In December, I left my warm sunny apartment in California to travel home to Maryland and quarantine with my family for the holiday season. It was great, but after a few weeks stuck at home, I was getting a little antsy. It was difficult to write at home and I thought a few days in D.C. would help give me a little writing boost. So in January I decided to book an Airbnb for myself near H-Street. I wanted to spend a few days alone downtown walking around the Hill, taking pictures for my defense presentation, and pushing out a few chapters of my dissertation. Little did I know what kind of mess was about to ensue.
I heard that election protest were happening the day of my arrival, but like everyone else in D.C., I didn’t think it would interfere with my plans. People are always protesting something in D.C. The make signs, the chant a lot, they state their grievances, and then they go home. But obviously this time was different.
Just as I was grabbing my backpack from the car, I got a call from my Mom saying the pro-Trump protest downtown had turned into a riot, and that riot was directly targeted at the U.S. Capitol, while Members of Congress were certifying the votes of the election. I was only a few blocks away after taking a walk to Stanton Park.
The general public knows the rest of the story. The Capitol, my Capitol, our Capitol, was stormed. Windows were shattered, offices were destroyed, items were stolen, and peoples lives were taken. It was a devastating event, especially for those that care about Congress so much.
I recieved an emergency warning on my phone that D.C. was going into curfew mode. I had only a few hours to grab some food from the local Trader Joes and hunker down in my Airbnb. As I walked back from the Trader Joes, I saw men in camoflage, holding Trump flags, and wearing red hats. Just before I arrived at the airbnb, I saw families on house stoops blowing some sort of make-shift horn from what looked like a cow horn. A large truck went by with Trump flags garnered around the bed. It was an stressful sight to see.
Back at the Airbnb, all I could do was sit and doom-scroll Twitter as my friends in and around Congress tried to figure out what is going on, how Congress is going to get back in session, and how this could have happened in the first place. I felt a whirlwind of emotion. I never felt in danger being in D.C., but there was something ominous about watching something so sacred get torn apart – like the fractures that already existed were now ever more visible.
Those feelings of fracture seem to light my bran on fire as I rapidly pushed out a few thousand words of my dissertation. It was the perfect time and place to really word vomit all my thoughts and feelings and put them on paper. By the end of that visit, I had for the first time, a nearly full-draft of my dissertation.
The next day in D.C. felt worse. The rioters were replaced with an uncountable number of guards. My plans of walking around the Hill fell through. With atleast 15 national guards at every entrance, it was unlikely that they would be pleased with my taking pictures all morning.
If you talk to advocates of Congress – that’s probably what hurts the most. The outcomes of the riot left the people’s building more guarded and broken than ever before. Congress and the Member offices are supposed to be a place for everyone, but the fear of a secondary attack left the lawn empty and impenetrable. Even worse, the staffers that have dedicated their lives to the first branch were left in fear as they either watched from home – answering constituent calls, sometimes with death threats – or watched from the inside as they barricaded themselves in an office in close quarters to potential COVID-positive co-workers.
My time with Congress is slowly coming to an end, at least for now. That was probably the last time I will visit before my Ph.D. journey is complete. But if there was ever a good example of the need for better communication with the people, better mutual understanding, and an overall better functioning first-branch – that was is it. I only hope that these lowest lows will bring higher highs into the future.