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Home » Officer Columns » January 6: Violence Has No Role in Our Democracy

January 6: Violence Has No Role in Our Democracy

  -  AFM International President

On January 7, I issued the following statement in the aftermath of the mob attack on our capitol:

“The American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada condemns in the strongest terms the mob assault upon the US Capitol building, which was an attempt to subjugate our democracy and the peaceful and constitutional transfer of power after a lawful presidential election. The attack resulted in desecration, injury, bloodshed, and death in a place that is a symbol of hope and unity.

“For the sake of our democracy, we urge the immediate end to the incitement of politically motivated violence and we pray for the restoration of order. We implore members of Congress and all other elected officials to speak out against violence in all forms. We ask that all involved in this unconscionable attack be held accountable. 

“We thank law enforcement for keeping our elected officials and their staff safe. We urge everyone, everywhere, to stand together for democracy and the rule of law and against political violence.”

In the weeks, months, and years ahead, we will see how the earth-shattering events of January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC, will be treated. At the very least, the incident will be seen as infamously as 9/11 or the Kennedy assassination. On January 6, we watched the arsonists fan the flames of disunity, division, divisiveness, and dangerousness, all in service of political ambition.

Despite the horror of the destruction, looting, injury, and loss of life at the hands of armed insurrectionists intent on hunting down elected officials and staff, people continue to push the lies that led to the mob attack on our democracy. Web chatter abounds and the FBI has confirmed that violent threats have been made about recreating the incident to coincide with Martin Luther King Day on January 18, and with armed protests on Inauguration Day on January 20, not just in DC, but at state capitols in all 50 states. Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser urged citizens to stay away from DC during President Biden’s inauguration, as protesters and hate organizations continued to promote terrorism and violence rather than the peaceful democratic process as a platform to settle political differences. Some wonder whether the attack on the Capitol was the end of the violence or the beginning of ongoing terroristic threats against Congress.

David Gergen, a political commentator and former adviser to four presidents, referred to January 6 as a “naked moment,” affording a rare open window into an embedded toxic legacy of white supremacy and racism in our society. I believe you can draw a straight line from January 6 all the way back to the conclusion of the US Civil War and forward through the reconstructionist aftermath of southern race riots, the establishment of Jim Crow laws, the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, the Ku Klux Klan, its resurgence in the 1920s, 1950s, and 1960s and its lethal violence toward Blacks and Jews, the John Birch Society, the 2017 Charlottesville riot, and the recent police killings of unarmed Black people.  While the US Civil War ended 150 years ago, the violence and the seething hatred beneath it all has not. It has survived attempts at reconciliation to remain a platform for ambition.

Have we entered an era where politicians place their political ambitions above the safety and welfare of our democracy, our institutions, and even the lives of our elected officials? Does the fomenting of disunity and division as a means of political control, and the anger, hatred, and spectacle that result from it, improve our government, our security, and welfare? We are watching raw, naked political ambition and the use of violence in pursuit of political power, not for the people, but for the acquisition of power itself.

What kind of politician would give voice to violence, violate their oath of office, and sacrifice the institution, its constitution, rules and laws, and the lives and livelihood of those who elected them to serve, all in the name of power and ambition?

The events of January 6 and the continuing threat of armed political warfare could not come at a worse time, against the background of a surging COVID pandemic, a slowdown in vaccine distribution, rampant unemployment, and the transition to a new pro-labor administration that holds promise for working people, and our union. In the face of this wave of political violence and disruption, never have we needed steady leadership, political stability, good governance, unity, and strength more than we do today.

At stake and at risk in our political process is the health and longevity of the American Federation of Musicians and Employers’ Pension Fund (AFM-EP Fund). Omitted from last year’s mid-year and year-end Congressional COVID relief bills were proposed legislative solutions including the Butch Lewis Act that would have restored the financial health of critically underfunded multiemployer pension funds, including AFM-EP Fund, with long-term, low-interest government loans. Under the proposed legislative relief, there would have been no benefit cuts for participants.

With a new administration and a new Congress with a Democratic Senate majority as a result of the Georgia January 5 runoff elections, the odds of adopting a meaningful pension relief package have risen dramatically. The lives of thousands of our members and retirees depend on legislative success. That success necessarily depends on bipartisan support for a healthy democracy and the prevention of governmental collapse.

Political chaos and rioting in Washington, DC, and across the country will not help make our lives better. Neither will the ambitions of politicians who would sacrifice their institutions, the rule of law, and their constituents’ welfare for the advancement of their own self-serving political interests. It’s bad for the country. It’s bad for the union, too.

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