This is a challenging article to write. Normally this time of year, we talk about our legislative priorities or what we believe to be the hot-button issues, or how we believe the session will go. Given the multiple challenges of a raging pandemic (which has had the knock-on effect of an economic crisis), the stalemate in Congress (which has stalled federal aid essential to our state and local partners), the delays in the rollout of the vaccine essential to our recovery, and the hurdles presented in trying to operate with transparency and engagement in the virtual realm, any one of these topics could easily fill a column.
However, I believe as elected officials, we must also speak to the moment. Many of you have heard me before say that words matter, that as representatives, we have a platform and an expectation to speak truthfully and thoughtfully. We are often tasked with the challenge of extrapolating nuanced, comprehensive policy into understandable talking points that can be articulated in a three- to five-minute hearing or a town hall speech.
I have spent the last few days trying to cull my thoughts. I hesitated to write this article early because, as I said to the editor, “A lot of history will happen between now and deadline.” I had hoped that I would be referring to the Georgia runoff and the certification of the presidential election, but in the pit of my stomach, I feared that I would be writing the article I am writing now, that we witnessed not only an attempted coup on our government to overturn the elections, tear up the constitution and deny the will of the people, but then watched as elected officials rapidly displaced blame with cynical calls for unity.
I’m not precognitive. I need only look at my emails, or social media, the threats made against our county executive and health officer. The alarm bells have been steadily ringing, we have been warned by multiple security agencies, and even by other countries. On Election Day, I witnessed adults intimidating, bullying and harassing high school students, urged by an organization and the anonymity of the internet. Adults from across the county yelled “party of hate” and “communists” at students who were sign-waving in front of their own school. Most uncomfortably was recognizing that I represented people from both sides of that argument, but when it came to adults versus students, I had to pick a side.
I try to be as apolitical as I can to attempt to not make anyone I represent feel under-represented, but in this moment, we have to pick a side. Some of my colleagues have called for unity, healing, forgetting party, and not judging all Americans by the actions of a few – all great talking points for a three- to five-minute speech, a quick social media post, or even a carefully crafted op ed to hit the right notes of patriotism and condemnation, of acts, not actors, meant to distance but not offend, nor appear binding, written and spoken not from a place of outrage but rather political expediency.
I cannot endorse such a call. It is no mystery that I am a Democrat, and I am proud that I have pushed back against white supremacy, against false rhetoric, against voter suppression and stood up for the integrity of our election officials. I have endorsed a more perfect union, a more equitable system and an end to the structural imbalances that reward the few on the backs of the many, and I won’t have that muddied by a call for unity when there has been no inflection point, no condemnation of the people who swore an oath to protect and uphold the constitution and violated that oath. It makes me angry because we can’t simply turn a blind eye to the very real constitutional crisis we face, a crisis that has pit Americans at every level against one another; law officers were left to defend our nation’s capital and the representatives of our nation with no aid, no leadership, and with members of their ranks within the mob of attackers. How do we simply move on? We cannot.
Some would caution that I not be so forthright, but we were led to this moment by our faith that this moment would never happen, that we are better than this, that we don’t need to speak out. This is our time of reflection when we must all recognize that this is exactly who we are, and it is imperative we question what part we each have played. We cannot be bystanders to this moment. If we truly wish to unify, we must unify behind holding accountable those who incited and engaged in an insurrection; we must unify in thoughtful, critical thinking; we must unify in creating a more equitable system for every American. We cannot unify to simply move on.