of our colleagues on the other side,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), recalling how on Jan. 6 she planned to use her cane from a knee replacement surgery to “fight back if attacked.”
“I remember not knowing if I would make it out alive or if our democracy itself would survive,” Jayapal said. “Our work ahead must include signing into law voting rights legislation.”
Several lawmakers speaking on the House floor Thursday noted that U.S. democracy is still under threat today.
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) — who displayed a shard of glass from a window broken by rioters at the Capitol, which he has carried in his pocket every day since — warned that the Jan. 6 mob was “whipped up by a former president” who spread a “dangerous lie,” and that many Republicans “continue to accommodate that big lie that was the predicate for the attack on our country.”
Another lawmaker, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) — who was the first Black person and first woman elected to Congress from her state — brought forth a scarf printed with a copy of her great-great-great-grandfather’s 1867 voter registration slip from Georgia.
“I reflect on just how close we were to losing our democracy,” Blunt Rochester said, noting she remembered “ducking, crawling … the sounds, the smells.” She held up her ancestor’s voting slip, saying: “It is my proof of what we have overcome, and my inspiration of what is yet to be done.”
Voter restrictions disproportionately keep low-income voters, young people and Black and Latinx voters from the ballot.
Republicans in state legislatures across the country have been pushing hundreds of bills at the state level that would restrict voting. Such efforts have already become law in several states, including Georgia, Texas, Arkansas and Arizona.
At the federal level, Republicans have repeatedly blocked voting rights legislation from passing in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said that the Senate would consider voting rights legislation “shortly after the 117th Congress resumes in January.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who lay on the floor and called her husband as rioters approached last Jan. 6, had an urgent message calling for the passage of federal voting rights legislation: “The right to vote is the ultimate defense against insurrection.”