January 6, 2021 is one of those days that evokes vivid memories for most of us. We remember where we were and what we were doing when we realized that there was a mob of people moving through the halls of Congress waving a confederate flag and shoving people out of their way.
I was participating in a remote work gathering, occasionally switching to CNN’s coverage of the counting of electoral ballots. I had the sound off on CNN so it took me a moment to realize that something was terribly wrong. We soon gave up on our remote work gathering so that we could wait and watch for hours before the Capitol was cleared and members of Congress and their staffs were safe. Only later did we learn how close many of those members and staff were to danger. Law enforcement officers took the brunt of the violence and many still suffer from the trauma of having been brutally attacked by other Americans in a place that has stood for the world as a symbol of our democracy.
Where are we a year later? Our democracy survived January 6, 2021. It survived the effort to deny the facts about the election results. But will it survive the next time? Will our government, built on free elections of leaders committed to serving the people they represent, “long endure”? President Lincoln asked that question when he dedicated the cemetery at Gettysburg; his answer was that it would take the dedication of all living Americans to ensure that our government would survive.
We are not in the midst of a civil war, but the threat to our system of government is very real and, in my view, requires the kind of dedication President Lincoln summoned. It is easy to blame the racist fear-mongering that Trump incited for what happened a year ago, but our challenges lie deeper. We have unfinished business to complete. The union survived the Civil War, but we never confronted racism head on or the “caste system,” in Isabel Wilkerson’s words, that racism protects. Perhaps that’s why we feel so vulnerable to attacks on our democracy, why it was so easy for Trump to rally his supporters around a racist and nationalist agenda.
We are at an inflection point: will the reality of our decision-making, our apportionment of resources, our valuing of lives, make good on who and what we say we are — a country whose government represents and reflects the interests of our vast and diverse population?
We have an opportunity now to do things differently. More than an opportunity, it is a necessity.
Each of us has a role to play in making this ideal real. At NHeLP, our role is to bring all of our skills to bear on the challenge of health equity — giving everyone in the country a chance to be healthy and to thrive and participate fully in the liberty we celebrate. We have to confront our nation’s history to do that — and we have to hold onto a vision of the country we want to see.
We can do this.
Elizabeth G. Taylor