Travel Diary: Witnessing Jan. 6 Capitol Events

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A crowd gathers in front of the U.S. Capitol building Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Nina Linder.

Nina Linder, Staff Reporter

When my mother told me that I was going to Washington, D.C., with her Jan. 6, I didn’t think anything of it.

She explained the reason to me; she wanted to attend a Trump rally. At first, I was opposed; not only did I not want to miss school, but I also didn’t want to become caught up in the political warfare that I knew might come. She explained how it was simply going to be a few speakers announcing how they felt about the accusation of voter fraud. I agreed to go. I went in unbiased and truly saw it as an opportunity to hear new perspectives outside of what I’ve seen through social media.

Jan. 5, 2021

A few weeks passed by, and I found myself on a plane to Baltimore, Maryland. One layover and then another to Washington D.C. As I waited for my flight to take off to D.C. from Baltimore, I overheard whispers from fellow passengers.
“I can’t believe everyone on this plane is going to be there!”
“This will be a revolution.”

I perked up, listening to the buzz around me as I continued to force my thoughts to the back of my mind.

A tall, bulky man sat in the seat next to me. He lowered his mask and reached for a stereo out of his backpack. Before I knew what was happening, a patriotic song was playing from his speaker. The entirety of the plane was singing along and waving American flag scarves, hats, and beanies. I sat stunned at the unison in front of me. This unison carried on into the next morning with the events of the protest.

After being sandwiched between the man with the speaker and a woman from Texas, I had gotten to hear their stories. Knowing their presidential opinions, I asked about their interests in worldwide dilemmas or budding topics that I was interested to hear. While reluctant to listen to what may be opposing views, I listened attentively and was surprised to hear their determination for peace between all races, genders, and ethnicities.

Landing in Washington D.C., my mom and I checked into our room at a busy, bustling hotel a few buildings down from the White House. Before we could call it a night, we walked along the streets and observed the lines of Black Lives Matter flags across the way from a direct line of MAGA flags and merch. Tension slightly arose as crowds from opposite ends of the street shouted back and forth to each other. The excitement in the air carried on throughout the night. Drinks and conversations were shared throughout the streets, in hotel lobbies, and between restaurants and their customers.

Jan. 6, 2021

The next morning was rough. A 5 a.m. alarm clock woke me up and made me get ready. I followed my parents, half-asleep, to the Ellipse Park, where hundreds of thousands of people gathered. Families, elderly, babies, couples, activists, ministers, people of all sizes, races, genders, and ages were in unison. Street vendors lined the crowds, along with activists carrying megaphones who chanted their thoughts. A large screen stood towards the back of the area alongside the Washington Monument. In front of the screen, farther down, was a makeshift stage surrounded by metal barricade fences. Through prior announcements, many gathered to listen to Donald Trump and other select speakers.

After a few hours of scrambling around to find a place to stand and wait, the 52-acre park began to fill. What once contained approximately 10,000 people soon filled to be what seemed like hundreds of thousands. President Trump had told fans that he would be addressing them with a speech around noon. Following his word, he spoke at noon. Excitement rose from the crowd with every guest speaker before him. Politicians such as Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, and advocates for the Trump administration, such as Eric Trump, spoke about harassment the right wing had received in recent years. There were negative and positive aspects to this rally, which was peaceful at the time).

When Donald Trump began his speech, he spoke about the highs and lows of his presidency. He recollected all that he claimed to have done for our country, throwing in splashes of side comments about his opposers such as Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A video was featured on the large screens and from another screen directly behind him, which displayed a video of left-sided politicians in power. The video depicted them in black and white and with “evil” music playing in the background, bringing a negative connotation behind their positions. He thanked the thousands who showed their support for him by mentioning the previous arrangement: sitting and peacefully protesting in front of the Capitol building. Despite the backlash to his competition, when talking about the meeting at the Capitol Building, he urged fans to be calm and proceed peacefully.

After the 90-minute speech, crowds began to exit the acreage and sprawl out onto the streets. Flags continued to wave, and people shouted things such as “Four more years!” or “Stop the steal!” A group of 30 people worked together to carry a large American flag on their shoulders. Supporters marched through the streets, past police officers, towards the Capitol.

My legs felt the toll of standing for nearly seven hours, and my family collectively decided to take a break at the hotel. Returning to our suite, we turned on the news to find reporters claiming there had been a break-in at the Capitol building. This news came to our surprise, and we believed that the media had gotten it wrong. We had just been there with the crowd. All of the people marching towards the Capitol hadn’t even reached the building yet. How was it possible that hundreds of people had stormed the Capitol?

We immediately left the room and headed toward the throngs of people. In the 20 minutes since we had been gone, chaos had emerged. Walking onto the scene, metal gates that served as barricades had been flipped over. A statue had been tarnished with MAGA scarves hanging from the bronze woman’s neck. Men stood along the platform of the statue while others watched.
Passing this, we carried on towards the front of the building. In preparation for the future inauguration of Joe Biden, stands for seating surrounded the steps. I carried on, feeling hesitant to see the damage. Another pile of metal gates had been turned over to form a ladder leading to the Capitol’s stairs. People were climbing up and down, many turning around after attempting to follow others. Rumors flew around me. “Did you hear about the woman getting shot?” a young man said behind me when I reached for one of the makeshift ladders. He caught me by surprise, so I turned and questioned him further. He explained that, while President Trump was speaking, many protestors had already reached the Capitol building to break in. As he explained this to me, groups came flooding from the inauguration steps. A woman jogged past me, yelling, “They have tear gas. Don’t go up there, little girl.” I watched a man wipe his eyes with milk. An elderly lady grabbed her infant next to her and picked her up. People scattered from the area. News reporters helped inform viewers outside of Washington D.C. A hundred different stimuli were going on around me.

I received a notification on my phone that a mandatory curfew of 6 p.m. had been set for anyone in Washington, D.C. It was around 4 p.m. when my mother told me it was time to leave. I watched people in the crowds hang onto each other’s shoulders, singing songs similar to the ones on the plane. People chanted and cheered. Despite the disarray in the air, many had come together as one. Everyone was there for something that they believed in. Police officers threw cans of tear gas at protestors in front of me. I watched as grown men hugged one another and agreed that “things will be okay.”
About two minutes later, after exiting the scene, I heard a loud booming noise. I later found out that some protestors who had pushed back a police officer were gassed in large volumes.

Afterward

Coming back to Idaho felt different. Despite any of my political views, the riot had proved to me many things. While the organization was an act of lawlessness, I did see how strongly these people felt about their country. Nationality ran strong in this protest, and despite the reasons, they all did share a common value. I got to meet younger and older families who shared their stories and their perspectives. Just the same as any school field trip, I learned a lot about our communities, and I got to see a side of news I had never witnessed before.

To say that the media is corrupt or full of lies is incorrect. The media will never fully be able to portray the exact feelings behind certain events, political or not. Sometimes you just have to see these things for yourself.

As teenagers, we have to differentiate our own opinions from others. I used this experience to increase my political maturity, and personally, it proved to work. It didn’t change any of my own views, but I was able to witness something that many others weren’t able to see. I urge others to seek out their own information when possible and to educate themselves on matters they feel are important.