On January 6, 2021, a joint session of Congress met to formally count the certified electoral votes of the 2020 presidential election. That morning, outgoing President Trump addressed his SAVE AMERICA RALLY at the White House Ellipse claiming that he won the election in a landslide and thus its theft was an assault on our democracy. He told his supporters that they must march with him to the Capitol and stop the count or they would lose their country. Thousands in the incited mob led by three White supremist groups did just that. The Capitol Police were overwhelmed and the Capitol was violently breached. The insurrectionists successfully interrupted Congress. The Vice President, Senators, Representatives, and staff were led to hiding places by the Secret Service and Police. The rioters vandalized the Senate and House Chambers, offices and media.
Belatedly, the acting Defense Secretary authorized the National Guard and regional police forces to reinforce the Capitol Police. That evening the President thanked the mob and asked them to go home. After 6 hours of fighting, five people died and 140 police officers were seriously injured, but Congress returned to complete its work that night. Over 500 rioters are now charged with felony offences for the violence that day.
“Insurrection”, a hand-pulled reduction relief print, is a symbolic representation of the events of that day. I use the dramatic exterior façade of the Capitol that witnessed most of the injuries to make clear to future viewers the importance of where they took place. The red caps of the Make America Great Again (MAGA) Trump following represent the thousands of rioting participants. I show a Confederate battle flag, of which many were present, in order to represent the White supremacist leadership. I show their violence against a Black police officer in reference to the nature of the historic divide. The clubs represent the hand-to-hand weapons used. The rioters also used such things as bludgeons, Tasers and strong chemical sprays against the largely unarmed police.
In Washington DC on June 1, 2020, National Guard and mounted police cleared Lafayette Square of peaceful Black-Lives-Matter protesters with violence, flash grenades and tear gas.
This reduction print is patterned after Henry Pelham’s 1770 engraving “The Fruits of Arbitrary Power”. In my work, Saint John’s Episcopal Church replaces the Massachusetts Courthouse, teargas replaces black powder smoke, and protesters fall before armed US soldiers instead of British Redcoats.
Watching the events at Lafayette Square, where our president abused peacefully protesting US citizens, I thought of the similar scene 250 years earlier in Boston. British troops sent to the American colonies by our capricious king denied his citizens’ basic rights and murdered them for their protests. The Boston Massacre was an inflection point in world history. It began a process where:
our small colonies successfully resisted the world’s mightiest empire to gain independence
we committed ourselves to a constitution based on the concept of equal justice for all men
we overturned the unjust concept of the divine right of kings
Racist and sexist attitudes and backsliding make the original promises of the founding fathers incomplete. Emancipation, constitutional amendments, and civil rights acts help and the process continues. But justice comes so slowly and always at the expense of the mistreated. The insurrection at the Capitol is an example of the resistance to equality and our current atmosphere of cultural conflict. In the tunnel though which our congressmen and women escaped the former President’s mob, there is a stone medallion of the bronze-age king of Babylonia, Hammurabi. He was the first to create a written law that defined the rights of every man. It is imperfect by today’s expectations, but it was a start. The medallion is reminder to them and proof to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s observation is that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
My Lafayette Square 2020 is a reminder to us of our shared American goal of equality and justice for all. It is not a plea for patience nor for violence. It means to strengthen our resolve for the challenges that lie ahead. 20 April 2021