Young professionals despair over the siege of the Capitol, but many say it’s now up to them to ‘fix what’s broken’

Capitol Hill dystopian
An explosion caused by a police munition is seen while supporters of President Donald Trump gather in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington DC on January 6, 2021.
  • On January 6, pro-Trump rioters looted the Capitol building and clashed with police, sending congress into hiding and temporarily preventing certification of Joe Biden's presidential win. The siege left five people dead and ended with at least 80 arrests.
  • Insider spoke to a diverse set of 12 young professionals and activists, including an Asian American climate change activist, a Black female journalist, and a white male political consultant, about how the riots at the Capitol made them feel and what hopes they have for their futures amid political unrest.
  • Some said they were still trying to process everything that happened, with one millennial calling it "deplorable" and another calling it "a clear depiction of white power and supremacy."
  • Claire Randolph, 20, is a Republican who said that Trump doesn't represent traditional values, and called Wednesday's events disturbing. "The saddest part is that it has nothing to do with politics anymore," she said. "This is pure anarchy." 
  • But many also said that this event only inspires them to take more action, saying it's left up to young people to make the change they want to see. "It is more important than ever to be active and vocal members of our society," Kyle Bryan, 28, told Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Saad Amer was at home on January 6. Tired, fatigued, he had spent the past few weeks getting young people to vote in the Georgia Senate runoffs - he's the cofounder of the nonprofit organization Plus 1Vote. The election saw record youth turnout and the 26-year-old Amer was still relishing his work in the newly blue state. 

He grabbed himself some cardamom tea, with just a splash of milk, and sat down with his family. Then he turned on the television to see rioters storming the Capitol building. "It was disgusting," he told Insider. "It was deplorable."

He said it almost felt personal to him. "What we saw in DC was the reaction to when young people and people of color are out there voting," he continued. "We saw people who were actively trying to steal an election, white national terrorists invading the Capitol in order to overthrow an election." 

He's not the only young professional and activist who felt that way. Fashion professional Kyle Bryan, 28, told Insider he felt "drained" by the events that took place at the Capitol. He said it was a clear depiction of white power and supremacy. "I am feeling drained," he said. "Drained by a country that has been divided for hundreds of years that is just now coming to terms with its despicable past and present." 

Read more: The attempted coup at the US Capitol is a warning: the future of global democracy is in danger

Insider spoke to a diverse set of 12 young professionals about the events of January 6, and some were still trying to process what happened. Some felt the riots confirmed all of their worst fears about America, while others felt the current government can't solve this crisis, and their generation has to step in and fix what is broken. 

"What happened to our nation's capital was not an act of patriotism, a political protest, or freedom of speech," entrepreneurs Celeste Duvre, 24, and Kelsi Kitchener, 28, wrote to Insider. "It was an act of domestic terrorism that our president has been breeding since day one. We feel embarrassed for our country and disheartened by our government for doing absolutely nothing."

Claire Randolph, 20, a student at Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles, said both sides of the political aisle "act like children." 

Randolph is a Republican who doesn't identify as being a Trump supporter, though she, along with her boyfriend, voted for him in the 2020 presidential elections. She said she voted straight-ticket Republican because she was raised with Republican values in Dallas. 

But those Republican values "are not Trump values," she said. "When I woke up to the news of what was happening at our Capitol the other day, I was disgusted. The flags flying and the messages that they send are nothing but hateful and disturbing. It's white supremacy at its finest and the saddest part is that it has nothing to do with politics anymore. This is pure anarchy." 

Captiol Hill Protests
A protester holds a Trump flag inside the US Capitol Building near the Senate Chamber on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Many were stunned at the duality of how the police treated the white rioters vs. BIPOC protesters 

Megan Lee, 23, a first-year law student at Boston University, said she realized something was going to happen on Wednesday the day before, when she saw on Facebook that her old taekwondo instructor, an avid Trump supporter, had flown from Michigan to DC to attend the pro-Trump protest.

But she was still "stunned" by what she called the police's "complicity" in the riots. "I genuinely thought the police would have stopped them from actually storming the Capitol."

Political consultant Brian Derrick, 27, echoed these same sentiments. "I was shocked at the complete failure of law enforcement to protect our nation's leaders in what should be the second-most secure building in America," he told Insider. "Yesterday's events were a confluence of many seemingly distinct American failures - in policing, public education, tech regulation, and in addressing systemic racism."

Amer said "it really showed a discrepancy" in how police treated an actually violent assault, led by a mostly white group, compared to the crackdowns and excessive force apparent for a more diverse group's largely peaceful protests during the George Floyd protests of the summer.

The Associated Press reported that Capitol police twice rejected help with the riots, once a few days before the riots began, and then again as the mob began to besiege the building. The Wall Street Journal's Rachel Levy reported the FBI and the Homeland Security Intelligence Unit didn't issue a risk assessment for the Pro-Trump protests - a report created for large events that could pose a risk, which is then sent to federal, state, and local law enforcement, in addition to homeland security advisors. 

