An Air and Share for the Capitol Hill Protest

Mr. King addresses the Upper School members of the Air and Share. There were over 150 students and faculty present to take part in the discussion.

Trump supporters and other right-wing affiliates stormed the Capitol building this past Wednesday, January 6, in response to Donald Trump’s projected election loss, spurred on by unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election. This protest-turned-insurrection caused Congress to recess for six hours, delaying the process of counting the 538 electoral votes to certify Joe Biden’s win of the presidency.

Despite the fact that the actions were planned on right-wing social media for weeks, this attack on American democracy came as a shock to many. In light of this event, Andy King, Director of the Upper School, held the first Air and Share of 2021, allowing Upper School students of all grades to come together to discuss the recent events in Washington.

Credit: Skyler Safriet
Mr. King’s “Community Norms” shared with the Zoom attendees in preparation for the Air and Share conversation.

With a solemn air, Mr. King posed four questions to the attending students and faculty (students were allowed to comment anonymously in the chat or speak openly on the Zoom):

His first question was: What did you see yesterday?

“I saw a collapsing democracy.” “I saw treason.” “I saw the dangers of misinformation.” “I saw terrorists.”

Second question: What are you thinking about?

“I think about the 25th amendment.” “I think there’s reason for hope.” “I think civil war is closer than we think.” “I think democracy is in danger.”

Third question: What are you feeling?

“I feel bewilderment.” “I feel disappointed, but not surprised.” “I feel disgusted.” “I feel angry.” “I feel overwhelmed.”

Fourth question: What do you need?

“I need unity.” “I need change.” “I need a new leader.” “I need reassurance.” “I need to spend time with my family.”

The answers continued rolling in, the conversation flowing from topics of racism and antisemitism present at the protest, to what defines terrorism, to the fragility of democracy, and to America’s position on the global stage.

Hackley is an institution that contains students and faculty from all backgrounds, so it comes at no surprise that the racial and ethnic discrimination at the protest struck deep at the core values of diversity and inclusion that Hackley maintains. Students highlighted the difference in police presence at the summer’s BLM protests and then at the Capitol during the pro-Trump demonstration, attributing it to the difference in racial makeup of the attendees. “This is just one piece of evidence on the growingly large pile of how deeply rooted systemic racism is in our country,” stated Kiri Fitzpatrick, “and the disparities in which law enforcement treats different people and people of different races are so strong I think that at this point to deny the existence of white privilege is to deny fact and to deny reality.”

As an academic community, Hackley students are held to high standards of thought and analysis. Students discussed how to describe this event, searching for a term that encapsulated the severity of the protest and was correct by definition. The general consensus was that “domestic terrorism” was a fitting phrase. Reevaluating the events of last Wednesday under this name highlighted their true nature, and pushed the attendees of the Air and Share to examine this event on a global scale. America, the pinnacle of democratic freedom, had experienced a point where the democratic process was shaken, exposed as fragile. Grappling with this fact, and how that must make the nation appear to the rest of the international community, students took on the conversation with a thorough, analytical approach, unfettered by the scale of the topic.

To close out the Air and Share, Mr. King cited the “Habits of Accomplishment” from Hackley’s “Portrait of a Graduate,” a collection of characteristics that students should strive to embody both during their tenure as students and after their graduation. From these habits he brought up the idea of three types of courage: personal courage, intellectual courage, and moral courage. In Mr. King’s view, students embodied “the personal courage to attempt new things, intellectual courage to consider new ideas, and the moral courage to stand for matters of principle” during the Air and Share, making it successful in its purpose to open up the floor for the Hackley community to come together in a stressful time to have an enlightening, respectful, and incredibly important conversation.