Voices of Trinity: Insurrection at the U.S. Capitol

Voices of Trinity: Insurrection at the U.S. Capitol

The horrifying insurrection at the U.S. Capitol elicited many responses from members of the Trinity community.  I asked them to write their reflections and below are some of the first.  (If you would like to contribute your thoughts about this critical moment in American history, please send them to me on email president@trinitydc.edu and I will add them to this blog.)

Rebecca Jeffrey Easby, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Art History and Fine Arts Program Chair

Art historians deal in images and frequently use comparisons to make points. The imagery of Donald Trump standing in front of the church across from the White House holding a Bible (a stark parallel to a famous image of Hitler doing the same thing) is diametrically opposed to the Instagram photo of Joe Biden dressed as Mr. Rogers after his townhall was criticized by a Republican operative as being like an episode of the beloved children’s show. These two images offer radically different visions of America – do we want to be part of a totalitarian state or the “neighborhood?”

In the past few days people are looking at images and understanding the shocking truths they reveal. Attention has been rightly drawn to the stark contrast between images of white rioters freely swarming the halls Congress compared to the heavily armed strike force waiting to control BLM protesters at the Lincoln Memorial. It is images such as these that illustrate the inequities and prejudices in our society, hopefully allowing us to see them for what they are and to right these wrongs.

For me, one of the most powerful contrast of images are those of a state lawmaker from West Virginia participating in the storming of the Capitol and Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri fist pumping protestors. Compare these to the photos of New Jersey Representative Andy Kim on his hands and knees helping to clean-up the debris left behind by the mob.  One shows respect for government and democracy, the others a blatant disregard for the traditions and institutions of our country. Perhaps Senator Hawley saw himself in the guise of one of the many images of noble rebels of the French Revolution, leading the fight for liberty. Historically such images romanticize the mob, but it is worth remembering that the French Revolution was followed by the Reign of Terror, a period no one would have wanted to live through.

History tells us that empires rise and fall. It is also true that during great change empires often experience movements that look backwards rather than forward, attempting to re-capture past glory. However, ignoring the necessity for change does not help a civilization to stay on top, it merely accelerates the slide. If we permit the mantra of “make America great again” to succeed, with its inherent message of looking backwards, we will never be able to confront the challenges necessary for America to move forward.

While images can obviously be constructed to deliver a particular point of view, they don’t lie. We need to look at these contrasts with a critical eye and decide which messages we want to inspire us.

Dr. Tarinna Olley, Adjunct Professor of Counseling

I’m a native Washingtonian residing in Ward 7. As an African American woman I constantly see the inequalities in America.  No African American person could have ever done such things on the Capitol.  Racial trauma is a real thing.  Hatred and bigotry are such awful social ills. I pray justice can be reformed and restored and we return to a country that respect differences and shows respect and kindness toward all people.  Thank you for your words. I was saddened and hurt to see such things. However, I still believe in the good of humanity.  But we must address some of our social ills and continue to speak out against injustices.  I believe that is how we move forward.  As Former First Lady Michelle Obama said, “when they go low you go high”.

I write poetry and yesterday I wrote this poem as writing is a therapeutic tool for me.  I had to get the raw feelings out.

America’s Soul Corruption

The corruption of America’s soul

Has really really grown tiresome and old

Certain groups can perform acts of treason

Then their actions are blatantly ignored for no good reason

These are the same immoral actions

That continue to plague America’s soul

There is a long history of immorality that needs to be continuously told

In the words of Jonathan Kozol

There are still injustices and savage inequalities

toward and against Black folk

How can anyone scale the walls of American federal buildings?

If Black people did that they would have been shot, killed, beaten, and choked

How can you invade a highly secured and protected building?

And then prop your feet up like you had the right to illegally barge in

I’m tired

I’m exhausted

Of the deliberate ignorance of certain privileged White men

It makes my stomach sick and heart full of chagrin

But I guess they have the right to peacefully protest

That’s truly a crock of mess

I just needed a space to get these feelings off my chest

White privilege is a dangerous ill

How long are we supposed to continue to swallow this bitter pill?

