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How the Jan. 6 Hearings Became a Summer Hit

Public Citizen News / July-August 2022

By Jonah Minkoff-Zern

This article appeared in the July/August 2022 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.

In union halls, living rooms, and on picnic blankets, Americans gathered around the country on June 9 to train their gaze on the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol’s opening hearing. Public Citizen, in collaboration with the Not Above the Law coalition, worked with activists across the country to plan more than 100 watch events for the first prime time hearing.

The blockbuster hearings of the Select Committee uncovered the truth about how former president Donald Trump and his MAGA Republican allies planned, promoted, and paid for a criminal conspiracy to overturn an election they lost—and how they have continued working to be able to put themselves in power regardless of the outcome of an election.

Before the hearings launched with their endless series of jaw-dropping revelations, the conventional wisdom in Washington, D.C., was that the American people didn’t care about the insurrection. Public Citizen and our allies organized the June 9 watch events to provide visible evidence to dispel that misimpression.

Ahead of the first hearing on June 9, Public Citizen ran weekly Zoom calls for activists hosting watch events. After each host call, new requests to host watch events came flooding in. Our staff and interns worked every day leading up to the hearings to support and coordinate our activists on the ground. We provided essential funding to secure local spaces for watch events and help activists get outfitted with equipment to stream the hearings on a large scale. We supported activists with their outreach, through writing and sending media advisories, finding speakers, ensuring their events were ADA accessible, and more. We even mailed more than 1,000 free Ben & Jerry’s coupons to hosts around the country to make their events a little sweeter.

Public Citizen also led the organizing of movement briefings, drawing thousands of viewers, policy experts, and lawmakers like J6 Select Committee member U.S. Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) as well as celebrities like David Crosby of the band Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Jason Alexander of “Seinfeld” fame. Constitutional scholars provided in-depth analyses, and movement leaders like Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers union, and voting rights activist Helen Butler discussed their work and galvanized attendees to act. Whether that meant signing up to host a watch event, spreading the word about the hearings in their communities and on social media, writing letters to the editor, signing up to be poll workers, or encouraging their family to tune into the hearings, Americans answered the call.

At the end of June, Public Citizen’s organizers hosted a letter-to-the-editor writing party. The initiative helped focus media attention on the Jan. 6 hearings, which continued to be full of shocking bombshells. Later in the month, at the conclusion of the fourth Jan. 6 Select Committee hearing, Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of Public Citizen and co-chair of the Not Above the Law Coalition, commented, “The criminal conspiracy by former President Donald Trump and his allies extends far beyond January 6, with new details emerging about how they pressured state officials to overturn an election they knew they’d lost.”

Public Citizen continues to link activists around the country with ways to address election security and equity. Many of our hosts continued to lead watch events for subsequent hearings, but the communities created by this summer’s activism go far beyond a one-time gathering. At a celebration call for hosts and activists, Public Citizen connected them with resources and programs critical to protect our democracy. These range from region-specific efforts like Michigan ballot and Arizona ballot initiatives to expand voting access to national efforts like the Poor People’s Campaign and March for Our Lives. In the upcoming months, Public Citizen will also encourage people to sign up to be poll workers or poll monitors and take Stop Election Sabotage training through Scrutineers.org.

Thanks to the skills of the activists across the country and Public Citizen’s organizers, the moment of political and emotional intensity spurred by the Jan. 6 hearings can translate to long-term action and solidifies both the foundations and future of our democracy.