Sen. Tiara Mack: Tuesday was really, really hard. I actually spent a lot of the morning crying. Because—I'm the only person in my family who is an elected official—I ran and won a race during a global pandemic, and I wasn't able to celebrate with anyone I loved. I was home alone with my rabbit. And so it really hurt not having my family there. I called my mom like 17 times that day, she called me like 17 times that day, I called my friends. And I had a lot of virtual love. But spending Thanksgiving alone because there's a global pandemic, spending Christmas alone because there's a global pandemic, New Year's, a global pandemic, and then this huge life accomplishment that is both historic for my friends and for my family. It was really hard to kind of sit with: I have to do this alone.

And then also a lot of joy, like, wow, I f***ing did that during a global pandemic. Being the first Black queer person to represent the Rhode Island State Senate is really amazing. And there's a lot of joy in that. 

And then, going to Georgia, I was terrified to look at the results of [Georgia's two U.S. Senate runoff elections]. I grew up in Georgia, Norcross, Georgia. And so it's my home state, I have a lot of love for there. I've got friends who still live there and have some family who are still in Georgia. And so it was like, knowing in my head like, I know that if Georgia already turned blue once we can do it again. After my election was over, and the Georgia runoff was announced, I was texting people through different organizations, like, make sure you're registered to vote, reminding people to fill out their mail-in ballots, vote early, bring your friends, remind your people. And so there was a lot of excitement around like, for the last 13 months it was just my election all the time, and now I can focus on another place that I really care about, that I grew up in. 

There's a lot of emotions, and I still haven't fully processed it because it's only 48 hours after. But joy, happiness, fear, sadness, are top of mind.

Sofia Rudin: And then walk me through Wednesday. When did you see what was going on in D.C.?

Mack: It was around 2:30, 2:00 o'clock. My manager at work actually messaged me, like, ‘Do you see what's happening in DC?’ We were on a budget call. And I was like, ‘What? No.’

I saw the headlines: Capitol breached. And I was like, ‘How? Are there people there? This is our nation's decision makers -- the Vice President of the United States was in that building when it was sieged -- and there was no resistance?’ There were pictures of people scaling the building, breaking windows, there were 13 arrests and one person shot. There were more arrests in the city of Providence at a youth-led protest, than at the nation's capitol, when some of our nation's top decision makers were actively in that building. (Note: early reports from the Washington Metropolitan Police stated that 13 people had been arrested. Ultimately, more than 80 people were arrested, and law enforcement officials said Thursday that they were working to arrest more.)

It was disgusting, to say the least, but also not surprising, to see that our nation's narrative about what counts as a peaceful protest -- to proclaim loudly, that Black lives matter, Black trans lives matter, and that people's lives matter versus a group of angry people screaming because they are refusing to accept facts and accept [the results of] one of the most secure elections our nation has ever had. It's honestly disgusting. And I'm angry and also not surprised. 

Rudin: I wonder too, where do you think this moment puts us in terms of the future of our democracy?

Mack: I don't think this is immediately a question about our democracy. But I think it is a question about our lived experience in context of our history as a whole. The U.S. saw another uprising when the geographic South refused to accept that slavery was over. And that, my mind immediately went to. There were folks at the Capitol, waving Confederate flags. And it's confusing and it's hurtful. 

And my mind also went to, there are national calls for defunding the police. There are national calls for reckoning with our nation's racist history, in policy, in terms of housing, in terms of a mass eviction, in terms of handling a global pandemic. And at the end of the day, the voices of the white conservatives win, because they shout down any conversation that we can productively have about changing our relationship with police. It shuts down any conversation that we can have about real tangible change for people who are the direct descendants of slaves in America. It shuts down any conversation about immigration reform, and about honoring all identities. It shuts down any conversation about the indigenous people whose land we still occupy unjustly in this nation. 

There is no larger conversation that can be had because it is so drowned out by these insurrectionists. And it's sad that we are going to have to put those conversations on pausereal critical conversations that are going to have tangible impacts on millions of people across our nation—because of a small group of people who refuse to accept change. And we're on the precipice of change whether or not they want to accept it. They refuse to accept that change, because for them, it would mean losing a sense of supremacy. And for others it would mean gaining a sense of equity and equality in this nation.

Rudin: You sound pretty pessimistic.

Mack: Um, I mean… Yes. I mean, I’m still processing. Yesterday was one of the most devastating things and it's, it would be unfair for me to just get right into the political mindset and say, ‘Well, let's just pull ourselves up by our bootstraps,’ and ‘Let's reach across the aisle.’ At the end of the day, I'm a Black queer woman who grew up in this country and was not shocked by what I saw. 

And it means that we're going to have to have real hard and difficult conversations with people in political office, my new peers. And so, I'm ready to have those conversations because that's what I was elected for, and that's what I intend to do. 

And I also know it's going to be an uphill battle because many people want to just skip right past the real impact that the insurrection had on people across this nation who watch brothers and sisters die at the hands of police violence, who watch people get tear gassed at peaceful protests, who've seen friends get arrested right here in our state.

It's a lot of difficult conversations and I'm not ready to finish processing past the hurt and the fear and those heart emotions before I go to my head emotions, because I think it's unfair to the moment. 

A lot of people said this is history in the making. But it's not history, because we're currently living this reality. It's not history yet.

This interview was edited for length.

We’re asking members of the community to share their thoughts on the future of our American democracy. Read their stories here. 

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Reporter Sofia Rudin can be reached at srudin@thepublicsradio.org and 401-302-1057.