Congressional Black Caucus members reflect on Jan. 6, voting rights and high stakes fight for democracy

EXCLUSIVE: Many members of the “Conscience of the Congress” are still processing the trauma of the Capitol attack, while leading efforts to hold the insurrectionists accountable

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including (L-R) Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), caucus chair Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) and Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee (D-TX), head to a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol following the verdict in the Derek Chauvin murder trial on April 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Imagine having an angry and violent mob of White Supremacist force their way into your workplace, overwhelm security, and attempt to hunt down your colleagues to inflict harm, with the intent of undermining the process by which you transition from one leader to another. 

On the eve of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, theGrio engaged an intergenerational group of Congressional Black Caucus members to do a look back and look forward to that infamous day. It quickly became clear that many of these members of the “Conscience of the Congress” are still processing the trauma, while leading efforts to hold the insurrectionists accountable, pushing their senate colleagues to pass voting rights here at home, and defend Democracies under assault around the world. 

“I had just chaired my first CBC meeting. I was there with young staffers excited about being employed for the United States Congress when the attacks occurred. I’ve been thinking about them as they teared up and wanted to call their mothers,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) told theGrio. “They asked me if we were going to die. That’s what’s so glaring in my mind. This is the memory that they will have for the first job.”

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Joyce Beatty
Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH) (C) and fellow Democratic members of the House of Representatives talk to reporters outside the White House October 26, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

From young staffers to new members to senior members, the insurrectionists have left some searing memories in the hearts and minds of the largest caucus in Congress. 

“January 6th was the first time ever in our history that a Confederate flag was flown in the U.S. Capitol,” Rep. Colin Allred (TX-32 told theGrio. “Seeing images of a mob, motivated by blind hatred, waving the Confederate flag in the Capitol, which is supposed to be a place worthy of our democracy where Americans of all walks of life can come watch their government at work, was and is traumatizing.”

The insurrectionists have also created a lingering suspicion that they didn’t act without the assistance of government officials sworn to uphold a sacred oath to the constitution and protect the nation’s Capitol.

“I was absolutely appalled at the violence that was taking place in the sacred halls of Congress where I had assured my family I was in the safest place in the country,” said former Congressional Black Caucus Chair and candidate for Los Angeles Mayor, Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37). “I do hope the Committee exposes the involvement of white supremacists organizations, law enforcement, and members of the military who were involved in the violence.”

Former Congressional Black Caucus chair Rep. Karen Bass (above) called the remarks made by the lawyer representing accused killer William “Roddie” Bryan “despicable” this weekend when asked about his trial over the weekend. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

It seems the Congressional Black Caucus Members that communicated candidly with theGrio understand the high stakes and far reaching consequences for all Americans, but particularly Black people at home and abroad if the United States Congress doesn’t deliver justice and enact swift reforms to secure our democracy. 

“As Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I’ll be leading efforts to promote Democracy globally. In the past year, we witnessed more coups worldwide than the previous five years combined. If we fail to address the threats to our Democracy that Jan. 6 put on display to the world, we risk losing not only our moral authority abroad but our country itself,” said Congressman Gregory W. Meeks.

The week of Jan. 6 represents a watershed moment in Black political power to deliver meaningful change and progress in the movement for racial justice. 

According to Rep. Meeks, “It also marked the swearing-in of the largest number of Black legislators in our Congress’ history. In the House of Representatives, that political power is exemplified by our six Black chairs of powerful committees who oversee Financial Services, Foreign Affairs, Agriculture & Nutrition, Science & Space, Homeland Security, and Education & Labor.”

“The House Select Committee Chaired by Congressman Bennie Thompson is charged with getting to the bottom of what happened that day and who was responsible. It is critical to our democracy to know and understand exactly what happened so it never happens again,” said Rep. Bass (CA-37). “The historic nature of a Black man from Mississippi in charge of the committee charged with getting to the bottom of an insurrection cannot be understated.”

The fight to pass the the stalled voting rights bills in the narrowly controlled Democratic Senate will get a renewed push between now and the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in coordination with Senate leadership, CBC leadership, the King family, and the White House. 

Voting Rights Rallies Held In Washington DC
People attend a pre-rally for the “March On for Washington and Voting Rights” on August 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The fierce urgency to protect voting rights and the consequences of failure couldn’t be more stark than in the South.

“States like Texas are passing laws that allow for partisan control of local elections, removal of election officials who have served for decades, make it harder to vote and use partisan gerrymandering to dilute the power of minority communities,” said Rep. Allred.

“This is a systematic effort to subvert the will of the people and to put in place the necessary conditions to allow the next attempted coup to be successful — and we won’t be able to overcome it through organizing alone. That’s why I’ve been doing all I can to help pass the Freedom to Vote Act including speaking with Senators about how important democracy reforms are.”

While Congressional Black Caucus members are turning up the volume in their valiant attempt to pass voting rights, the fate of the bedrock of American democracy lies in the hands of Senate Democrats and some sensible Republicans.

Representative-elect Shontel Brown (D-OH) poses for a photo with Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) and the Congressional Black Caucus in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol on November 4, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

“Unless, at the very least, an exception is made to the filibuster to advance voting rights legislation, our democracy will fall deeper into crisis,” freshman Congressman Mondaire Jones (NY-17) said in a statement. “Republicans will disenfranchise their way back into power in 2022, and use that power to install their chosen candidate in the White House in 2024, regardless of what the American people say. American democracy as we know it will cease to exist.”

The resounding consensus among CBC members is that they are not powerless in stopping the assault on our democracy by violent mobs, big lies, and voter suppression. The CBC intends to use their power to protect the democracy that belatedly gave Black folks voting rights, civil rights, and fair housing rights within the lifetime of many of their members.

“The future of our nation depends on every Democratic Senator putting country before politics to do what is necessary to save our democracy,” said Rep. Jones (NY-17). Literally nothing is more important.”

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