Living in a Militarized Downtown Springfield

Living in a Militarized Downtown Springfield

Photographs courtesy of Jace T. King

Several days after the historic storming of the United States Capitol on January 6, plans were made by those who were a part of the “Stop the Steal” movement to demonstrate at every state legislature in all 50 states. On January 15, Governor Pritzker activated the Illinois National Guard to protect the surrounding area from potential unrest, and they remained present right up until the inauguration of President Biden on January 20. Living a block from the Illinois State Capitol made this event much more surreal than I would have expected.

The morning of Saturday, January 16, I found myself looking outside my bedroom window to see camouflage Humvees, state trooper vehicles, and a military force armed with rifles. The sight was bizarre, almost otherworldly, as if I was living in an alternate universe in which the peaceful transference of power no longer existed. History was happening right before my eyes, a moment that will be taught in classrooms and textbooks for years to come.

I grabbed my coat and camera, hopping onto my apartment elevator. I found myself out in the cold, looking directly at several armed National Guard members standing at numerous roadblocks. As I walked toward the Capitol building, I noticed that the roadways were eerily silent from a lack of traffic, the only exception being a military surveillance drone whirring hundreds of feet above me. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread at this moment – not only for my own safety, but for our country’s as well. The vitriol of the past four years spewed on both sides had brought us to the point where even the most sacred institutions of democracy are in danger.

Before I knew it, I found myself at the intersection of Monroe and Second St., where three guardsmen with rifles were posted in the center of the road. I walked cautiously towards the men and asked through my mask, “Is it alright if I go up and take photos of the Capitol?” It was a bizarre exchange, asking for permission to proceed towards the People’s house. I was surprised by their relaxed response, giving me the thumbs-up to proceed. For what was feared to become a demonstration of massive proportions, the Capitol grounds were barren. I quickly found myself at the entrance doors, only to be met with plywood boards covering every possible entryway and window. The Illinois government had successfully prepared for, and prevented, another riot from taking place against our democratic process.

These past few weeks can easily be described as unprecedented times, filled with extreme political polarization and a potential insurrection. The riot at the United States Capitol building should be seen as a wake-up call to those running our government. There is a large portion of our country which believes that the needs of the people are not being met, and the wealth involved with politics has left our politicians’ motives corrupted. This is a time of potentially Civil War-era levels of dissatisfaction with the United States government. The need for unity is at an all-time high, and whether or not the new presidential administration under Biden can bring that unity is yet to be determined. Sadly, in my personal opinion, the United States needs more than a Biden – we need a Lincoln to heal these wounds.

Photographs courtesy of Jace T. King
Photographs courtesy of Jace T. King  
Photographs courtesy of Jace T. King