One year after rioters entered the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Chapel Hill residents joined Americans across the country in a nationwide Day of Remembrance and Action to support voting rights and democracy.
The Chapel Hill unity vigil event included both a candlelight vigil and speeches by U.S. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., and University United Methodist Church Reverend Creighton Alexander.
“Citizens are standing up to show that our democracy is extremely important to us and that we will do whatever it takes to defend and strengthen it,” event organizer Jennifer Bremer said.
Held in downtown Chapel Hill, the vigil was one of over 200 events across the country aiming to pressure Congress and President Joe Biden to take greater action on voting rights. The nationwide campaign stated its goal was to transcend racial, geographical and political boundaries and ensure that all Americans have an equal say in the nation’s democracy.
“We must have a responsive democracy where every voice is heard across the spectrum,” Bremer said.
The rally’s speakers said that the Jan. 6 Capitol riot still pose a serious threat to American democracy.
“It’s entirely appropriate that we gather here on the front lawn to observe this solemn day and to remind ourselves and to remind the community not just of what happened, but what continues to unfold,” Price said.
The speakers said the insurrection threatened the future of American democracy and could not be easily forgotten. Additionally, Price acknowledged the enormous political division created by the Jan. 6 riot — a division that he said has only grown with time.
“What’s unusual about this day of remembrance, unlike many days of remembrance, is that this one hasn’t unified us,” Price said. “The huge, huge historical disappointment is that that did not happen.”
The event’s speakers also mentioned the importance of passing new legislation, such as the Freedom to Vote Act, a voting rights and anti-corruption bill, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which fights discriminatory voting rules.
“We pray for the passing of the Freedom to Vote Act, the Protecting Our Democracy Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” Alexander said. “Bring about justice, peace and hope to our nation.”
This sentiment was shared by Price, who argued that policy to address voter suppression was a necessary part of moving forward. In addition, he said that lawmakers must address the power of state legislatures, which he said could unduly affect the legitimacy of elections.
To those like Lee Niegelsky, a resident of Chapel Hill, this policy change is necessary. Niegelsky said that the Capitol riot was something he had long expected — and that the only recourse was new legislation.
“I’m very concerned about where our country is going,” Niegelsky said. “One, I think the people involved need to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and two, they need to address legislation that allows for free and fair elections."
Ultimately, Price said, it will be the citizens who determine America’s destiny.
“Yes, we honor those that sacrificed, and we honor our democracy and what it stands for, but we understand that it is under siege, it is under challenge and the future is indeterminate,” Price said. “It really does depend on us.”
Photo Editor Helen McGinnis contributed reporting.
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