One year ago this week, the United States experienced an act of political violence that tested the very foundation of its democratic institutions and moral fiber—the attempted violent overthrowing of a free and fair general election.
The world looked on, and Americans watched in horror as a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol Building and desecrated one of our most sacred institutions. The insurrectionists broke windows, vandalized, maimed police officers, chanted death threats to American politicians, and stood up a hangman stand and noose on the Capitol lawn—all to prevent the certification of an American election.
The footage is still shocking. Watching the mob reminded me of living in Spain during the end of the Franco regime and of the fascist rallies that refused to accept the creation of a democracy. A failed coup attempt was met by millions of Spanish citizens pouring into the streets in support of democracy.
Rather than unite around our democratic traditions and the need to protect our democracy, Americans find themselves divided by disinformation and distrust of our own electoral system.
We must not stop watching footage of the riot and attack on the U.S. Capitol, as the stakes are too high to look away.
On this, the first anniversary of January 6, 2021, we must challenge ourselves to practice—not just preach—the values that we hold so dearly as Americans. In a moment of hyper-partisanship and growing support for political violence, we must find common ground with our fellow citizens. We must approach those with whom we disagree, not to convince them of their wrongs, but to listen and understand. In a moment of partisan rancor and rampant disinformation, where even basic facts do not have a shared understanding, we must nurture the commonalities among us.
Democracy is about more than its institutions; it is about people. How we the people act in simple ways to create a perfect union. As members of this democratic society, we have to choose to de-escalate actively. There is undoubtedly more that unites Americans than the divisions of American politics. If we slow down enough to listen, we may well be reminded of what we hold in common.
This brings me back to what this means around the world and the stakes for U.S. engagement and leadership. As authoritarian and illiberal leaders push back against democratic norms and practices, the U.S. must engage. As we look to the year ahead, let us remind ourselves that democracy everywhere must be protected—and that the responsibility to defend it rests with us as individuals and as members of civil society as much as any government institution or politician.
In this moment of fragility, we must have the humility to remember that our work is nowhere near finished. The legacy of January 6, 2021, is still unfolding, and unfortunately, we have not made enough progress over the past year. But the window to shape our future and the future of democracy is not yet closed. What happens next is still up to each of us.