A disabled veteran sat in the front row and listened intently as an audience composed of people from all walks of life gathered Thursday evening to remember the attack that happened a year ago at the United States Capitol.
Utah civic leaders and political candidates addressed the audience at Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building in downtown Salt Lake City in what they called an effort to protect democracy and unite a nation divided. The candlelight vigil was held on the first anniversary of supporters of then-President Donald Trump storming the Capitol in Washington in an effort to prevent the certification of Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election.
Independent U.S. Senate candidate Evan McMullin emphasized the importance of keeping democracy sound and maintaining the public's right to vote alive by speaking out against insurgencies like the one on Jan. 6, 2021.
"Some mistake the Jan. 6 insurrection as a one-time betrayal of our democracy, but it was much more. It was a predictable escalation of the American anti-democracy movement," McMullin said.
McMullin was joined in his sentiments by Republican 4th District congressional candidate Jake Hunsaker, who said what happened that day caused him to pursue a run for public office.
"I sat like many of you in disbelief that day in front of the television, as I watched the unfolding of the events in Washington, D.C.," Hunsaker recalled.
Hunsaker spoke about growing up on a farm in Ogden and being one of 11 children. He told what he was taught about what it means to be called a "real man."
"I believe that a real man prioritizes peace over violence," Hunsaker said. "It is cheap to engage in violence. It is cheap to think that the only way to effect change in this democracy is to take weapons to the heart of our nation's capital and to force your ideas and untruths on others. It takes a real man to understand that in this country, we effect change through peaceful means."
The vigil, titled "We The People" and promoted as a day of remembrance and action, was organized by DemCast USA, 1Utah Project, Alliance for a Better Utah and Salt Lake Indivisible. Former 2nd District congressional candidate Kael Weston also spoke.
Utah activist Darlene McDonald concluded the evening with a heartfelt message speaking on behalf of those voices who were silenced in the beginning, and whose voices were nearly silenced once again one year ago. She spoke of her ancestors, many of whom came to America from a slave trading post in Ghana called Cape Coast Castle, "chained to a tribesman in the belly of a ship across the Atlantic." She spoke about the dream many of her ancestors had to be numbered among those in the statement, "All men are created equal."
McDonald expressed the concern that she shares with so many others, that incidents like Jan. 6, 2021, will once again threaten the ideals that America was founded on and continues to strive for.
"When we read the Declaration of Independence, many of us get hung up and emotional when we remember Dr. (Martin Luther) King reminding us that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," McDonald said in her speech.
She reiterated what it means to her and so many others to be an American, and why she feels so strongly to speak out against attacks like these.
"We are not here because we hate America; we are here because we are Americans," she said. "We are not here because we want America to fail; we are here because we want America to live up to its promises. We are not here as blue America and red America; we are here as the United States of America. And united we stand because divided we will fall. We cannot abandon the ideals of freedom."