NORWALK, Conn. — Messages of sadness, anger, frustration, and some small messages of hope were shared at a “DTC Vigil for Truth, Justice, and Unity” on Tuesday night.
“We thought that it was important to have something,” said Eloisa Melendez, chair of the Norwalk Democratic Town Committee. “Under different circumstances, we would all be together, figuring out a way to make sense of what happened last week, of what’s apparently to come in the next few days. And we just wanted to get this started – this conversation started.”
More than 80 people joined the virtual call which was organized in response to the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich) and others called for “healing through accountability.” Himes joined the call from a train to D.C., where he was on his way to rejoin the House of Representatives.
“Accountability will be critical to the healing of this country,” Himes said. “And I’m on a train right now because the House will act tonight to demand that the Vice President remove the President that instigated the insurrection, and who of course, has treated our democracy like a plaything, now for four years. I’m not optimistic that that will happen. And so consequently, the House will almost certainly tomorrow or Thursday, impeach the president for his role in instigating an insurrection against the government of the United States. That’s not something I report happily. It is a moment for solemnity. And it is a dangerous moment because a very dangerous man remains president.”
Himes said that the moment right now called for accountability not only of the President, but also “accountability of those people who knew better, who traded in lies, and scared people into believing that their worlds were crumbling, that their democracy was going away. And therefore, many of those people showed up to destroy the Capitol [building] of the United States – they too will be held accountable. “
Himes said that there were “no two sides to what happened on January 6,” but he called on everyone to work to “reset this nation” and “rebuild the ties that exist between us.”
“There are terrible, terrible tears in the social and civic and political fabric of our country. And every one of us has work to do to rebuild those ties to mend those tears,” he said.
Elizabeth Abel of Cornerstone Community Church, known as “Pastor Liz,” offered a reflection and prayer, stating her “current role as a pastor is to offer hope, at a time of such chaos.”
“As a U.S. Air Force veteran, whose career and duty was security forces, I found myself in disbelief as to – where were those who were to be protecting this national resource, personnel and property?” she said. “The example of the actions of Officer Eugene Goodman, who deterred the mob away from Senate Chambers, is what I was expecting to see from the very door. I have to admit my anger at the situation and acknowledge that my responsibility in my current role as a pastor is to offer hope, at a time of such chaos.”
Abel called on those in attendance to use their hope as “faith in action.”
“I also have a faith that all is not lost – hope of our nation, hope of our faith,” she said. “Hope is our faith in action. It is not based on a wish or a dream, but based on values of truth, justice, and unity. It requires action on all of our parts, not to sit idle and watch what is happening, but to be intentional in the way we work together. We must share and love for one another and care for each other, and honestly recognize our role and station in being the light in darkness.”
Abel held a moment of silence for those who lost their lives, particularly Officer Brian Sicknick, who died from injuries suffered during the riot, and Officer Howard Liebengood, who died by suicide after working that day.
Others, such as State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25), expressed anger at what took place on Wednesday.
“For me, I’m very angry about what happened last Wednesday to the fact that some people would come in and storm our United States Capitol,” he said.
Duff said that he worked at the Capitol while he was in college, interning for then-U.S. Senator Chris Dodd.
“That is a beautiful, historic, solemn building,” he said. “Yes, there’s lots of politics there, but it is a building that we respect, and we need to respect as our people’s building. And so to see a president of the United States, literally trying to overthrow our government, by not certifying the electoral college results is something that made me angry, angry from the fact of the history that’s in that building, angry as an American, and angry at the fact that he would lie to the American people.”
Duff said that Governor Ned Lamont and state law enforcement were working to make sure that the Hartford State Capitol was secure and safe, as there have been threats made to statehouses across the nation.
Mayor Harry Rilling called for action against those responsible for Wednesday’s insurrection, particularly those who led to the deaths of two Capitol police officers.
“People around the world are looking at our country and looking at how delicate and fragile democracy is,” he said. “And there can be no mistake, the words of President Trump, Donald Trump, were inciteful and created a situation that cannot go unpunished. This was a horrible, horrible thing that happened in our Capitol. And the loss of two Capitol Police officers is inexcusable. “
Rilling said that seeing people come together in response to a crisis is a testament to Norwalk.
“What I love about Norwalk is this is how we act,” he said. “This is how we do things. We come together, we discuss, and we try to give each other comfort, and talk about the issues and really get our arms around what’s happening, why things are happening the way they are. “
Some members questioned why this event was a DTC event and not in conjunction with other groups, such as the Republican Town Committee. Melendez said that it was put together “quickly,” and that part of the reason was because “there wasn’t the same reaction” from some members of the RTC to the situation.
“It’s unfortunate, but it seems that the response from some members of the RTC is very different than our response and the response of other people in our community,” Melendez said. “Maybe in the future, it will make sense to do something, but it wasn’t the first thing I thought of based on some of the remarks I’ve seen from RTC members, which include saying that the people who stormed the Capitol were members of antifa in Trump gear.”
Others, including Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams, highlighted that the rioters at the U.S. Capitol, who were predominantly white, were treated much differently that the Black Lives Matter protests from over the summer.
“It’s time for us all to come together and see that we’re all equal – stop looking at us as colored, brown people, Black people – look at all of us as being a person, of people not of color,” she said. “And I’m getting tired of this one sidedness of racism in this country, and been so tired of this, how we are not treated fairly … we have to look at how Black and brown people are treated, and how white folks are treated. And you can see we are treated differently.”
Mary Keane, an attendee, said she was 97 and a third generation Republican, but she was struggling with the actions of the President and what the party has become.
“[The Quakers] put out a bumper sticker that was very difficult for me to put on my car,” she said. “It says, ‘love your neighbors, no exceptions.’ And I had an exception, I could not love Mr. Trump. I could not love the kinds of things that he has done, and the kinds of things that have been done to the Republican Party.”
Keane said she had a thought of starting a nonprofit, “how to remake the Republican Party.”
Deputy Democratic Registrar Ron Banks said that when he enlisted as a teenager in the U.S. Marine Corps, they were taught very early on that they were to “defend our nation, from all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Banks said that message left an impression on him, and he and his fellow Marines risked everything for their country and its democracy.
“It became an honorable thing to stand for, when you were able to represent your country in that way, and we took that so seriously,” he said. “As young men, we were willing to do whatever we were asked to do. While we were in uniform, it did not matter if we knew there was the cost of risking our lives, we were willing to do that.”
Comparing that experience to what he watched unfold at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was troubling, he said, continuing, “When I watched as those events unfolded at our Capitol Building, and I see Senators, I see the Congressman, who in my mind took the same oath I took as a kid, and I’m thinking, ‘I would have resisted, I was willing to risk my life for this belief that I held, and for someone to stand up and to bring such dishonor’ … as a community here in Norwalk, we’re not afraid to have the conversation, but we should not move away from holding people accountable for what they do. Because if we fail to do that, it just gives license for this thing that is happening to grow.”