On Wednesday, Jan. 6, a mob of angry rioters stormed the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., forcefully halting what should have been a very routine part of our democratic process. Their violence traumatized elected officials from both sides of the aisle and everyday staffers alike; five people lost their lives, including a Capitol Police officer. This was the ugly climax of a growing divide in our country. It left people across the nation and the world feeling angry, sad, afraid and uncertain of our nation’s future.


American poet Amanda Gorman reads a poem during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

When times get this dark, it can be easy to slide into despair. It can be hard or even impossible to imagine a way forward. If things are this bad, after all, how can we hope to fix it? But life sometimes has a way of shuffling us forward, even if we think we can’t.

Two weeks after the attack on the Capitol, a new president and vice president were sworn into office. While the tone of the ceremony was certainly more somber than in past years, our leaders and their guests offered words of hope and unity. In particular, I was struck by the poem written and recited by 22-year-old Amanda Gorman – our first youth national poet laureate, and the youngest poet to speak at a presidential inauguration.

Ms. Gorman said of our recent dark times, “Somehow we weathered and witnessed, a nation that is not broken, but simply unfinished.” Her words fall in line with how we often describe our country: It is the great American Experiment. Our form of democracy, at the time of the United States’ founding, was novel. We weren’t unseating one king in favor of another, but rather rejecting the entire idea of a sole ruler, and replacing it with the ideals of equality, opportunity and fair representation.

These ideals are lofty, and they have defined America, both in how we live up to them and how we have at times failed to reach them. Through the movements of abolitionism, suffrage, and civil rights, among others, the people of our country have forced our government and our society to take a hard look at how it works and who our laws protect. Sometimes the greatest act of patriotism is holding your elected leaders accountable and demanding better of your government. As Ms. Gorman said, “Being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”

The divisions in our country are deep, and it will take incredible dedication, hard work and patience to build bridges across them. But this is something that we, as Americans, have done before. It seems like a daunting task, but the best place to start is right at home, in our communities. In my role as state senator, I make it a point to be in frequent contact with other local elected officials, as well as everyday community members. I was sent to the State House not to represent just the people I agree with or am friends with, but all the people of my district. Hearing from not only my colleagues in the Maine House, but also town and city councilors, business leaders and others, I get a fuller, deeper understanding of what our communities need to grow and thrive.

This is also how I learn about all the wonderful things already happening here. Between volunteers running food pantries and warming centers, to parents and teachers working together to make sure children are getting the education and support they need, to the everyday little acts of kindness shown between neighbors, there is much we’re already doing right. So let’s keep doing that. There is much more that unites us than divides us, and so much more good around us than bad. As Ms. Gorman said, “There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it – if only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Eloise Vitelli is a state senator representing District 23.

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