Read More: Biden calls the pro-Trump riot at the Capitol an 'insurrection' and 'domestic terrorism'

Further, the National Guard was not immediately called to assist the Capitol, and Politico's national security correspondent Natasha Bertrand reported that a current DC police officer working yesterday posted on Facebook that off-duty police officers, in addition to members of the military, were among those rioting, and were flashing their badges as they too participated in the insurrection. 

BLM DC
National Guard members deploy near the White House as peaceful protests are scheduled against police brutality and the death of George Floyd, on June 6, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Amer compared this to how BIPOCs were treated at the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, where hundreds were arrested trying to fight the building of an oil pipeline through indigenous land. He compared Wednesday to last summer's Black Lives Matter protests, where armed guards created a blockade in front of the Lincoln Memorial; the national guard clashed with protesters as tear gas and rubber bullets were shot into the crowd. 

"Watching these so-called patriots run amok in the Capitol completely unabashed and proud of themselves was a confirmation of many things I already knew as a Black woman in America," Journalist Rachel Pilgrim, 23, told Insider. "One of those being that Black people are unnecessarily dying at the hands of police officers who have shown that they know how to de-escalate or stand down."

Now she wants to see how people and the police will respond to protests such as Black Lives Matter in the future. Trump supporters can no longer say Blue Lives Matter, she said, after the world saw them brawl with the police all day. 

Others say they've lost faith in the government, and are scared for the nation's future

Writer Daric Cottingham, 24, told Insider that Wednesday's events made him feel like his "citizenship was irrelevant" because a group was trying to subvert a fair election based on a result it didn't like. 

But Cottingham said he wasn't surprised that the event went the way it did. Neither was Derrick nor Amer, for that matter. "Watching the attack on the Capitol yesterday unfold was appalling," Derrick said. "But after four years of the president openly courting white supremacists, I was not surprised to see the event turn violent."

"I fear this was just the beginning to a possible second civil war," Cottingham added. "White privilege is the thing [rioters] felt was threatened when Trump lost this election."

Read more: Well, at least we know who the phoniest people in Washington are now

Cottingham said this made him think about his own future and safety in this country, especially as a Black queer person. "This country's future, it scares me," he said. 

Duvre and Kitchener also said they don't have much faith in leadership anymore, saying many of the current public officials seem out of touch and not focused on "actually doing anything productive."

ted cruz resign
Ted Cruz was one of many Republican lawmakers that challenged the election results.

This was another tragic event in what has already been a stressful year for young people

Derrick said what happened Wednesday was traumatic for "anyone who values our system of government or the promise of America," even though young people already see the US' place in the world differently than prior generations. They have come to associate terrorism with the far-right more than foreign or religious extremists, he said.

After Charlottesville, El Paso, Tree of Life, Charleston, and other far-right terrorist episodes, Derrick said political violence has become normalized in this country.

Amer said young people have a series of crises happening concurrently for them, citing failures to cancel student loans, adequately address the climate fight, justice for young people like Breonna Taylor, and lack of action on school shootings. "What we're seeing is a generation of young people going through active trauma and America consistently saying, 'we don't care," Amer said. 

Many feel their generation must step up to fix what is broken

But there is hope.

Duvre and Kitchener said seeing large numbers of youth activists trying to fix "our broken systems" has been giving them inspiration. Meanwhile, entrepreneur and VC Jenny Wang, 23, told Insider she hopes that business owners will take note of what happened yesterday, and help reimagine industries to "become more inclusive, equitable and kind."  

"Yesterday's events show that culture starts at the top," she said. "Any organization - startup, or public enterprise, for-profit or non-profit, should take care of their culture and values." 

Saad Amer
Saad (c) at a climate change march.

Amer said this event makes him want to work and do more organizing, working to get more young people into office. Representation is important when it comes to bringing forth change, he said. 

Shilpa Yarlagadda, 24, voted for the first time last presidential election. She is the CEO and cofounder of the jewelry brand Shiffon and teamed up with the Michelle Obama-affiliated nonprofit When We All Vote to encourage people to register. She said the impact When We All Vote had in driving awareness was "crucial" for voter turnout, especially for the younger generation. 

"It sounds ambitious and crazy to think we can change the world," she told Insider. "But I honestly think we have to. We have no choice." 

Bryan agreed, adding that young people have a duty to change what isn't working. "What the future generation and young people like myself can do is not only be hopeful for our future American presidency but put action behind our disgust," Bryan said. "It is more important than ever to be active and vocal members of our society." 

It begins, perhaps, with moments like Wednesday. Duvre and Kitchener said it felt like gaslighting when Biden said the riots didn't represent America. "Unfortunately, this is America," they said. "And denying that reality is extremely frustrating." 

It's true, Amer said, and if anything is going to change, the nation needs to truly reckon with itself. 

"This is who we are," he said. "And in many ways, who we've always been and who we will continue to be unless we do the very real hard work of confronting everything that is happening around white supremacy and bring justice to the dismantlement of the Capitol building. Of our Capitol building." 

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