Today, American democracy was under attack.
But truthfully, our democracy was under attack a month ago. It was under attack a decade ago, too. In fact, American democracy has never been inviolate; it was always subject to the instability of an unequal society that chose to hang its hat on the myth of equality, instead of working towards a better reality.
America has always imagined itself as the place where true democracy reigned. Yet every time the “wrong” people tried to exercise their First Amendment rights (specifically, Black and brown people), they were told their voices didn’t matter, shouldn’t be heard, and were too loud. There was no right way to protest. America was quick to avoid acknowledging the ways that bigotry had enforced the status quo.
We’ve seen this unfurl in history time and time again. Today, we celebrate how women fought for the right to vote, but the reality is that in practice only white women received that right in 1920—all Black women wouldn’t be afforded the same until 1965. We celebrate the Civil Rights Movement, and yet ignore the fact that the reasons the movement was initially needed still have not been resolved. Years of the invalidation of the votes of marginalized communities helped bring us to this moment: One in which millions of Americans cannot imagine a reality where people who do not look like them or who do not think like them have the right to vote, have the right to choose not only for themselves, but for the future of the country.
Democracy is fundamentally a system of compromise, and America has never truly learned what it means to work together, much less realize that meeting in the middle might be possible for things like the width of roads, but not for human rights. Kneeling during the national anthem to protest racism? A problem. Demonstrating in favor of reproductive rights? A problem. For years, Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality were equated with looting and terrorism. At every turn, Black Lives Matter protesters were met with armed police officers, tear gas, death threats, and sometimes even criminal charges. And yet, America decided that the protests were the problem, and that they needed to be stopped. It refused to understand that the best way to stop protests would be to deal with the impact of systemic inequality—not asserting it doesn't exist.
Now, after years of too many people pretending that Black Lives Matter protests were a danger to the future of the country, today we saw the real face of domestic terrorism. We saw white faces, waving the flags of prior failed attempts at organized treason. We saw hate-filled faces that think they have found a new path to power on the back of a con man who stormed the Capitol building in hopes of overturning a free and fair election. What could be a bigger threat than people storming the halls of government to prevent a peaceful transition of leadership?
Though by nightfall, we saw some actual efforts to remove these people from the halls of Congress, first we saw police officers posing with these so-called “protestors” for selfies. We saw them gently escort the people who had chosen to storm the building out, as though they were the ones who needed protection. We heard people dubbing themselves patriots for making a mockery of the idea of democracy. This is who America has chosen to be over and over.
Tomorrow is a new day, and hopefully America is ready to face its past and its present in order to create a better future. We have a choice in front of us to break the cycle, to address the problems directly and work to solve them so that history does not keep repeating itself.
Mikki Kendall is the author of Hood Feminism and Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists.