Giving tours of the Capitol Building was my favorite responsibility the semester I interned in the House of Representatives. I had the chance to meet constituents and feign a thorough knowledge of one of America’s most beautiful and iconic buildings. I led visitors through the Old Senate and Supreme Court chambers, Statuary Hall, and the Rotunda. We admired a golden replica of the Magna Carta, stood on the geographic center of the city, and studied the intricacies of the House chamber.
I sat in the gallery the night the government shut down in 2013. I carried a co-signed bill on the Capitol subway and took an elevator for Authorized Persons Only, delivering the bill to a covert door in a hallway near the Speaker of the House’s office. I attended caucus meetings as a proxy for my congressman’s legislative assistants. I joined prayer meetings as an equal among congress members and went unquestioned in certain areas as security recognized my badge. I had my hair cut by Joe Q., whose shop is in the Rayburn House Office Building, and who also cut the hair of George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Al Gore, and Ted Kennedy.
As a political science major, I never stopped “geeking out” that I was daily walking through places I had previously only known in a textbook and living in a city where what happens there propels world events. History happened while I was there, for better and worse, and history has happened since I left, for better and worse.
I’ve long lamented that Sandy Hook is not just an elementary school in Connecticut to most Americans; that I know nothing about the towns of Columbine, Colorado or Parkland, Florida; that when I google Flint, Michigan, I have to weed through a lot of news to discover “must-see” attractions if I were to visit. I hope that the events of January 6, 2021, are never simplified by saying, “what happened at the Capitol.”
The storming of the Capitol Building that I witnessed live on CSPAN was eerie, historical, sacrilegious, and unsettling.
Knowing where the felonious protestors were, having walked those same hallways seven years ago, it was as if a South American coup was photoshopped into my living room. My mind raced, trying to learn the hows and whys of all who were there, considering the short and long-term consequences of this day, and watching with my 9-month-old, wondering what he would learn of this day and this country when he goes to school. The gravity of the disrespect perpetrated was lost on no one.
International news outlets reported as if they had the same emotions and questions I did. It’s said that 100 miles are nothing to an American while 100 years are nothing to a European. I was reminded of the fragility of an empire, that “The American Experiment” is her most apt nickname, not even 250 years long.
Too often, I’ve mused what it would be like to live in a country where the government was unstable or oppressive. Where a wheelbarrow of cash would buy a loaf of bread, where the beginning of the nation is within my own life, or the thought that I may see its end is ever-present. What would change about the way I budget? Would I have any semblance of job security? How could I ensure personal safety for my family?
All these thoughts flashed in my head as I watched CSPAN. In the week since, as details come to light and reactionary actions are taken by congressional leaders and social media CEOs, I remember Benjamin Franklin’s wisdom from 1789.
“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”