We all watched robbery and domestic terrorism live

And the majority of criminals are still alive

Shall I remind many in this land of the free and the home of the brave

Emmit Till, George Floyd, Dr King, and Breona Taylor are all dead in their grave

Let’s call a thing a thing

It’s really time for a change

It’s time to stop being complicit

White privilege and supremacy is what did it

It’s no better time than now to address it and finally fix it

Because America’s soul been sick a long time

@2021 Lyrical Lines by Tarinna Olley

Dr. Sita Ramamurti, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences

It was 2.44pm on January 6, 2020, a day with clear skies, when a WhatsApp message popped up on my phone screen, “Chaos@Capitol Hill! Unbelievable scenes in DC as protestors storm the building…what’s happening Sita?” It was from my cousin brother in India! While I was reading that, a text popped up. It was from my son who lives in Foggy Bottom, DC. It said “Are you watching the news?! This is insane downtown. I just walked outside and went right back to my apartment. These people are everywhere”. These messages jolted me. I was busy preparing a collegiate report at that time. I hurriedly dropped it and turned on the news. Like everyone else in the world, I was riveted by the unbelievable attack scenes playing out at the Capitol, and stayed glued to the TV well into the night. I listened to Senators compare the Capitol siege to other historical political attacks, racial unrest, protest and riots in US history. Having come to the US only in 1989, I missed out on acquiring deep academic knowledge of many of the historical happenings and experiences, and was therefore eager to hear and learn like a student. President-elect Biden aptly called the pro-Trump mob “Thugs” and “Domestic Terrorists”. My sister, who is in Sweden for two months now, said, “there was a one hour program on Swedish TV just on that! They are so fascinated. They said only third world countries have these kinds of events. And it shows how much US has changed since Trump came onboard.” And undoubtedly the policing of the January 6 white rioters was in stark contrast to the way the BLM protesters were policed last year. I hope I am wrong when I say this – from a dreadful pandemic year 2020, we are stepping into a dreadful political unrest year 2021. From a sunny day with clear skies, we plunged to a dark day in history very quickly, for sure!

Stacy Ealey ’21, CAS Health Services

As troubling as yesterday’s events were, they were indeed predictable because of the corrupt system and leaders we have. It is so hard to try and speak on positivity and coming together as truly one nation under God. I say this because no matter how much we black and African Americans and those who stand by us protest, there seems to always be an uprooting ahead. We get shot with rubber bullets and jail time. We get called thugs and rioters when trying to peacefully protest. The injustices we face in the government blinds anyone from understanding how things effect the masses just because they cannot personally relate. It’s repulsive to watch yesterday’s events seeing the outcome that was presented- rioters simply walking out and going back to their hotels safe and warm.

I believe the only way to finally, truly have a change is from the inside out- it must first start in the government. Those who were sworn to protect us needs to do just that- not just protect those that look like them. I do not wish for those white supremacists to get gunned down, I simply only wish for my people to equally not get gunned down the same way they don’t. The government needs to start taking serious action on themselves before they can ever govern their people. White supremacy will only spread of those in power feed the hatred that dwells in those people.

Carol Sardinha ’21, NHP Masters of Occupational Therapy

I am still processing the events in Washington yesterday and accompanying emotions. For me, seeing the seat of our Democracy and the magnificent historic building where I was privileged to start my career as a journalist and news aide working for UPI in the 1980s taken over by brainwashed mobs of thugs who have no respect for our laws or institutions was not just sad and terrifying. It was also traumatic on a level similar to what I, a native New Yorker and long-term Washingtonian, felt on 9/11.

Yesterday, I went back and forth from sadness and anger (but not shock) — to trying to make light of the situation by acknowledging our Banana Republic status. Today, I am just angry and enraged as hell. Angry at Trump and his whole criminal family. Angry at his GOP enablers (with the exception of a few GOPers who have some integrity). Angry at the phony media outlets like Fox, Newsmax and others that pump out lies and misinformation to further brainwash the cult Trump. Angry at our educational system that has failed so miserably that it produces millions of stupid, gullible, highly manipulated fools who can’t think at all and who gobble up this poison. Angry at an economic system that has made these buffoons more susceptible to this “victimhood” mentality so they take their anger out on those not responsible for their plights. Angry at the ease with which dangerous people such as these have access to an unlimited supply of lethal weapons. Angry about the more than 350,000 people who have died from COVID in this country and the fact that our lives continue to be put on hold/in limbo when some of this catastrophe could have been mitigated had we had competent leadership. Angry at the individuals who to this day still support Trump , his lies, and his hate.

I will never forgive any of them for destroying this country. I feel deep hatred in my heart, which is not what I want to feel. Hate is not what I have been taught to feel according to my religion, my upbringing, and my education. But I hate every single American who — motivated by greed and/or lust for power and/or willful ignorance– has lead us to where we are.

I want to be optimistic about our future. Biden’s victory and the Democratic wins in Georgia buys us a little time. A vaccine is here. So we have some cause for hope going forward. But sadly, I think we need to be realistic and expect to see more violence and intimidation by the ignorant, brainwashed, armed-to-the-limit extreme Trump cultists. Lawmakers, judges, public officials, members of the media, minorities, women, etc. will continue to be targeted by these domestic terrorists. If anything, the attacks could increase. And our economy has a good chance of completely collapsing, given how many Americans can’t work because of COVID and the lack of sufficient financial support.

These are dark, dark days in the United States.

