The Fragility and the Power of our Democracy

Image of the captitol building

This was my Tweet on Wednesday, January 6, 2021:

“January 6, 2021 … #Heartbroken #NoWords”

The events that unfolded that day, among the historic halls of the United States Capitol in the heart of our nation’s Capital, were an assault on our democracy. The right to protest is a primary tenet of a strong and healthy democratic government, and I believe peaceful protests did occur that day. However, the siege of our Capitol Building, and the violence and death stemming from it, bear witness to the fragility of a democracy, even a powerful republic that has endured and thrived for almost 245 years.

I am reminded of the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King:

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

And so, I add my voice to the countless voices around our country denouncing the appalling actions of January 6, 2021, that sought to disrupt a hallmark of our democracy – the peaceful transition of presidential power.

As I reflect on the events last week, my heart remains burdened, but I also have hope. We must never allow ourselves to take our country’s freedoms and our democracy for granted – they are fragile and vulnerable. However, last week I believe we also bore witness to the incredible strength and power of the principles of a free and democratic society as our legislators completed the work prescribed by our forefathers, certifying the election and moving us towards a successful transition of power.

Our rights as citizens of a democratic republic come with accountability to each other and to our system of laws and the institutions that ensure the rights and safety of all people, even those with whom we staunchly disagree. We must not condone, and moreover we must always condemn actions that fundamentally disrupt democratic norms, while at the same time remaining steadfastly loyal to the principles of freedom guaranteed to each of us by Amendment I of our Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The very diversity of backgrounds, thoughts and beliefs represented at Forsyth Tech can make us even stronger if we continue to learn from each other and, without sacrificing our individuality, recognize the beauty in the differences that make our institution and our country great. We embrace diversity and inclusion among our students, faculty and staff, and are intolerant of discrimination in all forms. Some of the core educational principles in community colleges are teaching students to respect each other, value other opinions, understand critical thinking, and appreciate our responsibilities as American citizens.

Last week in my New Year message to staff and faculty, I introduced our College’s #OneWord for 2021: UNITE. Perhaps in the wake of events at the Capitol, the need for unity to prevail, even as we agree to disagree, is even more imperative. Our country remains sharply divided and I am certain there is great diversity of thought and opinion within our Forsyth Tech community as well.  Regardless of where we stand politically and irrespective of our personal and individual beliefs, we must respect the democratic processes and laws of our great nation.  At Forsyth Tech, we must also respect the core values of our great institution – excellence, learning, innovation, diversity, and integrity.

We will not soon forget the events of January 6, 2021, and may what happened on that day, remind us of the responsibilities of a democratic society and the mandate to hold each other accountable for civility and respect for one another, even when we disagree.