Mainers hold vigils on Jan. 6 anniversary, call for safeguards for democracy / by Dan Neumann

Demonstrators join Resist Central Maine on Wednesday outside U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office on Lisbon St. in Lewiston. Remembering the storming of the Capitol, on Jan. 6, 2021, the group is urging the Republican senator to support legislation protecting voting rights. Andree Kehn / Sun Journal

Hundreds of Mainers held candlelight vigils around the state on Thursday, marking the one-year anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump who were attempting to halt the certification of the 2020 presidential election.

Attendees of the events said that the right-wing threat to democracy still looms with partisan gerrymandering and attempts to restrict the freedom to vote. They urged congressional Democrats and the Biden administration, as well as state lawmakers, to take those threats seriously and work to expand enfranchisement. 

“Jan. 6 is a warning to us that if we do not fasten our pace in protecting our voting rights and the influence of our activism, we will face a country that will no longer listen to the needs of the majority,” said Cole Cochrane, the legislative coordinator at Maine Youth Climate Justice. “We can not sit complacently for any longer and see politicians get away with the rise of authoritarianism and political violence.” 

Residents hold candles in Monument Square in Portland to mark the anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. | Dan Neumann

Vigils were organized in Portland, Lewiston, Bangor, Bucksport, Camden, Farmington and Newcastle by the League of Women Voters of Maine and Mainers for Accountable Leadership and a coalition of local advocacy groups including Indivisible groups, Wabanaki Alliance, the Peace and Justice Center, the Maine AFL-CIO, the Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund, the Poor People’s Campaign, Women’s March Maine and Maine Youth Power, among others.

Local advocates are demanding that Maine’s federal delegation pass legislation including the Freedom to Vote Act, which would make voting more accessible through policies like automatic, online, and same-day voter registration, a public holiday for Election Day, and a requirement of 15 days of early voting, among others. 

They are also pressing for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were gutted by the conservative-majority Supreme Court, allowing federal authorities to once again preclear changes to voting laws in states with a history of suppression and discrimination.

Mainers hold vigils on Jan. 6 anniversary, call for safeguards for democracy
Residents hold candles in Monument Square in Portland to mark the anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. | Dan Neumann, Beacon

Advocates are also demanding D.C. statehood and, in Maine, the passage of LD 1155, “An Act To Require Election Transparency and Audits,” as well as the expansion of tribal sovereignty through LD 1626, which seeks to extend to Indigenous Nations in Maine the same rights that other tribes in the U.S. maintain over natural resources and taxation. 

Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, has been opposed to expanding tribal sovereignty. 

“Wabanaki Peoples know what it means to be treated as less than fully human and to have fundamental political rights denied. The state of Maine can correct this injustice by passing LD 1626,” said John Dieffenbacher-Krall, director of Wabanaki Alliance.

Congressional Democrats have struggled to pass federal voting rights legislation, due to the Senate’s filibuster rules that require a 60-vote threshold rather than a simple majority for bills to advance. Senate Democrats have also struggled to get all their members on board to remove the filibuster for voting rights legislation. 

Party leaders are currently trying to negotiate a deal that would result in some voting protections passing the Senate.

“Our democracy continues to be threatened by waves of voter suppression laws in states and by false narratives of election fraud. We are calling on the U.S. Senate to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, the Protecting Our Democracy Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” said Anna Kellar, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Maine. “The eyes of your constituents, the world and of history are on you.” 

Biden decries Trump’s ‘web of lies’

Mainers in Monument Square in Portland to mark the anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. | Dan Neumann, Beacon

The vigils in Maine were part of more than 200 events marking the Jan. 6 anniversary that took place across the country, including at the U.S. Capitol.

In Washington D.C. on Thursday, President Joe Biden warned of the dangers of a collapse of American democracy.

“We must be absolutely clear what is true and what is a lie. And here’s the truth: The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election. He’s done so because he values power over principle,” Biden said during a speech in Statuary Hall, a historic chamber in the U.S. Capitol that was besieged by an angry mob of pro-Trump supporters last year.

Without citing Trump by name, Biden noted that rioters threatened the life of the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and were “literally erecting gallows” to hang the former Vice President Mike Pence as they rampaged through the Capitol and battled police.

Pelosi held a private moment of reflection on the House floor with staff who were present on Jan. 6 shortly after the president’s speech. 

Pelosi also held a moment of silence on the House floor at noon, and honored the lives of the law enforcement officers who died as a result of the attack on the Capitol. 

In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot, five people died, hundreds of law enforcement officers were injured — four later died by suicide — and congressional staff, lawmakers, police and journalists were traumatized. One woman was shot and killed by a Capitol Hill police officer after she tried to breach the House Speaker’s Lobby. 

“As we acknowledge the horror of that day in the face of extreme danger, they all risked their safety for our democracy by protecting the Capitol complex, members, staff, press, safeguarding the ballot — in those mahogany boxes — to validate the election and ensuring that Congress could accomplish our purpose,” she said.

Anti-democratic fervor continues on the right

A right-wing counter protester speaks with a reporter at the vigil in Portland. | Dan Neumann, Beacon

Advocates who participated in Thursday’s vigils emphasized that the threats to democracy extend beyond Trump and his denial of the 2020 election results. 147 congressional Republicans sought to overturn the election and Republicans at the state level have since introduced and passed 33 laws that impose strict voting requirements. 

At the vigil in Portland in Monument Square, a small group of right-wing counter protestors disrupted the event, shouting over a megaphone false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. The counter protesters promoted their gathering online as a “pro-freedom, anti-commie” rally.

Politico/Morning Consult poll released in November found that more than one-third of voters — including 60% of Republicans — believe the 2020 election was illegitimate.

Republican leadership on Thursday morning largely stayed quiet — except for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. In a statement, McConnell, who was in Georgia attending the funeral of former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, praised the law enforcement officers who protected lawmakers and defended the Capitol on Jan. 6. But he criticized Democrats for politicizing the day to call for voting rights legislation.

“It is especially jaw dropping to hear some Senate Democrats invoke the mob’s attempt to disrupt our country’s norms, rules, and institutions as a justification to discard our norms, rules and institutions themselves,” he said, referring to the effort to change filibuster rules in order to bypass Republican opposition to voting rights bills.

Two House GOP members, Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, held “a Republican response to expose the truth about” the insurrection late Thursday. No other Republicans spoke alongside them.

Greene, a freshman, was stripped of her committee seats after social media posts surfaced where she encouraged violence against Democratic leaders. 

Gaetz is currently under investigation by the Justice Department looking into sex trafficking allegations to conclude if he violated federal law by providing payments to a 17-year-old girl in exchange for sex.

States Newsroom Washington D.C. reporter Ariana Figueroa contributed reporting to this article.

Author: Dan Neumann studied journalism at Colorado State University before beginning his career as a community newspaper reporter in Denver. He reported on the Global North’s interventions in Africa, including documentaries on climate change, international asylum policy and U.S. militarization on the continent before returning to his home state of Illinois to teach community journalism on Chicago’s West Side. He now lives in Portland. Dan can be reached at dan(at)mainebeacon.com

Source: Maine Beacon, January 7, 2022, https://mainebeacon.com/mainers-hold-vigils-on-jan-6-anniversary-call-for-safeguards-for-democracy/