News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Vigil marks January 6 Capitol riot

Sisters residents commemorated the January 6, 2021 riot at the United States Capitol with a lively online event. Members of Indivisible Sisters hosted 72 attendees, gave rousing speeches, and presented guest speaker Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a local candidate who has personal experience related to authoritarian governments.

Master of Ceremonies Mary Chaffin opened with a land acknowledgment to tribes that historically lived in or roamed upon what is now called Sisters Country. She drew attention to “the grievous wound to our democracy” served by the insurrection. Last January represented the only time “in 244 years that we didn’t have peaceful transition of power” after a presidential election, she observed.

McLeod-Skinner spoke of coming together in “a combination mourning and celebration and shared resolve.”

She spent part of her childhood in Tanzania, when the brutal military dictator Idi Amin was president of neighboring Uganda.

“He was a horrific individual who was out to exterminate his own people,” McLeod-Skinner said.

Some of her classmates were Ugandan refugees.

“I recall one of my classmates telling me she had been in her kitchen with her father, and they heard pounding on the door, the screaming of her mother and her sisters, who she never saw again. Her father just grabbed her and ran out the back of the house. The rest of the family was killed,” said McLeod-Skinner. “Those stories were chilling to me. I could never imagine something like that happening in my own country.”

As an adult, she worked for a humanitarian organization managing school and hospital repairs in Bosnia, later in Kosovo.

“I saw firsthand the destruction, the damage, the fresh graves that were all around,” she said of the war-torn area.

McLeod-Skinner described a local family inviting her and her colleague into their home, to share “coffee and apples, the only food they had, but they insisted we have some.”

The family members told stories and her colleague translated.

“Then suddenly it got very quiet. I knew there was something very powerful and very emotional. He couldn’t even speak at first,” said McLeod-Skinner.

Eventually her colleague explained that the family had come back from identifying one of their sons in a mass grave that day.

“That is not an extreme story,” said McLeod-Skinner. “It starts like January 6. That’s how it starts.

“Things go south when that kind of terror takes over a country,” she said. “Horrific things happen. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. And so it was chilling to me that I was seeing it again, right here in our own country.”

A Central Oregon resident, McLeod-Skinner is running for the U.S. house of Representatives in the new Congressional District 5, the recently redrawn district that includes Sisters.

Fighting to protect democracy, she said, “really comes down to a tremendous sense of resolve... Sometimes it’s with our fists, sometimes it’s with our hearts.”

Chaffin and other Indivisible Sisters speakers encouraged listeners to get involved and take action. Speakers were clearly alarmed by the possibility of a takeover of the United States government by anti-democracy, pro-authoritarian forces.

“Even though things look very dismal and dire,” Chaffin said, “we have built a network....This is why we can’t give up hope. We are so much stronger now than five years ago.”

In a quieter portion of the proceedings, gatherers lit candles and observed a moment of silence “in remembrance of those defenders of democracy who lost their lives as result of the insurrection,” including U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) Officer Brian D. Sicknick.

Sicknick was assaulted by rioters with chemical agents; afterward, he collapsed and died of stroke. District of Columbia Chief Medical Examiner Francisco J. Diaz later found that Sicknick died of “natural causes” but stated, “all that transpired played a role in his condition.”

Three officers from Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department and one from USCP committed suicide in the days and months after their service at the Capitol on January 6. Their deaths were marked at the vigil, along with the approximately 150 officers who were

injured.

Chaffin encouraged people to call their legislators to ask for support on four bills that organizers believe would help stanch democracy’s wounds: the Freedom to Vote Act, Protecting Our Democracy Act, John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and “the D.C. statehood bill, finally giving the citizens of our nation’s capital the right to vote.”

Other hopeful acts were also recommended, such as writing postcards encouraging other citizens to vote. Chaffin assured the audience that postcards would be provided.

Some participants appeared buoyed by the vigil’s focus on action. Wrote Andy Zimmerman in the Zoom chat, “Thank you so very much for this session on this significant day. I am incredibly happy to find all of you people. Let’s be involved. Our country needs us.”

At the virtual gathering’s end, participants cheered, “Democracy now!” and gave a thumbs-up.

Indivisible Sisters is online at indivisiblesisters.org. Indivisible groups in Jefferson County, Redmond, Bend, and throughout the nation may be found at

indivisible.org/groups.

 

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