It’s been so hard to sit down to write this week’s column. What can I possibly say? For all of us who were so eager to see the end of 2020, hoping for all the wonderful possibilities of a New Year, 2021 has hit us hard in the first week.
COVID is rampant, even here on our Island. Who knows when that will abate? Vaccinations have begun, but people still seem to be divided between mask-wearers and those who are adamantly opposed. As a society, we can’t even agree on something so innocuous, IMHO (in my humble opinion).
On Jan. 6, I turned on the news at lunchtime to watch the certification of the Electoral College votes in a joint session of Congress, to witness history being made as Joe Biden would be affirmed the 46th President of the United States. It was a total shock to see an unimaginable scene of armed insurrectionists storming the Capitol building, representatives and senators donning gas masks, hiding under their desks, being escorted out of the chamber, as a mob shouted to hang Vice-President Pence, shoot Speaker Nancy Pelosi, looking to kill or maim or damage anyone and anything in their way.
Once again, we are given a lesson in what is written in our Constitution. This latest lesson is the difference between sedition and treason. Here are the definitions from my Oxford English Dictionary. “Sedition: n. conduct or speech inciting rebellion against the authority of a state or monarch.” “Treason: n. The crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill or overthrow the sovereign or government.”
I have to admit that my other emotion was fear of possible damage to the paintings in the rotunda of the Capitol building, to the sculptures in the gallery, to the building itself. Would someone shove a flagpole into one of those magnificent paintings? Would this beautiful building, with its rich history, be destroyed as well? Will Americans and tourists ever be able to walk freely into the building again? Will schoolchildren ever take class trips to Washington, D.C., to observe a session of Congress, to meet their state’s lawmakers, to experience the grandeur of our public buildings?
I looked up the paintings online. They all depict moments in American history commissioned in the 1800s, and installed between 1820 and 1855 in eight niches around the perimeter of the rotunda. Each image is 12 by 18 feet. Four were painted by John Trumbull, one of America’s most noted artists of the 19th century. They are: “Declaration of Independence,” “Surrender of General Burgoyne,” “Surrender of Lord Cornwallis,” and “General George Washington Resigning His Commission.” Others are “Landing of Columbus,” by John Vanderlyn; “Discovery of the Mississippi.” by William Henry Powell; “Baptism of Pocahontas,” by John Gadsby Chapman,” and “Embarkation of the Pilgrims,” by Robert Walter Weir. Yes, they are a grandiose representation of our history with no implication of consequences, but all nations put a gloss on their history; it is meant to awe. We citizens have an obligation to learn what was true but we can’t change our past; we have to learn from it and do better. Winston Churchill said in a speech before the House of Commons in 1948, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
The New York Times has written about this at length in an interview with Dr. Barbara A. Wolanin, the curator for the architect of the Capitol. She felt as I did, wondering if access to the Capitol building and its contents would be denied from now on.
I couldn’t just sit here writing about whatever was blooming in my house, whatever Abby or the cats are up to. I have been out looking for my earliest snowdrops. Nothing yet. The seasons will turn from winter gradually into spring, regardless of political disagreements. Daylight is lengthening, regardless of pandemics and their statistics.
A political note for West Tisbury as our political season begins. Nomination papers have arrived in the town clerk’s office and it’s time to start the process if you intend to run for a town board. You will need to get a minimum of 20 signatures to qualify for a place on the April 15 ballot. You will have to be creative this year, as COVID makes it unlikely that guests will gather at Cynthia Riggs’s annual Groundhog Day party. That always attracted more than enough town residents and nomination papers were passed around with the hors d’oeuvres and glasses of wine. Tara suggested that people running for office get the word out that they would be outside the library or post office at a particular date and time. She reminded them to bring a supply of wipes and pens, and that everyone wear their masks. Call her at town hall to make an appointment to pick up your nomination papers, 508-696-0148.
Monday, Jan. 18, is Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday. Don’t forget that all town and federal offices will be closed.
Please send me some local news. I want to have more upbeat and close-to-home news to report next week.
If you have any West Tisbury Town Column suggestions, email Hermine Hull, firstname.lastname@example.org.