His title as "Congressman" was so new, it was still measured in hours. But Jamaal Bowman and his team woke up the morning of Jan. 6, 2021, ready for what was supposed to be a difficult day.
Congress was set for a rare joint session to complete one of the few tasks specifically laid out in the U.S. Constitution — count and certify the Electoral College votes, and officially declare what everyone knew already: Joe Biden would become the 46th President of the United States.
But what was typically a ceremonial role was already quite contentious. Donald Trump was still president, and he was convinced — despite no evidence to support it — the election he lost was fraudulent. He had put together a rally for a park on the south side of the White House known as The Ellipse, and Washington braced for what was expected to be a difficult day with Trump protesters in town.
What Bowman didn't expect, however, was what some had anticipated could become a riot would actually turn out into full insurrection.
"We were told the day before to come into the office early and stay in the office all day," Bowman told a small crowd gathered Thursday night at the Riverdale Monument. "We knew Trump was having a rally, and we know what Trump's rallies could be. So we were informed to stay in the office all day."
On the way to the Longworth House Office Building — one of five buildings surrounding the Capitol where congressional members have offices — Bowman stopped for a breakfast sandwich and a coffee.
"I come out of the cafe in the morning, and I see this guy dragging a giant wooden cross down the street," Bowman said. "And, you know, I'm flashing back to the Jim Crow south and everything I read about in history, but something that — what the heck? — is happening today."
On this anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol that left five people dead in its wake, Bowman stayed close to home in his district. At dinnertime, he drove up to the Riverdale Monument where a dozen people from North Bronx Racial Justice gathered in spite of freezing temperatures to remember what happened in Washington with a candlelight vigil.
Bowman made the rounds talking about what happened that day on both national and local news — including a conversation with reporter Ethan Stark-Miller found in the Jan. 6 edition of The Riverdale Press — but it really wasn't until the anniversary of the insurrection approached the congressman said he really had a chance to think about it.
"Today is the first time I really reflected on everything," Bowman said. "It's like the first time to really process what the hell happened. But that day, I was just staring at the TV. "
Bowman himself wasn't hurt that day physically, but it left other kinds of scars, including some that prompted him to beef up security, "because I didn't know what the heck was going to happen." Coming into the airport, or even making a stop for his breakfast sandwich, was something that just didn't feel as safe anymore — even in Washington.
Biden spoke from Capitol Hill today making it clear — without invoking his name — that the blame for the Jan. 6 insurrection lies solely at the feet of Donald Trump, and the Republicans who back the man over their own party or ideologies.
Bowman, however, took a different approach. For him, it's not about being Democratic or Republican, progressive or moderate, or even socialist or capitalist.
"The real fight is against fascism," the congressman said. "For our democracy. We absolutely have to unite against that because America hasn't been perfect for many people for a long time. So this is why 'Build Back Better' is a terrible name, but actually makes sense, because we do want to build back better than we've ever been."
Many — including some of Bowman's own colleagues on Capitol Hill who were there that day — have dismissed what happened as nothing more than a non-event. But the congressman sees it much differently, echoing the president's words that what happened Jan. 6 goes against the very essence of what the United States was founded upon.
"We care about this imperfect country that hasn't done well for many people, but we care," Bowman said. "We care because we know what's possible. That we can get our act together.
"So I just want to continue to love on you, and continue to get us to love on each other, so that together we can get our act together, because love always defeats hate."