More than 60 people braved the bitter cold Thursday night for a vigil marking the anniversary of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and a rally for voting rights measures.
The vigil in downtown Reading was one of more than 300 similar events held across the country.
Organizers hope to prevent any similar attack from happening again.
Holding signs reading “Save Democracy” they stood on Penn Square, calling on legislators to pass laws protecting voting rights, including the Freedom to Vote Act, Protecting Our Democracy Act and The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
These measures, vigil organizer Phila Back said, would help protect the voting rights of all Americans.
“January 6 saw a violent and deadly attack against all Americans,” she said, “against our country, our democracy and our freedom as voters to choose the leaders that represent us so we have a government of, by and for the people.”
One year later, Back said, Americans of all races, parties and places are holding vigils to say “voters decide the outcome of elections.”
Back, of Declaration for American Democracy, was joined by members of that organization, representatives of the League of Women Voters of Berks County, Berks Stands Up and others.
Speakers included activists D.J. Plante, Raquel Capellan, Matthew Driben and Celine Schrier; local elected officials includes Jesse Royer, a Spring Township supervisor and a reference librarian with the Reading Public Library, Mark Detterline, a member of the Reading School Board; and state Sen. Judy Schwank, a Ruscombmanor Township Democrat.
Several spoke of the importance of exercising the right to vote and of registering voters.
It is not too early to begin helping others to register to vote, Capellan said.
“I don’t need to tell everybody here to get out and vote,” she said, “because you are here in the cold when a storm is about to come.”
Speakers also recalled the shock and horror they felt while watching news coverage a year ago.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Royer said.” I didn’t want to believe it was happening, but in the days and weeks and months that followed, it almost got worse.”
The narrative changed from a fairly unified understanding of what had happened, he said, to one of denial with some people claiming there had been no violent acts.
“I felt affronted by that,” he said.
Plante, who also watched the riot on TV, said he was shocked by what he saw.
“I saw them scale the walls, breaking through doors and windows, walking into the Capitol, vandalizing artwork,” he said. “They threatened our representatives and attacked journalists. They screamed for the Speaker of the House and threatened the vice president. They even had a gallows set up, noose at the ready.”
One rioter was shot by Capitol police, another died of a drug overdose, and three died of natural causes. Many people were injured, including 138 police officers. Four officers who responded to the attack died by suicide within seven months.
The vigil included a moment of silence for those who lost their lives.
Schwank said several people thanked her for coming out in the cold to attend.
“I should be here,” she said. “Thank you for being here. We are right to be here and we are right to be alarmed. This is a battle for the future of democracy in our country. If we care about free and fair elections, participation is not optional.”
Source: Berkshire mont