AHS body’s thoughts, fears, and hopes for the future after learning of the Capitol Hill insurrection.
Haritha Rajasekar, Darcy Chew, Emyr Ortiz
Staff Writers & Flex Editor
10:22 AM. January 6, 2021 Jahsh Arshad (9) first hears about the insurrection at the end of his first period class.
2:12 PM January 6, 2021. Checking her phone after school, Sanika Sharma (9) sees a post on Instagram of protestors storming the Capitol.
9:06 AM January 7, 2021. During Mr. Peffer’s AP Economics class, Naysa Chopra (12) learns about the riot for the first time.
On January 6, 2021, hundreds of protesters swarmed into the nation’s Capitol building during the counting of the electoral college votes, disrupting an important but usually ceremonial step in finalizing the presidential election. The House chamber was barricaded and the Senate abandoned as lawmakers and others were evacuated to secure locations, many donning gas masks fearing for their lives. This attack on the seat of the U.S. government sparked responses from leaders all over the world, and striking reactions from the American people. Meryl Matthew (10) first heard the news of the storming of the capitol as it was playing out.
“My first thought was it’s just very surreal to see that happen; on the news, right now, as I’m watching. It felt very surreal to see things that I had never considered happening, because of elections or anything in America. So, it was just a very surreal experience. And then after, during lunch, is when I started to like look into what was happening more and learned more about the rally. I became sort of angry, sort of that weird, shocked, surprised, angry, that sort of mix of emotions,” Matthew describes her initial reaction.
AP Government teacher Mr. Johnson has gone through his fair share of historic events in his lifetime, but says the storming of the Capitol still surprised him.
“I never thought this could ever happen. …[To] see something like this, because when I was growing up and for most of my life, I don’t want to come off as a super patriot, but you saw that in other nations around the world. But the USA stood for something and you wouldn’t ever see that happen here. But to see people climbing the Capitol Hill walls and dressed up in fatigues and things like that, even if there are a bunch of ineffectual people doing it… it is sort of disheartening to see.” In the context of the history he has witnessed in his life such as the assassinations of JFK and MLK, Johnson said that the events at the Capitol were “up there” with them, even if they don’t completely match.
Nitin Bharadwaj (11), was startled by his phone blowing up with news of the protests. But, unlike Johnson, he says he wasn’t surprised after learning more about what occurred.
“It doesn’t shock me that there are people who were so bold, and so just, I feel like there’s a sense of entitlement surrounding the whole protest. So [it] didn’t really shock me, because I’ve known for a while, and I feel like a lot of people have known for a while that that’s just how America has become in the last few years. It’s just so polarizing. And, you know, people are extremely radical. It didn’t really surprise me.” Bharadwaj states.
Despite Washington DC being over 2,000 miles away from Fremont, the insurrection created a ripple effect that washed over many American students. For instance, the event at the Capitol has been a wake up call to Sanika Sharma (9) on racism in the country.
“I haven’t really been exposed to any kind of racial prejudice, at this point in my life, because we live in Fremont, where it’s pretty diverse. But it made me think that there’s actually people that would be acting upon their prejudice” Sharma comments.
Like Bharadwaj, Erin Wengrow (12) was more disappointed than shocked of the riot that occurred on the 6th, stating that “racism in this country in this country is nothing new” and citing Confederate flags and anti-semetic slogans seen at the riot as proof of the role of bigotry in the actions of the mob. However, the prejudice she saw on display that Wednesday was personal.
“I remember, when I was very young, I had a friend who told me that she couldn’t be friends with me anymore, because she found out that I was black… And I remember growing up going to schools teachers would ask me, ‘are you supposed to be in this class?’ Because I was surrounded by people who didn’t look like me. And they only asked me that question. And in those ways, I experienced prejudice. And just walking down the street with my mother I’ve received racial slurs, and I feel like watching that happen at the Capitol definitely brought all those memories and thoughts back, because there are also people at the Capitol who would probably hate me if they met me just because of my race,” she reflected.
The events that occured on the 6th left some students feeling angry and frustrated, both about the riot and about their capacity to address it. This is something Elena Fu (12) understands as she shares her view about students’ role after watching the insurrection.
“I think the thing that was difficult to realize on [January 6th] was there’s just not much you can do, like we can be upset about this. And we can maybe hopefully hold you know the police accountable more and use this as a really firm example of behavior that just simply not in the slightest bit acceptable, to try to change people’s minds. But beyond that, you know, there’s not a whole lot.” Fu says, acknowledging the absence of power students have.
