Wednesday, Jan. 6, was my fourth day on the job. I awoke with the excitement of performing my constitutional duty to certify the historic election where almost 160 million Americans voted, giving Joe Biden the presidency.

It was also New Mexico’s 109th birthday, and I began my day singing “Las Mañanitas” to my beautiful state. I was on the job as the member of Congress for New Mexico’s 3rd District when President Donald Trump invited those he had amassed in Washington, D.C., to “fight like hell.”

The anger and fear the deadly attack on our Capitol aroused in me are indescribable; they struck deep into my core and soul. The anger arose because the democracy that I love so dearly was physically under attack by an ugly mob with white supremacists and neo-Nazis brazenly leading the charge of Trump supporters.

As the insurrection escalated, my son Dario, my staff and I, along with my congressional colleagues and their staff, were under siege. Though locked behind barricaded doors, we were also determined to outlast the violence, to return to the House floor and conduct the people’s business. I want to thank all those who sent their prayers, blessings and expressions of concern and support — you replenish the internal well of determination and caring.

Our democracy is in a never-ending process of perfecting. It began incredibly imperfect. But since our founding, Americans worked to expand rights, increase access to voting and empower previously marginalized communities. Notably, with the 14th and 19th Amendments, the Indian Citizenship Act, the Civil Rights Acts and most importantly, on-the-ground organizing, our democracy can and is getting better.

But our democracy also is vulnerable and needs protection, the way we must protect anything we love. When we love something, whether a person, a community or an ideal, we instinctively jump into action when it is threatened. As a mama bear or a lioness would protect her cubs. The way we protect our democracy is with the hard work of organizing, registering and voting. We push back against those that would limit our vote, or seek to overturn an election — whether by lying about its integrity or storming our Capitol.

We must renew our faith in our election system, and that begins now. We should celebrate the historic turnout, even during a pandemic, for an election that experts acknowledge was the most secure in American history. Rather than bemoan that so many voted for the other party’s candidate, we should be impressed that so many peacefully participated in choosing our next president.

And we must expand participation. Societies fail when they concentrate power and wealth in the very few. Our strength as a society comes from our democracy. Protecting and nurturing our democracy requires expanding power and resources out to our communities, expanding power to the people so we all can thrive.

State legislatures that pass laws to suppress the vote are only weakening our nation. The late Rep. John Lewis told us that, “Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the beloved community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”

In Congress, we will act. We will pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which will greatly expand the ability of all citizens to vote, reform campaign finance law, require independent redistricting commissions and prevent states from suppressing the active participation of vulnerable minority communities in our democracy. I invite all of us to protect and care for our beloved community; to use love to inspire instead of hate to destroy.

That is how we move beyond the infamy of Jan. 6.

Teresa Leger Fernandez represents New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is a Democrat serving a first term.

(1) comment

Mike Johnson

Amazing, and I never thought I would see a worse person representing me in Congress than Ben Ray, but I was wrong.

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