Friday 8 January 2021

Reflections on January 6, 2021

 As part of learning how to write, I have been reading Kate Wilhelm’s Storyteller, her reflections on 27 years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshops. One section talks about how she works “from images, to scenes, to incidents, then situations and finally plot” in contrast with either pantsing or the usual kind of plotting. The images often arose from her subconscious, her “Silent Partner;” plotting is essentially knitting together the scenes and incidents into a coherent order, adding new material to connect the old. Diana Gabaldon describes a somewhat similar process, and in a brief conversation with Nalo Hopkinson on the 2015 Writing Excuses Retreat cruise she told me she writes this way, too.

All of my NaNoWriMo novels started with images or very brief scenes. So after the riots on January 6, my reactions crystalized around a small number of images.

While rioters were breaking into the Capitol, security staff told everyone that the building had been breached, and Congress had to evacuate to a secure location. I expect that at that moment the level of threat was perceived to be very high. Four congressional staffers, all women, had the presence of mind to gather up the boxes containing the official Electoral College votes. Had the rioters found and destroyed them, the counting of the votes that verified Biden’s win would have been postponed much longer than actually happened, and who knows what mayhem might have happened before they could be regenerated from whatever raw data they were based on. Their presence of mind and quiet courage went largely unreported; I found this image in a single Facebook post

Image of congressional staffers, all women, carrying two Electoral College ballot boxes to safety.
Congressional staffers rescuing ballot boxes

There have been many images of people who invaded the Capitol doing relatively nonviolent actions, leading some to insist they are legitimate “protestors.” Unfortunately for this attempt at whitewashing, there was an absolutely clearly violent action to break into the building, and those quietly walking around afterwards were at the absolute minimum committing tresspass. So the right term for these people is at the very least “rioter” and, given the political ideology and intent behind their actions, “insurgent” or even “terrorist.” There are plenty of images to choose from, but I found this one especially moving.

Man carrying large Confederate Flag inside U.S. Capitol.
Man holding confederate flag inside US Capitol

One Facebook post about it began and ended with “Today the Confederate flag flew in the United States Capitol.” That phrase gave me feelings of sadness and discouragement. That flag is not just a piece of coloured cloth. It is a symbol of rebellion against the United States by people who clearly stated, in documents readily available today, that the core of their reason for secession was preserving slavery in particular and white supremacy in general. The entire history of the United States since then continues to be tainted by oppression of African-Americans in particular and people of colour in general, from voter suppression targeting African-American districts to outright slavery in the for-profit prison system. (Canada has its own history of appalling racism; in the words of the Arrogant Worms, “We won’t say that we’re better, it’s just that we’re less worse.”)

Much has been written about the actions and inaction of law enforcement during the riot. There are many accusations of complicity, and the image of one of the Capitol Police allowing a selfie with a protestor inside the building he was supposed to protect has become iconic; this version one is from The Independent.

Image of Capitol Policeman in selfie with “protester”
Officer allowing selfie with protestor
I have seen repeated claims that many American policing organizations have been infiltrated by white supremacists, and even that many were founded as slave-catchers. 

There is room to hope it wasn’t all of the police. This image shows some at least trying to hold back protestors, and I’ve heard that some of them continued to do so until they were overwhelmed by sheer numbers. 

Police holding barriers in front of US Capitol

But it’s likely that I’m still too naive about things white people like me would rather not think about and have the privilege to ignore until they’re thrust in our faces.

There is vastly more that is worth saying about January 6, 2021; I expect a Congressional Commission will investigate. My personal reflections above are just one tiny window onto history. I think it’s worthwhile for anyone reading this to record their own reactions to this historic moment.

Some of the above photos are from social media; others are from the Associated Press. On the Media Bias Chart, AP is at the very top of the “reports facts instead of fabricated information” axis and almost at the centre of the “left/balanced/right” axis. Its “AP Morning Wire” email is my main source of major news.

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