A year after the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, protesters from Forsyth County and surrounding areas gathered in downtown Cumming to support voting rights in Georgia and condemn the actions in Washington, D.C. a year before.
On Thursday, Jan. 6, organizer Liz Barrett hosted the Candlelight Vigil for Democracy outside Cumming City Hall, where about 30 attendees waved American flags, held signs and precincts lit smokeless tea candles in protest.
“I’m thrilled,” Barrett said of the crowd showing up despite wet and cold weather on Thursday. “I was actually very moved that people would come so far through the rain. People care. People are taking a stand for this country’s democracy, and I’m very privileged to be part of it. “
Barrett, a Forsyth County resident who said she volunteered as a poll worker in the 2020 election, said she organized the protest as an individual with help from members of the Forsyth County Democratic Committee said one goal of the event was for like-minded voters to make their presence known in Forsyth County, which she said has “a very big, loud [conservative] presence and a noisy presence and [Democrats] kind of stay to the side and stay out of sight, so it’s important for us to see each other.”
“This [protest] was to stand here and let people know in Forsyth County there’s others like you, you’re not alone,” she said.
Near the beginning of the rally, Barrett and other attendees introduced themselves and discussed why they came out to protest.
“I’m here to help underscore [the efforts] of all of us protecting our Democracy from events like last year, when those unpatriotic extremists stormed [the U.S. Capitol,]” said one speaker, who said she lived in Coal Mountain.
Several speakers at the rally described the events on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob breached the U.S. Capitol during a count of Electoral College votes for the 2020 presidential election with the aim of overturning the results in favor of former President Donald Trump, as an attack on voters and democracy.
“The country is divided. There are some issues that people can discuss in good faith, there’s others that are pumped up full of distortions, but Democracy itself, the Constitution, no, that’s bedrock,” said Forsyth resident Wayne White. “I was invited here today for a vigil for democracy and to maintain our democracy. Even the oldest democracy in the world, we must remain vigilant, and that’s why I’m here now.”
Among the protesters were those who had moved to the area in recent years and those who had lived in Forsyth County for decades, along with other supporters from surrounding areas, including Pickens, Rabun, Hall and Fulton counties.
“We’ve lived here for 35 years, when there were 20,000 folks up here with mostly chicken houses, and we appreciate you folks being here,” said Bruce Abraham, who lives in north Forsyth with his wife, Rhonda, told others at the rally. “We’ve felt so alone for so long, and we love like-minded folks like yourselves, and thank you for letting out little light shine.”
Along with the events of Jan. 6, speakers also raised issues with election matters in Georgia, including the recent redistricting and reapportionment process for state and federal elections.
James Brown, who lives in Fulton County, said he made the trip because under the new Congressional lines approved by the Georgia General Assembly – which have been signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp and prompted lawsuits including those from the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU of Georgia and the Southern Poverty Law Center – would move Forsyth from Georgia’s 7th and 9th Congressional districts to the 6th District.
“I’m from north Fulton County, and welcome to the 6th Congressional District,” Brown told other protesters. “We’re going to show them that if you gerrymander us, we’re the kind of people that are going to show up at your doorstep.”
Another common criticism for those in attendance was Senate Bill 202, an elections bill approved by the Georgia General Assembly and signed by Kemp in 2021.
Among other measures, the bill, which has already prompted a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice, removes oversight of the state elections board from the secretary of state to a representative chosen by the Georgia General Assembly and sets new standards for absentee drop boxes, such as requiring that they be inside and only allowing voters to drop ballots during the same hours as advance voting.
“The legislation can overrun our vote,” Barrett said of the bill. “We lost that power, and we have to let them know loud and clear, no way, and that’s why we’re here today.”
During the rally, some speakers turned their attention to the 2022 election and the need for volunteers to work at the polls as Forsyth County plans to add several new precincts for the election.
“While the rest of the state is reducing the number of voting locations, we are actually expanding in Forsyth County,” said Randy Ingram, an outgoing board member for the Forsyth County Board of Voter Registrations and Elections, “and we’re giving everybody the opportunity to vote.”