Undergraduates living in Washington, D.C. said they felt shock, frustration, and worry as a mob waving Trump flags violently stormed the Capitol building during the Electoral College vote certification process on Wednesday.
The mob forced members of Congress to evacuate and halted the certification process. The demonstrators gathered to support President Donald J. Trump along with a faction of congressional Republicans that aimed to contest the election results based on debunked claims of voter fraud.
Several students living in D.C. reported staying indoors despite the historical significance of the moment to avoid the ongoing demonstrations during the vote certification process.
“Although it was in a sense something of history in the making, it wasn't necessarily a history we wanted to be too close to, so we stayed put at home,” Kira L. Medish ’21 said. “But I think for a number of reasons, we were all sitting there for many hours, just watching it. It's kind of like being in a state of shock. You can't really take your eyes away from the screen.”
Despite the frequency of protests in D.C., College students living in the area said that the violence of the riot Wednesday afternoon shocked them.
“I kind of expected this to be one of the smaller rallies,” Afia S. Tyus ’20-’21 said. “The Trump rallies generally get overcrowded by counter-protests, and this is kind of the first that has really gained traction. So this was honestly shocking.”
Many students said that they were “upset,” “angry,” and “disappointed” as the riot went on.
“Somebody [walked] with a Confederate flag through the Capitol building. That is just so deeply wrong,” Sophia “Rocket” Claman ’21, who is a Crimson Blog editor, said. “This was just an attempt to thwart democracy and refuse to accept election results, and it was a seditious act, and it was spurred on by the President of the United States.”
“It's embarrassing. And it's really disappointing and frustrating, and it has made me really, really angry,” she added.
Andrew S. Jing ’24 said seeing people flood the floors of the House and Senate was “surreal,” given the stringent security measures that visitors to the Capitol must adhere to during regular tours of the building.
Jing added that, as a D.C. native, seeing the demonstrations on the Capitol Hill was “really hard.”
“It's really hard to imagine if you're not from D.C., but the one thing that I've learned this year is that when the news is close to home, it becomes extremely visceral, and it's in your backyard,” Jing said.
A concern among D.C. residents is that many violent demonstrators do not realize the impact their actions have on the surrounding neighborhoods, according to Samantha C. W. O’Sullivan ’22. She said the racially-charged rhetoric invoked in these riots have created an unsafe environment for Black families.
“These riots show how so many people view D.C. as a political playground in that they see it as a place they can come and express their frustrations, overwhelmingly Trump supporters,” O’Sullivan said. “A lot of people don't see D.C. as a place where people live and have homes and families.”
“As a Black American living in D.C., it's scary seeing a city that at least, at one point, had a majority Black population now has people raising Confederate flags and hanging up nooses,” she said. “If anything, I hope this highlights a need for D.C. statehood and autonomy because the D.C. mayor and government could not enact anything without congressional approval.”
As the rioters descended on the Capitol, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser requested a full deployment of the D.C. National Guard, which had to be approved by the Pentagon because D.C. is not a state.
Some Harvard students also reported disparities in the police response to Wednesday’s insurrection compared to the Black Lives Matter protests last summer.
Naomi P. Davy ’22 said she noticed heavy security personnel during her time protesting for racial justice in D.C.
“I participated in the BLM protests over the summer and I know there was a lot of security there. I saw a military tank down at 16th Street,” Davy said. “Yet now I’m watching cops run away from protestors, which is really upsetting because what they’re doing can be akin to treason or sedition.”
“The most glaring thing about this is the blatant double standard but as a Black woman this is to be expected, there's just more evidence to it these days,” she added. “It should be a message to the rest of America that something is wrong when there's less security and outrage for this than protests that say Black lives matter.”
Tyus agreed that the police response was “very different.”
“There is no way in hell a Black Lives Matter protest would ever have gotten this far. People would have been dead in the streets, and we would have seen it recorded, we would have seen it on screen,” she said.
Though Trump released a video on Twitter late in the afternoon telling demonstrators to "go home now,” Ben R. Schroeder ’24 said Trump’s response felt “underhanded.”
“He told his supporters to go home in the tone of someone who is contractually obligated to do so, like a sibling who was made to apologize by their parents, and spent most of the video complimenting the rioters,” Schroeder said.
He said that many Trump supporters likely interpreted the comments as validating their beliefs.
“What happened is the result of four years of the empowerment of these people and their beliefs,” he added.
Some students also commented on what the riot could mean for the protocols surrounding the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20.
“I think having so many people be so successful today in the riots means that people will hop in their cars from other states, from as far as they want to come,” Tyus said. “I assume that now, in light of everything that has happened today, that [the] inauguration will be even smaller.”
Schroeder said he believed the riots would not affect the legitimacy of Biden’s transfer of power, but expressed concerns about what such demonstrations meant for American democracy at large.
“I am 100 percent confident Biden will be inaugurated on January 20th,” he said. “I have worries about future transitions where it's about the faith the American public has in these institutions that are meant to aid in the peaceful transition of power.”
“I worry what that will mean for the future of our democracy,” Schroeder added.
—Staff writer Artea Brahaj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Hannah J. Martinez can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinezhannahj.
—Staff writer Meimei Xu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meimeixu7.