Webster student Shaeleigh Parsons stared down at the big, painted yellow letters that spanned across the street in front of the Old Courthouse in St. Louis. They spelled out two words: Resign Hawley.
On Jan. 9 Webster sophomore Shaeleigh Parsons gathered with her family and other protesters outside of the Old Courthouse in St. Louis. Those in attendance brought signs, listened to speakers, painted “Resign Hawley” on the street and danced together.
The protesters were calling on Sen. Josh Hawley to resign following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol in Washington D.C. Parsons, along with others at Webster University, feel as though Hawley helped fuel the false idea of a fraudulent election.
“That was truly like protest to me, you know, such an opposite of what we were seeing on the sixth of the violence,” Parsons said. “This was actually about being in community and trying to raise a message together out of peace and out of community rather than out of conflict.”
Webster sophomore Morgan Antisdel also went to the Resign Hawley protest with a friend. She heard about the protest when others from Occupy City Hall STL – which she had been involved in over the summer – posted about the event. Antisdel felt Hawley played a role in what she called the “white supremacist violence” on Jan. 6.
Hawley did not return The Journal’s request for an interview. However, he did explain his perspective in a guest column for the Southeast Missourian on Jan. 14.
In the column, Hawley said Democrats had objected to the certification process during the 2000, 2004 and 2016 elections. He wrote that American democracy allows us to debate ideas and hear differing perspectives.
“But democratic debate is not mob violence,” Hawley wrote. “It is in fact how we avoid that violence.”
Although the weather was cold and bleak, Antisdel said the crowd was full of energy. She also noted she felt a strong sense of community at the protest as people danced together and worked to get the street painted.
“I’ve noticed that when I’m at protests and events like that there is just a really strong sense of community and like you can just feel that and feel safe and appreciated and valued for your presence,” Antisdel said.
Parsons was one of the attendees who stepped forward to help complete the “Resign Hawley” painting. Afterward, she snapped a picture of her hands – speckled with yellow paint – and uploaded the images to Facebook and Instagram.
“The paint on my hands is because of the blood spilled on yours,” she wrote in her posts.
According to Parsons, she wanted the post to pique people’s curiosity. She said her goal was to bring attention to some of the responsibility she thinks Hawley could take for what happened on Jan. 6.
“If it was just Trump saying these things then, of course, he would have supporters but when you have these other politicians backing him up it makes him seem like he actually has some credibility even in places where he doesn’t,” Parsons said. “I think that it definitely was part of the cause for sure.”
Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and psychology professor Michael Hulsizer agreed. He said while Trump perpetuated the idea of a “stolen election” even before Nov. 3, Hawley’s credibility as an elected official could have encouraged more people to believe the “Big Lie.” Hulsizer is referring to the idea that the election could be overturned. He thinks Hawley and other senators like Sen. Ted Cruz added to the hope that the results could be changed when they objected.
However, in the guest column, Hawley wrote he had received messages from constituents who were concerned about the election. He said he felt it was his job to share their concerns with Congress.
“[Missourians] want Congress to take action to see that our elections at every level are free, fair, and secure,” Hawley wrote. “They have a right to be heard in Congress. And as their representative, it is my duty to speak on their behalf. That is just what I did last week.”
Webster University Conservatives President Derek DeMartino said he does not believe there was widespread voter fraud. However, he does think Congress should work to pass laws that increase security and voter confidence.
To DeMartino, objecting during the certification was not the right way for Hawley to raise concerns of election fraud or push for future changes.
“I get that you believe that the election was stolen … but this is not the right way to go about it,” DeMartino said. “You do it through the legal system, through the courts, and if that fails you pack up your bags and you live to fight another day.”
Multiple court cases dismissed allegations of widespread voter fraud.
Antisdel said Hawley has constituents like herself who disagreed with the idea there was fraud in the election. Parsons said he should have looked at the evidence and not have acted like there was definite fraud if he wanted to represent all of his constituents.
DeMartino agreed Hawley played a role in spreading misinformation about the election. While DeMartino said he does not believe Hawley’s objections would meet the legal definition of “incitement,” he thought Hawley did help further polarize the nation and make people think the election was stolen.
“[The misinformation] motivated them to go protest at the capitol,” DeMartino said. “While he did not directly say, ‘Oh, go riot the Capitol. Stop this from happening,’ you know, that is what happened.”
Hawley did condemn the violence at the Capitol. On Jan. 8, his official website posted a press release following the death of Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick.
“These acts of violence were criminal. They must be condemned. And they must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” He wrote.
Antisdel said, as a prison abolitionist, she does not think sending people to prison will change their ideologies. She said, in the case of white supremacy, white allies need to help create change.
“I think it’s up to white people that are allies to be able to use love to break down the barriers of being able to have those conversations with other white people that are thinking really extreme thoughts like white supremacist thoughts,” Antisdel said.
As a peace psychologist, Hulsizer said it was good for Hawley to condemn violence. Hulsizer also believes Hawley needs to apologize and admit President-elect Joe Biden won the election fairly. He said part of healing and moving toward unity also means accepting the consequences of your mistakes.
“I think it’s clear that he played a role in this. He may argue the extent to which but clearly he should apologize at the very least,” Hulsizer said. “I think if enough people in this state believe that he should resign … in order to bring us together, so to speak, he should consider [resigning].”
DeMartino said he is unsure if he thinks Hawley should resign, but he does not plan on voting for him in the future. He thinks the desire for Hawley to resign is valid, though, and pointed out Hawley is already experiencing consequences as he loses financial and voter support. DeMartino hopes the backlash causes Hawley to think about his role in spreading misinformation and raising tensions.
Parsons does not plan on attending protests calling on Hawley to resign again until after Inauguration Day – when she thinks the threat of violence will be over. Until then, Parsons encourages people to continue being vocal through emails, calls and social media.
She said while protests and speaking out may cause division, she thinks some of that divide is helpful. According to Parsons, she wants to separate herself from people who are racist or are wanting to cause violence.
“As much as we need to be connected and we need to look at people that don’t think just like us, that doesn’t mean that we have to then accept the oppression and everything that they are causing,” Parsons said. “I think it can be kind of a fine line sometimes.”
Antisdel said it is difficult but important for white people to examine their own racism so they can work to create positive change in others.
“It’s really hard for us to confront it but it’s incredibly important so that we can actually make change and come together,” Antisdel said.
DeMartino also thinks coming together – in the form of bipartisanship – is what we need moving forward. He also said that while Hawley is still in office, we should look at his policies before deciding to support or oppose him. For example, he pointed to Hawley’s role in pushing for $2,000 stimulus checks as something both sides of the aisle could support.
“I don’t want to completely demonize anybody into believing that because they’ve done something wrong that they can never do something good again,” DeMartino said. “And I think that’s important to realize for both sides whether you’re thinking that about Nancy Pelosi or you’re thinking that from Josh Hawley or anybody like that.”
According to Hulsizer, looking at people through an us-versus-them mindset has divided us and made it difficult for each side to listen to one another. Personally, Hulsizer said he has friends on both sides of the aisle and watches MSNBC and Fox News. He said it is important for us as individuals to use critical thinking, gather all the information on topics we can and avoid putting people into us or them categories.
“If we do that and we’re serious about it, we can actually help unite the country,” Hulsizer said, “or we could put our heads in the sand and listen to the T.V. stations or look at the online blogs and what have you and just keep going down that path.”
Correction: The Journal misidentified Shaeleigh Parsons as Shaeleigh Claire. The text has been edited to account for this mistake. The Journal apologizes for this error.