Editor’s note: This recollection is by Ron Lawrence, chair of the Essex Republicans. He attended the Save America rally in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021.
These observations are offered by me and are exclusively my own. Other participants’ observations and perspectives may vary. I prepared this description of the trip because I have received several media requests for interviews. I simply wanted to gather my thoughts and get them out in one form to make available to all at once.
Who organized this and why?
Elouise (“Ellie”) Martin deserves credit for getting the ball rolling. Ellie is the Underhill Republican Party town chair. She has the contacts, arranged for the bus, and began signing interested people up for the trip. I am the Essex Republicans town chair. I had already posted my interest in this trip on Facebook, but was not looking to organize this myself. When I heard that Ellie had “taken the bull by the horns,” I jumped in to help. Mostly, mine was an administrative role, just trying to keep our records and the money straight. For convenience, I put a link to purchase tickets or to make a donation on the Essex Republicans web site; but it should be made clear that this was not an exclusively Essex Republicans initiative.
What actually happened?
We organized a bus to travel from Vermont to Washington, D.C., in response to President Trump’s call to march on January 6th. The clear intent in most of our minds was to show support for President Donald Trump on the day that the Senate was to review and certify the electoral votes. The bus started in Burlington at the Hannaford parking lot, and made stops in Vergennes and Rutland to pick up passengers on our way to D.C. In the end, we had 51 passengers that made the trip. The bus arrived in D.C. before 6 a.m. on the 6th. We attended the rally during the day. And we gathered at Union Station to board the bus at around 3:30. The bus departed shortly after 4 p.m. and eventually arrived back in Burlington a little after 3 a.m.
There have been some very negative comments targeting this trip. So, I will not be sharing the participant’s names. However, participants are from all over the state of Vermont. There was one family from Plattsburgh, New York, and a couple of people who had to fly to Vermont from out West to be with us, Keeping the passenger list up to date was a challenge. There were many last-minute changes, and we did have to turn some people away. The bus filled up quickly! There was a lot of enthusiasm for this trip. In the end, we had 51 passengers in a bus with 55 seats.
Observations on the bus
There were many people who did not know each other. So, there were introductions, and conversations that helped people to identify with each other. The congeniality of the group was apparent from the beginning. One person brought a ukulele. There was singing at times, prayers, and conversation that often touched on professions of faith. The bus was clean, the drivers were excellent. It was still a tight squeeze.
Did we wear masks?
Everyone brought masks. They were not required, but anyone who felt the need to wear a mask was encouraged to do so. It became clear from the beginning that most participants were not comfortable wearing a mask for the whole trip. Whenever the bus made a stop, however, masks were donned before entering the facility. In general, I would say that masks were worn out of respect for others. Very few felt the need for self-protection. A few people dropped out at the last minute because they were not feeling well. So, the group was more-or-less self filtering. No one was on the bus that showed symptoms of illness. The participants temperatures were taken as we prepared to depart. No signs of fever.
The day of the rally
When we arrived at Union Station in D.C. we tried to stress the importance of sticking together. We tied on colored ribbons to help identify our group members. We also encouraged the formation of small groups of no more than 5 people. The members of these subgroups were encouraged to: capture each other’s names, even photographs, exchange phone numbers, and to stick together! This last point proved to be nearly impossible almost from the beginning! Nonetheless, this was our intention at the start. In any case, the bus was to leave at 4 p.m. so people needed to be back at Union Stations ready to board by 3:30 p.m. The main group was broken up as soon as some of the passengers needed to stop at a restroom or to purchase some food for breakfast. So, the group was already fractured as we began to make our way to the Mall. Details of the events were scant.
At this point it is important to note that the city was pretty much shut down. Some buildings were boarded up. There was a heavy police presence and members of the National Guard were there. That may sound like an anticipation of trouble, but our group loves the police and the National Guard. This group of guards was gathered on our way to the event. Our small group stopped, took this picture, thanked these men for their service and for being there. These guys are salt of the earth and very friendly. We asked about the situation and in particular the transportation services. They offered that most things were shut down as of 6 a.m. that morning. So, wherever we were going, we had to get there on foot. There were similar exchanges with police along the way.
