FREDERICKSBURG FREE LANCE-STAR, ADELE UPHAUS
A group of Fredericksburg-area residents held a vigil Thursday night to mark one year since a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The vigil, which was held virtually due to this week’s snowstorms, was part of a nationwide call to honor the anniversary of the attack by mobilizing citizens to support federal legislation protecting the right to vote.
“Our democracy is fragile and it is under attack,” said city resident Julie Kay, co-founder of Fossil Free Fredericksburg and a retired high school government teacher who organized the vigil.
About 40 people participated in the virtual event, including local blues musician and activist Gaye Adegbalola; the Rev. Joe Hensley, rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg; Anne Little, founder of Tree Fredericksburg; and Matt Rowe, newly elected Fredericksburg City School Board Member representing Ward 1.
The vigil included songs, prayer and nine seconds of silence in honor and memory of those who died during the events of Jan. 6 or in the days afterward, including Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran who was shot by a U.S. Capitol Police officer while attempting to breach the House chambers; Kevin Greeson, Rosanne Boyland and Benjamin Phillips, who were part of the crowd protesting the results of the 2020 election; U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who suffered injuries during the riot and died from multiple strokes the next day; and Metropolitan police officer Jeffrey Smith and Capitol Police Officer Howard S. Liebengood, who killed themselves days after the attack.
The local vigil ended with a call to action.
“Democracy isn’t a partisan issue but unites everyone,” Little said. “To prevent this kind of attack from happening again, our leaders must pass legislation that will protect the country from the anti-democratic forces that are continuing an effort to destroy us.”
Little urged participants to voice support for several pieces of legislation that seek to protect voting rights, including the Freedom to Vote Act, the Protecting Our Democracy Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
The Freedom to Vote Act, which was sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, among others, is a comprehensive package of voting, redistricting and campaign finance reforms that would “protect our elections from voter suppression, partisan sabotage, gerrymandering, and dark money,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.
The Protecting Our Democracy Act seeks to curb abuses of presidential power, strengthen the system of checks and balances, and secure election integrity by “requiring federal campaign reporting of foreign contacts, [prohibiting] distribution of materially deceptive audio or visual media prior to an election (i.e., deepfakes), and [establishing] a program to support states and localities transition to ranked choice voting systems,” according to Congress.gov.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Act would restore and strengthen certain parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that have been weakened by U.S. Supreme Court decisions in recent years—such as the requirement that some states pre-clear certain changes to their voting laws with the federal government.
All three bills have passed the U.S. House of Representatives but must pass the U.S. Senate to become law.
In a statement made on Jan. 5, Kaine stressed the importance of passing the new legislation.
“The [Jan. 6] attack on the Capitol was an attack on our democracy and on the Constitution that I have sworn to defend ‘against all enemies, foreign and domestic,’” Kaine said. “Certain states with Republican governors and legislatures have used [the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump] to restrict voting access, disempower nonpartisan election officials, and even threaten jail time for Americans who help their neighbors vote. The best way to overcome that and protect our democracy is by passing comprehensive voting rights legislation.”
Virginia’s other U.S. senator, Democrat Mark Warner, also made a statement on the anniversary of Jan. 6.
“It is my hope that we will continue to honor those who lost their lives by remembering that democracy must be upheld each and every day,” Warner said. “We must realize that what happened on Jan. 6 did not end on Jan. 6. Efforts to sow doubts about the integrity of our elections are chipping away at the values upon which our nation was founded. As state legislatures across the country continue to exploit Donald Trump’s Big Lie to restrict access to the ballot, we must act to protect the right to vote and safeguard our democracy once more.”
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Henrico, who represents Virginia’s 7th congressional district, including part of Spotsylvania County, said the country “cannot and should not ‘move on’ from the events of Jan. 6.”
“The events of that day are a warning about what can happen to the threads of our democracy when American lawmakers—including former President Donald Trump—choose to traffic in dangerous conspiracy theories,” Spanberger said.
Rep. Rob Wittman, a Republican whose 1st congressional district includes Fredericksburg and Stafford, Caroline and King George counties, as well as part of Spotsylvania, did not issue an official statement on the Jan. 6 anniversary.