Marking the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, Princeton’s Hinds Plaza filled with residents, local officials and organizations to observe the anniversary with a candlelight vigil.
The evening event would not just remember the day’s events, but call to action the passage of federal voting rights legislation currently in Congress, and push back against any notion that the 2020 election was stolen.
The vigil would be one of more than 250 events held across the country on Jan. 6.
“The things that concern me the most are that the way the Trump effort to throw out the results of the 2020 election zeroed in on the people in charge of overseeing the vote counts. People like Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State in Georgia,” said the Rev. Robert Moore, executive director of Coalition for Peace Action. “There are 33 laws now passed in 19 states imposing voting restrictions and trying to change the structure the electoral college vote gets counted, which is extremely dangerous.”
The rally at Hinds Plaza was co-sponsored by Coalition for Peace Action, Indivisible Cranbury, Princeton Community Democratic Organization, RepresentUs, and Our Revolution Trenton Mercer.
People of various ages gathered together holding battery-powered candles and small lit candles during the evening.
“We filled this plaza. Now we need to keep our shoulder to the plow and help get federal voting rights legislation such as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act passed. I want people to not despair. It is scary what is going on, but we can prevent this undermining of democracy,” Moore said. “We need people to step up and contact their U.S. senators and tell them that we need to get this to happen.”
The event featured speakers Senator-elect Andrew Zwicker; Princeton Councilman David Cohen; the Rev. Lukata Mjumbe from Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church in Princeton; Afsheen Shamsi, president of the Princeton Community Democratic Organization; Laura Zurfluh, founder of Indivisible Cranbury; and written remarks from U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12).
“I hope people let go of the pessimism a little bit. If we believe we can make things better by acting together that is really the only solution to the problems that we face as a country and we have to have a common set of goals and those come from caring about each other,” Cohen said.
At the rally, Zurfluh said she wanted to make people aware of the voting rights legislation before Congress and the importance of the bills’ passage.
Postcards were handed out at the event to mail to Booker and Sen. Menendez, and a petition was signed to urge Booker and Menendez to move forward with voting rights legislation including amending the filibuster.
Additionally, information sheets were handed out about the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which addresses abuses of presidential power, and the voting rights bills before the U.S. Senate – Freedom to Vote Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and the Electoral Count Act.
The Freedom to Vote Act expands voter registration, voting access, limits removing voters from voter rolls and establishes Election Day as a federal holiday.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would allow for voters to challenge discriminatory laws and give the federal government the ability to oversee state voting laws to prevent discrimination.
The Electoral Count Act makes it more difficult for lawmakers to try and derail election certifications, according to Congress.gov.
“I’m concerned they won’t get passed if we do not get them passed soon. I frequently get from people, why do I need to contact my senator, they are Democrats and they will vote for it,” Zurfluh said. “But, we need them to know how important it is and to prioritize it. We haven’t seen the urgency that I feel needs to be there.”
Locally, Joe Marchica from Our Revolution Trenton Mercer stressed that there is work still to be done in New Jersey.
“There is a tendency in New Jersey to look at all the problems in other states and say we are doing it better here, because we make it easier to vote. We also make it meaningless,” he said. “We had 8 out of 40 legislative districts within 8 percentage points or with a flip this last time around. We are talking about a very miniscule number of competitive elections in general because of how gerrymandered the state is. This is 10 years after the last redistricting, so there’s been time for gerrymandering to wear off.”
Marchica also pointed to primary elections throughout the state.
“We do not have real democratic primary elections, because the way the ballot is laid out there is a 35% advantage to the people who are on the county line in both parties,” he added. “We have to show people that there is a result coming when you elect the right people and we are not doing that in New Jersey.”
Correction: This article has been updated to clarify Marchica’s quote that the 2021 General Election had 8 out of 40 legislative districts within 8 percentage points or with a flip.