PLATTSBURGH — Among the dozens gathered in Washington, D.C., Wednesday were North Country residents sisters Courtney and Haley Stone.
Carrying flags and signs in support of President-Elect Joe Biden, the pair witnessed the raucous scenes that marked the validating of Electoral College votes for the 2020 presidential election.
That process was interrupted by a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters ransacking and occupying the U.S. Capitol building.
After returning home and collecting her thoughts, Courtney, a 25-year-old business administration major at SUNY Plattsburgh, shared her experiences in a first-person account sent to the Press-Republican.
Asked what she hoped residents of her community might take from her experience, she said it had been a question on her mind since she had returned home.
“I’ve been wrestling with it a lot, trying to figure out what good could come of this and I don’t know that there is any,” she said.
She found herself even more concerned after seeing the events of Jan. 6 that supporters of President Trump are too far disconnected from reality and that she’s not sure what can be done about that situation.
Below is her account of her experiences in the capitol on that day.
I consider myself a member of reality. I no longer believe that we share a collective reality.
I, like so many others, spent a lot of this past year glued to the TV watching the protests that erupted after the murder of George Floyd. I participated in local demonstrations supporting Black Lives Matter. When the local Trump camp started showing up in a vacant parking lot in the middle of town, I stood alongside my community in opposition. Week after week we stood through rain and snow, enduring verbal assaults and threats.
On Jan. 5, the local news reported that a bus of local supporters was headed to Washington DC to participate in stomping out the embers of our Democracy.
I had not previously considered attending this event, my ultimate decision to do so was impulsive. I was angry and rash in making the decision, but I felt it necessary that someone stood up for what is right. I needed to know that there was someone there defending our sacred Democratic process. I said, “why not me?” and packed a bag and got on the road.
My sister and I drove through the night and arrived in Washington at 9 a.m. and headed to the Capitol Building with our Biden signs and flags. There were 300-400 people dispersed across the front steps of the Capitol Building. A fence was in place and there were maybe 10 officers from the Capitol Police standing within their barricade.
We expected the harassment that we received.
We had, however, underestimated how cold it was. After a brief trip to the local Walmart, we returned.
This time we were astonished by the amount of people that had gathered in the hour or so that we were gone.
We approached cautiously and found a spot by the fencing that blocked off the Capitol grounds. Things were relatively calm; most were listening to livestreams of the proceedings that went on inside the building.
When Mike Pence said that he has no unilateral power to overturn the election and stop the certification, things changed.
You could feel the mood shift, shouting started. The fence that once stood behind us was being taken apart. The police that were there did nothing. They walked about halfway up the hill and stood to the side. One officer was even hiding behind a small Evergreen tree next to the building.
We stood to the side and watched as hundreds meandered up the hill to the East side of the building. This did not happen all that fast.
Eventually we decided to skirt the crowd and follow up the hill. About halfway up we saw that the fencing that we had seen that morning was still standing, there were officers gathered behind the fencing and a crowd of Trump supporters on the other side. For a couple of moments that is how it stayed.
Having watched the protests on TV all summer we knew what the police were capable of. We stopped and checked our bag to see if we had anything that could protect us from tear gas. We were afraid of what the police were going to do.
But minutes went by and nothing happened. More people had made their way to the top of the hill while we stood back next to the press and watched as they forced their way through the fence.
Once one piece of fence was missing the Police all but gave up, they retreated to the steps of the Capitol to hold ground there. Old women were walking away with pieces of fencing like they were souvenirs.
Confusion, disbelief. We could not for the life of us understand why the police did so little.
After the fencing was in ruin and the crowd had moved towards the steps of the Capitol with the police on retreat, we skirted the outside of the plaza until we stood about a hundred yards directly in front of the Capitol, still holding our signs and flags.
They went up the stairs unopposed. There were not enough police there, and the ones who were did very little.
We watched, and we waited.
We stared at the main doors thinking that at any moment a team of police or national guard were going to bust through the doors and remove the people from the steps. We heard what sounded like gun shots ringing off every couple of minutes, but nobody was running? Where was the tear gas? The rubber bullets?
We watched, and we waited.
We could smell something in the air, we saw a smoke like substance wafting from the top of the stairs by the door, but nobody moved.
They chanted “USA! USA! USA!” while they broke into the building. People were climbing the columns. There were a lot of cheers.
After we saw the doors open, I turned to my sister and asked: “Do you think today will end without somebody dying?” The answer was no.
What is almost as astonishing and disillusioning was the scene that unfolded around us on the ground in front of the Capitol. I cannot reconcile the absolute horror that I felt watching this scene unfold with how jovial the people were around me.
People were celebrating, taking selfies with the crowd of people on the Capitol steps as their background. They were proud.
We stood there for over an hour, enduring the verbal assaults of those who chose to acknowledge our existence. Many were too busy basking in the “glory” of what they had done.
The thought that entered my mind next was gut wrenching. What if a person of color had chosen to come and stand with Biden signs today like we had, would they have made it out of this mess unscathed like we did? The answer is no.
White privilege is what afforded us the luxury of getting home safely.
I do not know where we go from here as a country.
How do we get these people back? They are so disillusioned that I cannot fathom a way of bringing them back to reality.
While we worry about the violent individuals, we also need to worry about the peaceful people who have completely checked out of reality. This may be one of the biggest mental health crises this country faces.
I do not know if there is anything intelligent to take away from this, but I will carry this day with me always.