I have never been the flag-waving type. I have always thought that kind of “patriotism” is corny, square, and insincere. I am the type who believes you can burn the flag in protest, and that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are really important. Also, the national anthem has always seemed far too bellicose for my taste; I think it should be changed to Paul Simon’s “American Tune”, or something more relevant. Maybe “America the Beautiful”. More peaceful and less bloody.
Anyway, yesterday, January 6th, 2021, was a painful day. It was physically gut-wrenching. It reminded me of May 4, 1970 when four students were killed at Kent State during a Viet Nam War protest. That day, I felt that we were witnessing something close to the end of the world as we knew it. It was a helpless, free-falling feeling that was both scary and eerie. Yesterday was the same.
An assault on our democracy happened. It was vicious, premeditated, and horrifying. But it happened. As I watched hordes of protesters and rioters storm the Capitol building, I was dumbfounded. Rarely without words, I could not express exactly what I was feeling as I watched in disbelief.
I remember a cool February morning back in 1963. My Mother, my Aunt Phyllis, my cousins Danny and Ann, and I were on our way to Florida to visit my grandparents. We stopped in Washington, D.C. early that Sunday morning to have a cursory view of the Capitol and the White House. The Kennedys lived there then, and were at Sunday Mass when we drove by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. (Apparently they walked home from church that morning, but we missed them by an hour or two, to our great dismay.)
Ann and I ran up the steps to the Capitol while Mom filmed us with our 8 millimeter movie camera. I occasionally look at that footage, and there we are: two girls, 12 and 14 years old, standing in front of those huge, impressive doors. THE CAPITOL! Think of it! WE were standing in front of those doors, and walking on those steps. The steps where our Presidents, Senators, and Congressmen had trod. We stood in front of the doorway that had welcomed such important visitors as well as common citizens like us, to this amazing building; the symbol of our republic. It was awe-inspiring. I talked about it for weeks.
Yesterday that same building was overrun by crazed protesters. There were deaths, injuries, and chaos. There was no reverence or respect for the symbols of our democracy, or for the actual processes that were going on in the building. The people’s business.
Today, order has been restored. Lockdowns, curfews, and increased security. The business goes on: we will have a peaceful transfer of power in two weeks. So what we feared has transpired, and this brilliant experiment has survived. We will go forward together, and our Constitution remains intact. I am not quite over “Kent State Day”, and I am sure the events of yesterday will take some time to absorb.
However, it still surprises this old Hippie to find out exactly how much of a Patriot I really am. Leftie, Marxist, Socialist, Hippie, Weirdo, Impudent Snob. Yup, I’ve been called all those things. But ya know what? That’s MY Capitol, damn it. And I walked up those steps, and so did my Mom, my aunt, and my cousins. My family is a Military family, including my Mom, who served in the Navy during WWII. My relatives fought and died for this country, so that our Constitution could stay intact. I guess that’s why it was so hard to watch the Capitol being assaulted. It felt very personal.