I've been struggling to find the words — to keep my thoughts concise. I've been wondering whether I should even say anything after so many better wordsmiths have wrought the concept much better than I. But the attack on our Capitol cannot and should not be something on which any of us remain silent.
A quote has been running laps in my mind over the past year:
"To keep still upon a subject of public importance is cowardice; to talk is to run the gauntlet of public opinion."
Those words were printed a little less than 125 years ago in the Spirit Lake Beacon. They were likely the words of then Editor Abraham Benjamin Funk, who at that point was also the region's Republican state Senator. I've found his words inescapable since Wednesday's attack, because I can't disagree with him.
To stay still after what has happened would indeed be cowardice.
So we must move. We must all move, and we must all listen. In fact, I believe much if not all of the unrest we've seen over the past year is due to an unwillingness by some to listen to the truth and to act. Of course, Wednesday's crowds called to mind images from May, when Minneapolis businesses were burned during riots following the death of George Floyd. Neither of these riots came about suddenly on a whim, and frankly neither should have happened in the first place. Both were fueled by frustration that had been building up for years, but to place those two moments in American history on the same shelf because of their similar outcomes is to place a false equivalency between their root causes.
The key difference in what led up to these two riots is the role of truth.
George Floyd's death was the ember that ignited the last straw for many, but it was also verifiable — it happened. The election results weren't accepted by some because they believed the numbers had been falsified somehow. Despite conveniently cropped photos, edited video clips and other falsehoods being pushed through social media, that claim has not been verified. I once compared the violence in the wake of Floyd's death to blood flowing after being cut — it's frightening, but it draws attention to pain so it can be healed. Wednesday was another story. Despite no evidence of a cut, the rioters were sure their cause was bleeding — they were sure the president had been denied a rightful victory.
It seems we've forgotten that our country's elections aren't a top-down process. To claim fraud within an election is to claim the people at our local courthouses are at best incompetent and at worst corrupt. They're not. Even a casual, off-hand joke about the local election's integrity was met with a flat rebuke from the elections clerk during the official canvass on Nov. 10. It wasn't funny, because our local officials have always taken the process seriously. They put in every bit of effort possible to be sure our votes — yours and mine alike — were counted. To imply otherwise is an insult to their character and our community.
More over, it seems we are more desperate to be heard these days than we are willing to listen. The saccharin taste of lies has somehow become more palatable for some than the plain truth. Rather than putting trust in reports published by those whom readers can hold accountable — who can be reached at an office, who ascribe their name at the top of each article they write, who can be taken to court if they cross certain lines — we label them as fakes. We call them biased. We call them enemies of the people, and some of us instead choose to heed only the words of those who fire their keyboards from behind the walls of digital anonymity — those who can't be found, those we can't name, those who are so distant they can't be troubled with the consequences of peddling conspiracy theories as if they were facts.
But, facts remain.
As U.S. Sen Chuck Grassley pointed out, at least 78 courts across the country have found claims of election fraud to be unfounded. For that matter, even the conservative-controlled U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider the issue — and no less than three of the current justices were appointed by Trump himself. But, instead of trusting the courts, instead of trusting Grassley — who said in a Dec. 15 interview that Joe Biden was indeed president elect — instead of trusting the reporters whose job it is to relay those messages, some chose to simply expand the circle of supposed conspiracy. And, when it grew big enough, it led to violence.
Now, I also want to be clear that not every person who decided to hear the president speak that day also made their way to the Capitol building to participate in the violence. Not everyone violated the city's curfew the night of the riot. There were surely some that day who stayed within the bounds of their peaceful right to assemble, but those who went beyond that right dragged the rest of us along with them in many ways.
It would be easy to say this doesn't involve us here in Iowa. We were literally about 1,000 miles from the chaos, and yet we were there. Cameras didn't just capture Confederate flags flying outside the Capitol. One of the more famous photos to come from inside the Capitol that day captured a Des Moines resident confronting police. Like it or not, our state was represented in what Iowa's most senior legislator called an attack on America itself.
We should not stay silent on that matter.
We should not stay silent when our state flag flies over a violent attack against our nation's Capitol. We should not stay silent when a mob rises in our name. We should not stay silent when a crowd claims to be patriots while attempting to derail the most central freedom in our country — thankfully, freedom stood fast. We don’t owe fidelity to those who betray the values we thought we shared — be they social, political or religious. We should not stay silent on a matter of such importance.
To do so would be cowardice — that is, as long as you believe the words of our Republican legislator from years past.