My Turn: Fueling hatred, division the old-fashioned way

For the Monitor
Published: 1/14/2021 6:00:09 AM

The images we saw on Wednesday, Jan. 6, of the riot at our U.S. Capitol have attacked our nation’s collective sense of basic decency. The shock, anger, and heartbreak will linger, especially as new revelations come to light about the people behind this insurrection, and how social media, such as the new platform Parler, may have been instrumental in organizing the riot.

We will shine a bright light on all of the details of that terrible day with the hopes it won’t happen again. I must admit I am skeptical, though. The root sentiments that led to this insurrection are alive and well nationwide.

As the looters were storming the Capitol, events here in New Hampshire continue to show a partisan and hateful environment that led to the attacks. If we are to truly move forward and root out hate, violence, and ignorance, we must do the same everywhere.

While our Capitol building and the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives were besieged by anarchists using social media to threaten the lives of both Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence, a bizarre juxtaposition of partisan fighting broke out here in New Hampshire.

At that very moment of rioting in D.C., those of us who are members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives were sitting in our separate vehicles in a UNH parking lot and were told to “put on your flashers” if we were having trouble with our voting devices. Hundreds of elected officials in parked cars trying to conduct the people’s business with a 1950s combination of radio technology and car horns.

On the surface, there’s not much in common between the riots in D.C., and the first New Hampshire House session of 2021. But the technology used to bring violence to democracy’s doorstep was inexplicably prohibited from being used to bring New Hampshire’s House members together for a coherent day of making initial decisions on behalf of the people.

While Americans watched in horror at the riots unfolding through live images, 400 New Hampshire House members were segregated in cars, struggling to communicate.

The disconnect led to poor decisions and widespread confusion.

At the very moment looters attacked police in D.C., New Hampshire House members were rejecting an appeal to adopt rules that would protect our institution from hate speech, restrict alcohol from our House sessions, and make the New Hampshire House floor a gun-free zone. I’d like to think it was technology preventing us from connecting hearts and minds, but I believe a majority of my New Hampshire GOP colleagues are actually comfortable with allowing the type of rhetoric and circumstances that led to the events on Jan. 6.

In Washington, pro-Trump rioters, fueled by false claims of a stolen election, were incited to roam the halls of the Capitol to “stop the steal” – actions inspired by an “Us vs. Them” mentality crafted to fuel division and hatred. They were told to fight – commands built on rhetoric that has been used for years. A clear abuse of technology.

At the other end of the “tech spectrum” in New Hampshire, our parking lot session began two hours late due to traffic jams. Many members couldn’t see the speaking podium or the Jumbotron. Some couldn’t understand the speakers or tune in the garbled radio frequency reserved for the session. People were handed voting ballots without double checking if the recipients were elected members of the New Hampshire House. Many voting devices didn’t work.

This was the single greatest disconnect I have ever experienced as a representative, and what upsets me is it felt intentional. We could have held a session over Zoom or some similar technology, as the New Hampshire courts have ruled is acceptable and many towns have used to conduct their annual town meetings and school district meetings since March. Instead, we had to honk the horn if we had a problem.

Despite the disconnect, we still had to hold a leadership election for House speaker to replace former Speaker Dick Hinch, who passed away last month due to COVID.

The minority candidate shared he had stage 4 prostate cancer, but despite his health challenges, he spoke of his hopes for a better New Hampshire with better education, more affordable housing and more equitable opportunities. He pledged to work in a bipartisan fashion to solve the problems that lie ahead.

Then, the majority candidate took the microphone and warned that Democrats would raise a sales and income tax, raise electric rates, take away your school choice, take away guns. There was no vision for the next two years, no appeal to work together. As the riots raged, the new speaker’s words reflected more division, anger, “Us vs. Them.”

Technology was ignored, keeping us apart, and the newly elected speaker used words to sow more seeds of division. Jan. 6, 2021, was a sad day for our state and our country. We have a long way to go.

(Katherine Rogers of Concord represents Merrimack District 28 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.)

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