Local Democratic leaders hope Biden’s message of unity can lead to healing

By Isabela Gladston, contributor

While the pandemic and security concerns limited access to the 59th Presidential Inauguration, local Democratic Party leaders said watching it remotely — like much of the rest of the country — didn’t diminish the event. 

Instead, it spoke to the moment with President Joe Biden’s calls for unity, said Harrisonburg Democratic Committee Chairman Alleyn Harned and Colum Leckey, the Rockingham County Democratic Committee chairman.

Harned said the speeches throughout the inauguration and the poem from Amanda Gorman moved him.

He said he was hit with “waves of appreciation and emotion and hope for what our country can be if we listen to each other and if we can move back towards dialogues of ideas rather than dialogues of misinformation or opinion.” 

It was unlike any other inauguration. The Capitol was cordoned off by fences and barbed wire and secured by National Guard members. All the dignitaries on the Capitol portico wore masks. And, as a result, the crowd was spread out and sparse.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies would typically release 200,000 tickets for an inauguration and would provide tickets for members of Congress to distribute to their constituents. But this year, the number of tickets were limited, as U.S. Rep. Ben Cline’s office posted. (Cline, a Republican, represents the 6th Congressional District and issued a statement saying he attended the event “out of respect for the office of the presidency and to commemorate the peaceful transfer of power.”)

But the event was historic for more reasons than just what made it different from past events, the local party chairmen said. 

“The inaugurations that I’ve watched have always been significant events,” Harned said. “These are major turning points in American history and this one even more so because of the limits placed on it through the pandemic.”

Leckey said he would have attended the inauguration had it not been for the coronavirus that has killed more than 400,000 Americans

“Right now we are at the peak of the pandemic and a lot of people are dying because of it,” Leckey said. “Democrats in general are pretty much staying put.”

Further complicating the inauguration were right-wing extremists’ threats of violence, which Harned said caused some anxiety, anger and frustration among local Democrats. But ultimately, Harned said hope and optimism prevailed, which led to a “moment of deep exhaling and appreciation.”

When asked whether domestic terror threats discouraged Leckey from attending, he responded “not at all”. 

He said he had confidence in the government to protect Biden and everyone attending the inauguration. 

And while some Trump supporters still don’t believe the election results, Leckey said he was impressed with the 2020 election’s overall voter turnout and security of the ballots.

“It was probably one of the most successful elections in U.S. history, huge turnout, certified by Donald Trump’s own agencies, about 50 court cases- all of them swatted down,” Leckey said.

Harned said Wednesday’s Inauguration presented bipartisan opportunities for all — including Democrats and Republicans who have been bitterly divided.

“It was very rewarding to see this nation move into this era with a much greater appreciation of all genders,” Harned said. “It just brought enormous smiles and it was really powerful to see all the women that are members of the Democratic committee and members of the Harrisonburg community react to this important moment.”

Harned also pointed to unification he saw Wednesday as opposed to on Jan. 6 when rioters were chanting “hang Mike Pence.” On Wednesday, he said Americans were chanting “hang out with Mike Pence” which he said signified a positive bipartisan moment. Trump, however, was not present at the inauguration — the first president in 150 years to skip the event symbolizing the peaceful transfer of power. 

“It’s always significant when a little person shows how little and pathetic they are,” Harned said. Trump not being there “simply made space for others to be shown as adults.”

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