The city was shut down!
Apparently, the Guard was deployed by order of the mayor. All transportation services and restaurants were shut down. Roads were blocked off. Public facilities (including port-o-lets) were locked up. Such was our welcome from the city of our nation’s capital. Later on, phone services were completely jammed. This was probably due to the sheer number of people and cell phones in the area, but it’s hard not to speculate on the intentions of the city government. Also, except for the people gathering for the rally, it felt like the area around the Capitol Building was deserted! It was very quiet for 7 o’clock on a weekday morning. The streets were mostly filled with flag waiving Trump supporters trying to find their way to the rally.
When our small group (which included Ellie Martin and myself) arrived at the rally, my major concern was to try to link up with the rest of the group. It was quite a walk for some of us! So, we left Ellie and a few other members at the lawn of the African American Museum, where there were benches and a retaining wall as convenient places to sit. Another male member of the group and I went in search of the rest of our group. Cell phones were still working at the time.
We made contact and tried to locate our people near the Washington Monument. The crowd was still gathering at this point. We did link up with another small group splintered off from the main group. We proceeded search for the rest of our Vermont group but were completely unsuccessful in finding them! We wandered back to find Ellie and company. The crowd at the African American Museum had swelled by this point, and we were unsuccessful at linking up with Ellie! And we could NOT contact Ellie by phone. At this point the program was getting underway and the crowds were growing enormously.
So, our subgroup decided to continue our search in an area where we could perhaps get a better view of the program. We could see the screen, and hear the sound, but the sound system had a terrible echo. It was very difficult to hear what the speaker was saying. The point is (and this was pretty much our expectation) there was not much that we were going to be able to see or hear this day; but, we were really there to show our support. The crowd had swelled to the point where it was difficult to maneuver through it and stay together. We made our way through the crowd. Other groups were doing the same. Most of the people in the crowd were simply trying to position themselves to see and hear what they could. Some people were climbing the trees in the park to get a better view. This is the point of the day that will remain my overall greatest impression!
While we were all maneuvering and bumping into one another, everyone was incredibly understanding and friendly! They all understood what was going on. There were many exchanges as we worked our way around. It was fun to ask where people were from. Lots of advice and well wishes were exchanged. We never did find our group, but were completely comfortable meeting and greeting everyone we saw. It’s also important to say that there were people from every walk of life, every race and color, and very different cultural influences. You can’t judge a book by its cover, but I had a general impression that these were every-day people from all around our country that make up the fabric of who we are. Some were in costume—mostly patriotic in nature. Most donned some sort of Trump supportive clothing or were carrying flags. It was an incredible sight. We watched the program for a bit, but as I said, we really could not see or hear the speakers. By this time, the cold, the walking, and having no room to move was beginning to take its toll. We worked our way back toward the Washington Monument. By this time, the open spaces were pretty much completely filled in! We made our way back to the African American Museum and found Ellie and the rest of that contingent still there and waiting for us. We simply couldn’t see them in our earlier pass. Also, some of the rest of our group was there.
We rested, ate and shared what we had brought with us for food. President Trump was due to speak at 1:00 p.m., but several of us were pretty well beat at this point. I was worried about how much time it would take to get back to Union Station—particularly if the entire crowd was going in the same direction.
So, some of our group opted to stay; but my original small group from the morning made our way back to Union Station. Along the way, we were listening to Trump’s speech via live streaming. This was much more effective than hanging out in the crowd. Along the way, we heard Trump’s call to march up to the Capitol Building—which was the way we were traveling. Also, along the way, we heard announcement from the City Police to move to the sidewalks because there would be a motorcade coming through. We saw the motorcade. It was not President Trump—he was still speaking. As we passed the Capitol Building, we stopped at the request of one of our party to say a prayer over the building.
When our small group finally made it back to Union Station, we were exhausted. The task before us for the next few hours was to make contact with the rest of our crew to make sure we were all together in time for the bus. This was in a climate where network signals were clogged and phones were dying for lack of battery power. But, thankfully, most of our participants made it back to Union Station on time. We did have one straggler, but someone who had a good idea where to look for them. So, there was a minor holdup, but all were aboard the bus—safe and sound—and the bus departed shortly after 4 p.m. as planned.
