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Applied Civics Seminar

Started: 2021-01-12 20:57:17

Submitted: 2021-01-12 23:22:30

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator tries to explain and contextualize the attack on the US Capitol

Last Wednesday, as a mob stormed the US Capitol building in a desperate attempt to overturn the result of a free and fair democratic election, I was at home trying to work.

My first challenge was to try to concentrate on work while the bedrock principle of my nation — orderly and peaceful transfer of power after an election defeat — was literally under siege. When this proved impossible I turned to Twitter and my news feeds to try to understand what was going on. I knew a group of Republican members of Congress were going to make their show of contesting the electoral votes, but I didn't really expect that the "Stop the Steal" rally outside the Capitol would storm into the building and stalk the building for hours before law enforcement would finally drive them back out of the building. But it didn't really surprise me, either: The current incumbent president's dog whistles to white nationalists and militias and apocalyptic Christian cults had become so audible that it was almost surprising nothing like this had happened already. The day immediately felt like an important day in history, something we'll look back and remember what we were doing while our democracy was under attack.

It did not escape my notice that the calendar said we had already rolled over into 2021. Because even though we thought we were done with 2020, 2021 wasn't going to give us a break.

I left work a little early to go on an emotional support hike around the Summit Tree Farm, as the setting sun disappeared into the clouds above the Pacific Ocean, while I listened to something else on my earbuds.

Sun setting over Summit Tree Farm
Sun setting over Summit Tree Farm

At supper, Calvin had not yet heard the day's news, being mostly isolated at home with few outside news sources, without the benefit of a regular classroom or playground for news to circulate. (He is involved in some vague online communities, so I wanted to make sure I had the chance to shape his perception of the news and not leave everything to the Internet.) The only social studies class Calvin is taking is ancient history (which explains why I found a hand-drawn map of ancient Mesopotamia on the scanner last month), but this does not provide a fertile venue for discussing current events. I summarized the day's events, and Calvin was incredulous that an armed mob had stormed the Capitol. To continue our discussion, I declared that, after Julian went to bed, for Calvin's regular bedtime television, we would be watching the news that night, as an Applied Civics Seminar. (My other, secondary goal was to create memories Calvin can look back to later as he remembers what he was doing while the mob attacked the Capitol.)

We watched the PBS News Hour broadcast, recapping and contextualizing the images I'd seen on Twitter earlier in the day. (The most interesting shot, though, was one of the reporters in the basement of the Capitol, wearing a mask, clearly filming herself and talking to the anchor on a mobile phone at arm's length, while people wandered by in the background trying to figure out what she was doing.) The context and the talking heads helped provide some context to me, even as events were still unfolding. (At the time the broadcast had been recorded, 18:00 EST, the Capitol had just been cleared and Congress was going back into session to consider the electoral votes; they ended up working through the night to confirm Joe Biden's election again.)

(Maybe that's what the incumbent president was going on about when he said we would be "tired of winning"? Was it that Joe Biden has won the presidential election so many times that he's now the 46th through 75th president, and we're all very tired of him winning so much?)

I think I helped Calvin understand what was happening, and put the whole thing in context, even as we're still living through interesting times.

I've always thought someone could make a killing by selling the
"for dummies" books for $200 a piece using infomercials! :-)
- Yanthor, on Content Solutions chatter, 17 December 2001