Yesterday’s disturbing images of a mob storming into the U.S. Capitol brought me back to scenes 40 years ago in my native Spain when I was a teenage boy. On Feb. 23, 1981, a lieutenant colonel and 150 soldiers took over Congress — which was in session to elect a new prime minister—and held its members hostage for 22 hours. We felt sad, scared, furious, and embarrassed. The experience also taught us how fragile democracy is, and how every generation must work hard to preserve it.
I never imagined I would witness something remotely similar in the U.S., a nation I have always admired for the strength of its republic and its culture of democracy — and which I now proudly call my own. Yet, as painful as yesterday’s events were, I know American democracy will emerge stronger.
Four days after the attempted coup in Spain, a million and a half people of all political persuasions marched peacefully together through my hometown of Madrid, and in major cities across the country, in defense of Spain’s young constitution. Spain then went on to consolidate its constitutional democracy which, with its ups and downs, its frustrations and imperfections, would deliver the country’s most peaceful and prosperous period in history.
Last night, at 8 p.m, the mobs having been cleared from the United States Capitol and the premises secured, the United States Congress reconvened to resume its proceedings and count the Electoral College votes as prescribed by the Constitution. Congress members stayed up until the job was done. At around 4 a.m. they confirmed the election of a new president and vice president and sent a strong message that our democracy once again prevailed.
Let’s not forget the lessons of the last 24 hours. That our faith in democracy is tested not when our own ideas or candidates win, but when others do. That democracy is difficult and fragile. That it shouldn't be taken for granted. That every generation must work hard to preserve it. And that we, as educators, have an essential responsibility to ensure that every generation is prepared to inherit this republic, make it its own, and make it better.