Six days into 2021, the Capitol in Washington was breached for the first time since 1814, not by foreign adversaries but by domestic rioters.
While many sat, glued to their device screens, members of Congress witnessed the mayhem firsthand.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) remembers huddling for safety with his fellow lawmakers as they listened to the banging and commotion outside of the doors. But for Cardin and many others, the problem was bigger than the disturbance.
“We were extremely concerned not just for our safety, but because we knew that this attack was not on the Capitol or on the members of the Senate,” Cardin said last week during an event on Zoom, hosted by the Jewish Democratic Council of America. “It was an attack on our democracy itself.”
The rioters sought to disrupt Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.
“We saw how fragile our democracy was one year ago today. We need to take steps to protect it,” Cardin said.
Cardin was one of several Jewish political and spiritual leaders to reflect on the events of that day. According to JDCA, it hopes to mobilize its supporters to advocate for the protection of voting rights.
“The lessons of Jan. 6 are clear. Our democracy is not guaranteed,” CEO Halie Soifer said during the Zoom. “It must be protected and defended. Those that attack it must also be held accountable.”
“We had a riot, surrounding an insurrection, surrounding a coup,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said in his account of the attack.
Raskin was in the Capitol during the riots with his daughter and son-in-law just a day after he buried his son, who had died on New Year’s Eve. Raskin said he found inspiration in the acts of bravery exhibited by the police officers at the Capitol that day. He urged viewers to not let the opposition of outside forces crumble the integrity of American politics, just as the Capitol police didn’t let those trespassing reach members of Congress.
“I want us to try to recapture that spirit of resolve and determination that they had on that day. For us going forward to fortify our democratic institutions,” he said.
Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) was among the last group of the lawmakers to escape the House chambers during the riot. Her emotions were captured in a viral photo of her lying on the ground, clutching her chest, as Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) comforted her.
“It’s fair to say that I had a complete and utter panic attack for the first time in my life,” she recounted to the Zoom listeners.
However, just like her fellow lawmakers, Wild used the traumatic experience to further fuel her obligation as a representative.
“As I drove down from Pennsylvania last night, I had a sense of exhilaration and happiness that I was returning to Washington,” she said. “To me it’s very affirming of the fact that all of us who were involved on Jan. 6 have recommitted ourselves to defending our democracy and are making sure that the reasons we came to Congress are not thwarted.”
The siege of the Capitol had worried many Americans, not just those present that day. Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR in Los Angeles found herself feeling concerned that the nation was at a crossroads. She was unsure which path America would take following Jan. 6.
“Will this day be remembered as the day that awakened America from our slumber and called us to the better angels of our nature,” she said. “Or will it be remembered as the day power, corruption and greed officially won?”
Just like the lawmakers who spoke, the Brous urged those listening to take a stand.
“This chapter of history has yet to be written,” the rabbi said. “And how it ends is up to us.”