For Wengrow, she is less focused on what she personally can do and is instead looking at what the country as a whole needs to accomplish in the aftermath of this event. In her view, the root of the hate she saw on the 6th is clear.
“I absolutely think that we can do stuff about it. I think that I would attribute what happened to ignorance and a lack of empathy,” she explained. “And I think that the only way to combat that is to instill or educate… we need to be teaching students and children across the country aspects of empathy because these people who rioted had no empathy for others, [when they] very selfishly and cowardly, broke into the Capitol Building.”
Megha Govindu (11), a student-activist, expressed her concern for the aftermath of the protests and the burden it places on the future.
“As a person morally, it’s really, really, really, really sad to see people even having that sort of hatred? What the other thing would be as an American citizen, I guess, it really sets a scary precedent for what’s to come. We’re all really young and I think our generation, relatively, is pretty outspoken, which I appreciate a lot. But there’s been a lot of new precedents being set this year. And if so easily, our democracy can be disregarded with a couple of hundred of those people, then what does that mean for what other things can pass?” she says.
Now, at the end of all this, one question still persists—what happens next? Such a historic event has forced students and teachers to reflect upon the American experience, and what that means in the aftermath of the attack. Actions to be taken, the divides in the nation, and how to move forward were all issues that lived in the minds of many.
One theme that permeated throughout conversations was accountability, but what form that accountability took varied. In the mind of Hillary Hernandez (12), that meant punishing at all levels the people who she believes contributed to the attack.
“First of all, arrest the protesters and charge them how they should be charged, charged with domestic terrorism…And apart from that, hold the politicians who use… linguistic ambiguity to avoid any type of charges against them, hold them accountable as well,” she said, referring to lawmakers that have backed President Trump’s baseless claims of a stolen election for months before January 6th. “You can’t do anything with the justice system to punish them, but you can vote them out. And you can hold them accountable by ending their careers.” In addition to these actions against rioters and lawmakers, Hernandez also voiced her support for impeaching Trump.
However, some believed that certain drastic actions would do more harm than good. History teacher Mr. Rojas believes that the President incited the rioters in his speech on January 6th and that his actions would forever taint his legacy. Yet, he believed that impeachment is a step too far and would not be appropriate for the moment.
“There [are] just too many people who want their pound of flesh. Like currently right now they’re trying to impeach the president,” stated Rojas. “He’s got nine days left. Twitter has shut him down. Facebook has shut him down. Nobody’s gonna pay any attention. His supporters are not going to do anything, because there’s already this bad press. So, what’s the use of impeaching him? Are there there consequences that need to be [had]? Yes. Impeachment I don’t believe is the appropriate way… I think impeachment will further divide the country.”
Ruth Lu (11) says that though the insurrection occurred, it provides an opportunity for citizens to understand both the strengths and weaknesses of American democracy.
“Our democratic process is not as trusted as it should be. At the same time, while rioters were able to briefly pause the certification of Biden, their actions did not change the result of the election,” Lu shares.
Senior Naysa Chopra (12) also states her concerns about the implications the insurrection has caused for the future of the United States.
“What really scared me was that it showed how weak our democracy was, and the fact that such an act could be done by a president was very scary. I feel I was scared of what the world was gonna see us as, America is always trying to be seen as something powerful. I feel like this shows a very weak point within America itself. To other nations, it just shows that America is not as strong as it tries to be. And I think it just comes down to, you know, who is leading the country and how we can bring the people together. And right now, this whole disconnect and this divide between, the Republicans and the Democrats really shows the weakness of our government and our democracy, which is really scary. ” Chopra comments.
Jahsh Arshad (9), the freshman representative of American High’s Bay Area Student Activist club, believes the insurrection revealed a substantial message about party loyalties in America.
“I think one of the [takeaways] is partisan loyalty. It’s not just a Republican issue; it’s a voter issue. People vote regardless of a candidate just because they have some sort of affiliation with a party. The loyalty people have to a party is really destructive,” Arshad says.
12:01 PM January 20, 2021. A new president has been sworn in. Trump has been impeached for the second time and a Senate trial looms on the horizon. The future of America is unknown, but for the many who watched in shock and dismay on the 6th, the lessons imparted by this insurrection will forever be remembered.
Note: All sources were interviewed before President Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives on January 13th, with the exception being Mr. Johnson.