SACKETS HARBOR — With a few friends and his RV, Don Pitcher left for Washington, D.C., at about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and drove through the night to watch the president speak publicly for what could be the last time while in office.
It was supposed to be a final chance to make his voice heard peacefully, but the ensuing chaos turned into what the Sackets Harbor man considers to be a tragedy beyond belief.
Five people are dead as a result of a group breaching the Capitol on Wednesday. It also left teachers everywhere, like at Indian River Central School District, with another giant task of helping students process the rapid and evolving flood of information.
At about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, Mr. Pitcher, a registered Democrat who has lived most of his life in Jefferson County, parked his RV in Washington with a clear view of the Lincoln Memorial.
It was hours ahead of President Donald J. Trump’s rally to thousands of his supporters, during which the president would voice what they call the “stop the steal” of the election. Mr. Pitcher and his friends made ham sandwiches and grilled cheese sandwiches as they sipped coffee and passed some cups out to people walking by. The atmosphere was upbeat and energetic, he said.
“This, in my opinion, was just a last chance to see our president and support our president,” he said. “I’m still going to support whoever is in power, but I wanted my voice to be heard.”
Mr. Pitcher said the Democratic Party left him.
He doesn’t like how Mr. Trump addresses people all the time, but he is happy with his results — namely the economy, peace deals and Mr. Pitcher’s overall view that the president put America first. As he watched him speak at the rally, Mr. Pitcher said his interpretation of the call from the president to march to the Capitol was to do it in a peaceful way and with respect for the authorities.
He said he could tell there was some frustration among the group as they walked toward the Capitol, but he still thought it was the best way to further their voices. Mr. Pitcher said he and his friends eventually broke away from the crowd, before a minority among the thousands stormed the Capitol. He and his friends went back to their RV, and it wasn’t until they were driving home later that day that they heard about the breach. It was something he would never condone, he said.
“It really saddened me and everybody else with us because we’re not about that,” Mr. Pitcher said. “We’re pro-police, we’re pro-America and we’re not about that at all. It’s unfortunate to say the least that those people spoiled a good event.”
That there was never a real chance the election could be overturned was disappointing to Mr. Pitcher.
“It’s a done deal,” he said. “I don’t have to sign on to all his (President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s) policies. I hope that he does the right thing going forward with the country.”
Meanwhile, back home at Indian River schools, Vicki L. McCullouch, the instructional coach for K-12 social studies, was scrambling to make a plan for the department she heads. She spent Wednesday night into early Thursday on educational Twitter and online social studies groups. What she kept coming back to was it isn’t the time to have a debate, especially with the students.
“We can’t have controversial issue conversations about things as they are happening,” she said. “The kids need time to process, and honestly we as adults need time to process.”
The information is raw and scary for some, especially since many of the students have a military background.
“Some of them are thinking, ‘What is going to happen to mom and dad,’” Ms. McCullouch said. “If they were paying attention, that was probably the first thing that went through their mind.”
As a result, she put out a notice to her teachers saying the events on Wednesday would likely charge some emotion into some students, and to not broach the issue unless the kids ask.
If they do, then teachers were asked — without pushing their own beliefs — to examine what they know or show images, but to ultimately help students think critically.
“Really our approach came down to a lot of listening and taking our lead from the kids, knowing that information right now may be raw,” she said. “And generally speaking, at this point in the year, we know how students are going to react.”