Dr. Dennis Farley, Assistant Professor of Economics

Pelosi and Schumer have called either for impeachment or the 25th amendment to be invoked.  It’s good to get these statements out there, but they both must know that neither option has enough time to work.  With two weeks left, there is no time for impeachment to work.  A trial in the Senate could not be geared up in time.

The problem is that there is likely not enough time for the 25th amendment to work either.  Even if Pence and the Cabinet acted tomorrow and sent their “he’s unfit” letter to Congress, the President would be able to send his own “I’m fit” letter, giving the Cabinet four days to overrule him.  Then the Congress must convene within 48 hours to decide which letter to accept, but (and here is the part I discovered in a Post article) they would have 21 days to make a decision.  And it is unclear who is in charge during this period.

The only advantage of the 25th amendment process seems to be to stymie Trump until Jan. 20.  He likely could not be removed from office during this process, as a 2/3 majority vote in both houses is needed.

Thwarting Trump is a worthy goal, but I think it is more likely to be accomplished by Cabinet secretaries slow-walking any questionable executive order, similar to the way that Defense and State were ready to do when Nixon was in the throes of his resignation depression in 1974.  Of course, the current Cabinet is filled with toadies, so I’m not sure if the Nixon solution would work either.

That leaves the scary option of the military.  If Trump frivolously invokes the Insurrection Act and orders generals to deploy troops somewhere, they can (probably) lawfully disobey him, even if SecDef does not.  The question is whether they would disobey a direct order.

I think we will muddle through.  The coup that Trump encouraged on Wednesday was a typical Trump affair–lots of hype, poor organization, and little follow-through.  So, I think any more stunts will be more of the same.  Still, we have a tense two weeks ahead.

A staff member who wishes to remain anonymous

As a resident of the District, I found myself calling my friends who live closer to downtown and bringing them to my home in upper NW for safety.  Living here, we know there is a threat of violence daily, of terror attacks, and constant police activity and presence. I never thought I would see what I saw yesterday in the US. We found ourselves listening to sirens all night outside of my window, muting the TV multiple times to see if it was outside the window or the TV, communicating on apps like NextDoor about where those who may cause violence have been spotted in the neighborhood, metro stops, nearby rental homes and what business and residence may need protection through the night.

One thing that is important for the entire Trinity community to keep in mind is that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Turn off the news, get off social media, and take care of yourself. With the 24 hour media, this is not something easy to do. In the already difficult time of the pandemic, mental health is more important than ever and this is no different.

Reach out to the ones you trust and talk about how and why this happened and how to move forward for you, as an individual. This will look different for each person and it is important to recognize that. Last night, I spoke with my grandparents who are Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe. They had a very different perspective and feeling than myself when seeing Nazi symbols in the people’s house and were very disturbed as you can imagine. Keeping in mind that we all watched what happened last night but that does not mean we all felt the same way about it and we all have different perspectives.

It is a marathon what we are dealing with at the moment and we in a unique position as residents of the district. As for what Trinity can do, keep the open dialogue, encourage time offline, mental health services, and community outreach and activism. (I know this all already being done, and I hope that students, staff, and faculty are taking it to heart).

Lastly, I do not have children but my friends who do are already very worried about how they are going to talk to their children about what happened yesterday. I am not sure if there is a resource at Trinity that may help those students, staff, and faculty who this may be weighing on already as their children begin to ask questions. I am also a bit worried that as we pass the days leading up to the election that residents will become increasingly anxious regarding the inauguration ( I know I am already very worried and anxious about this myself).

Dr. Cynthia Greer, Associate Professor of Counseling

The Counseling program has been engaged in the issues of white supremacy and racism through our Research Initiative on ACEs and Trauma. These issues intersect with trauma. This semester, in the appropriate courses we will be addressing the issues of whether racism should be declared a major public health crisis in DC. Many cities and states have already declared racism as a public health issue. Building Community Resilience (BCR) which is one of our partners has given testimony before the DC city council for this declaration, and they have asked for our support and advocacy. The American Medical Association has already made this declaration. Students will be examining the need for this declaration, and the legislation before the council that would call for a DC Office of Racial Equity https://lims.dccouncil.us/Legislation/B23-0038)  Before the “insurrection”, the council was very supportive of making this declaration, due to recent events, I believe the legislation will pass.  Students in some classes, will also be assigned to watch the 1997 film, Miss Evers Boys that addresses the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, that is one example of Black and Brown bodies being used for experimentation. As a result of this study marginalized groups have a distrust of the medical community, and a reluctance of marginalized groups to take the vaccine for COVID 19. Students will address the ethical issues, the issues of complicity, internalized oppression, and white supremacy.


Read my op-ed in the Chronicle of Higher Education:  Colleges Share the Blame for the Assault on Democracy