About an hour before the first prime-time hearing of the House committee investigating the attack on the United States Capitol, people began pouring into the courtyard of a northwest church of Philadelphia.
They were there for a community watch event, one of about 90 organized by Liberal activists, urging people to gather to watch the rare evening TV audience together.
“I expect to be shocked, and I didn’t want to be shocked at home by myself,” said Melanie Brennan, who lives in the Mount Airy neighborhood where the event was held.
Brennan came to the watch event with a friend, Chauncey Harris. He had high expectations and said former President Donald Trump had evaded the consequences for too long.
“I hope for now that they can show people what the truth is, so that we can get rid of our personal opinions and just judge facts by facts,” he said before the start of the hearing. “That’s what I hope to happen. I hope we can get justice in this country”
Brennan and Harris were among those who gathered at Summit Presbyterian Church to watch the hearing live, as members of the House selection panel blamed the violence that devoured the Capitol on 6 January to the former president.
Before the hearing, Democratic State Rep. Chris Rabb, who represents that part of Philadelphia and spoke at the event, asked how many people would be listening.
“It’s likely that the majority of hard-working Americans won’t pay attention. And I’m not saying that as a judgment, I’m saying that as an observation,” he said. “And one of the reasons I feel like people don’t pay attention is that there are a lot of people just struggling to pay the bills.”
He called it a moment of collective action.
Before President Bennie Thompson set up the hearing, Tim Brown, one of the organizers of the event, presided over a satirical awards ceremony. The unflattering awards were handed out to Republican politicians.
“The top prize of the night is the Golden Boot Award, given to the most subservient and degrading act of bootlicking by a political toad,” Brown said.
The nominees for this award – again, really, not an award – were three Republican senators: Mitt Romney of Utah, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ted Cruz of Texas.
Brown, the organizing director of Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks, asked people to cheer for the politician to whom they would like to present the award. Cruz won hands down. A woman accepted a trophy, apparently in Cruz’s name, standing in front of the room with her arms outstretched, holding a single spray-painted golden boot.
“I think it’s important to add lightness to dark situations,” Brown said when asked about the role of the awards show. “In some cases, to relieve pressure from people, but also humor is a good way to get the message across.”
By the time the hearing began, more than 40 people were seated in folding metal chairs to watch the live broadcast, projected on a screen at the front of the room.
Initially, people mostly watched quietly, sometimes having side conversations with a neighbor or clapping to punctuate a point. That was until Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney, vice chair of the select committee, spoke.
When she addressed her fellow Republicans who boycotted the debates and portrayed them as illegitimate, the crowd roared so loudly it was hard to hear what Cheney said next.
“Tonight I say this to my fellow Republicans who stand for the indefensible,” she said. “There will come a day when Donald Trump will be gone, but your dishonor will remain.”
What Cheney said stuck with Raymond Torres, who also lives in Mount Airy and was preparing to leave as the committee took a brief break.
“I just remember the Watergate hearings when Senator Goldwater confronted Nixon and said you had to resign,” he said. “Republican senators didn’t really confront Trump and say he needed to stop lying. At least Liz Cheney was willing to do that.”
Torres said that while he thought many people were listening, he was concerned about those who didn’t find it necessary to watch the hearings.
“It was very sad that Fox News refused to cover this and acted as a spokesperson for [the] Republican Party, when it’s a country that needs to learn its history,” he said.
While other news networks aired evening television ratings, Fox News continued its typical prime-time programming.
Organizer Tim Brown also worried about who would be watching the audience. He said some people told him directly that if they couldn’t watch collectively, they wouldn’t at all.
When asked why, he replied: “Trauma”.
“People were shocked by some of the things that were said. A woman came up to me, she said, ‘I couldn’t have watched this alone, it was too scary. When you saw these people breaking through the Capitol, cops fighting for their lives, it was just awful.”