‘Our democracy is sacred’: Candlelight vigil on Upper East Side remembers Jan. 6 Capitol attack

Elected officials and Upper East Side residents mourned the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol attack on its first anniversary Thursday.

Supporters of former President Trump who attempted to prevent the peaceful transition of presidential power and transform America into an autocracy may have failed to enact their coup, but not before leading to five lives lost during the insurrection.

Remembering the assault and the deaths that occurred, a candlelight vigil was held in Carl Schurz Park on 86 Street and East End Avenue. Attendees filed into the park clutching signs denouncing the attack. Collecting candles, participants joined with elected officials such as Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, and Councilman Keith Powers in song.

Candles were lit in the shadow of democracy symbols. Photo by Dean Moses

After commencing the ceremony, Benjamin explained that he attended the occasion with the intention of defending democracy. 

“I cannot tell you how ashamed I was on Jan. 6, when I turned on the television and saw the madness happening in Washington, D.C. I actually thought it was a joke. I didn’t believe it was really happening,” Benjamin began.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin. Photo by Dean Moses

Turning his ire to Trump, the lieutenant governor condemned the former president for supporting the deadly riot in his name.

“We had a president who sat there and stoked all of this madness because he refused to accept the fact that he had lost the election. That is not what I grew up understanding about our democracy. One of the things that I’ve always loved about being an American is that we have an orderly transfer of power when the people vote and decide who they want to represent them. That’s all I know. So, this new Putin-like approach that the former person in the White House was taking us in the wrong direction. And thank God, we have the rule of law,” Benjamin said.

Attendees say they arrived to defend democracy. Photo by Dean Moses

Holding candlesticks to their chests, onlookers watched on, enraptured by Congresswoman Maloney who reflected on what it was like to see the incursion from an elected official’s perspective.

“I was not terrified for my life. I was terrified for our democracy. I never thought I would ever see the Capitol of the United States violated by Americans rushing into the Capitol, led by the President of the United States and his words,” Maloney said.

Attendees became emotional as the events that occurred last year in the capital were retold. Photo by Dean Moses

In addition, Maloney went on to state that voting rights bills are the top priority of the Senate in order to safeguard democracy. The insurrectionists had believed that the election was a farce all due to President Trump’s inability to accept defeat due to 2020 experiencing the highest voter turnout in a century.  Since then, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, 19 states have enacted 33 laws that make it difficult for Americans to vote—which is why elected officials at the vigil stressed how important voting is in a democracy. It is the power behind it.

Maloney stated that to protect voters from suppression, the Protecting Our Democracy Act— which prevents an excessive abuse of executive power, restores Congress as a check on executive authority, and strengthens Congress’s exercise of its own constitutional power—and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (reinstates pre-clearance review requirements for voting laws) have both been passed in the house and are now a priority in the Senate.

Signs read: “Your vote it power.” Photo by Dean Moses

“That is where our focus is to get these important bills passed. Let me just say, our democracy is sacred. Our country is sacred. And we aren’t just patriots. When our candidate wins, we’re patriots for our country and for honest and fair elections, and let’s move forward and make sure that our fragile democracy becomes a strong democracy. And it never happens again,” Maloney said.

The vigil concluded with the formal lighting of candles and a moment of silence.  

Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin lit a candle. Photo by Dean Moses
Some called for the passage of the Freedom to Vote act. Photo by Dean Moses
Many showed their support with signs. Photo by Dean Moses