The Capitol Building
Our small party considered going to the Capitol Building after we heard Trump’s call in his speech. We were passing right by in on our way to Union Station. But, frankly, we were too exhausted to make the trip. Back at Union Station, as our members began to regroup, some had gone to the Capitol Building. Some were close enough to witness the death of the unfortunate soul who suffered a heart attack.
Were our people part of the storming of the Capitol Building?
The short answer is “no.” To my knowledge, none of our party took part in “storming” the barricades or entering the building. Still, most of us were supportive of gathering at the Capitol Building at that critical time. It seemed important for our representatives in Congress to see the crowd that had gathered from all over the country to support our President. However, storming the building or creating a threatening situation was not at all characteristic of the gathering, or the people who participated in it. Frustration levels are very high. I hope that our representatives can see that. But we are also a law-abiding people. All of the conversation I heard on the way down and back was intent on avoiding violence or conflict. The general consensus from those who were close enough to observe, and from the research folks did on the trip back, is that the actual break in was perpetrated by members of ANTIFA who were donning pro-Trump attire to try to mix in.
On the way home
All of our passengers were exhausted; and while the bus accommodations were agreeable, it was still an uncomfortable ride home. Sleep was difficult. The bus had wifi and a great many passengers were surfing, researching what had happened, and listening to speeches and commentary. The mood was subdued, but most expressed that it had been an incredibly positive experience. Most of the conversation indicated that the incident at the Capitol Building was seen as unfortunate. Most were worried that it would be used to characterize the event—even though nothing could be further from the truth. Otherwise, our trip home was without incident.
Are we quarantining?
There is no simple answer for this. For me, personally, the answer is “yes”. For the sake of my wife who works in our schools, we are taking measures to stay separated and I will seek to be tested as soon as I can arrange it. But others have different situations, and it would be a mistake to say that we should all behave in the same way. First of all, there is no indication that anyone is sick. And, I’m sure that participants will be taking appropriate steps to care for their loved ones back at home. I see this as being a pretty responsible group of people. One solution does not fit all situations.
I’m not a great one for attending rallies like this, but very strange things are happening in our country and in our government right now. I know that our media has portrayed these negatively and in general have placed undue blame on our President. We have a diverging set of philosophies about who we are as a people and what our country stands for. It seems to me that the political maneuvering that we have seen is inevitable when you have this kind of disparity in philosophy. I have to express that I am not confident that even our local media will make an honest attempt to present both sides of this struggle. That’s why I have chosen to write my observations down to share them. It feels to me like our local media that has already chosen to ignore the message we shared with them at the outset. The people I met throughout this experience love this country, and love our president because he loves this country. The emphasis is on the preservation of the constitution at a time when it seems that the constitution is being stomped on by many of our elected officials. As I stated above, you could not ask to be part of a more respectful and caring group of people—who may at times talk tough about what needs to be done, but who also willingly thank the police for their service and are happy to see them there.
It’s not terribly surprising to find that there has been a surge of very negative responses to our making the trip. Lots of negative Facebook comments and negative emails. I can’t help but be somewhat cynical give the assertions of caring and compassion from our opposition. Even within the Republican Party, there have been negative expressions. I have to say that Jeff Bartley statement about a platform principle of “respecting one another” falls on deaf ears. His very statement is completely dismissive of the concerns of those who went on this trip. But all of this is to be expected. This is a conflict, and people are passionate about their beliefs. I take these responses as good news. It must be that we are being effective, wouldn’t you say?
Was the election stolen?
Most of us on this trip believe that the election has been stolen; but that statement needs to be qualified. This group of people believes in the rule of law. However, we also feel that there is a good chance that those rules were broken in our election process. Those broken rules are many in number and need to be articulated. Unfortunately, we don’t feel we can depend on the press to do that objectively. I think it would be unfair to say that we are not going to be satisfied unless President Trump is reinstated. We simply want a “fair hearing”, where the evidence is allowed to come out and be examined in detail.