Con­cerns about COVID-19’s delta vari­ant led to a late change to the for­mat for Net­roots Nation, the annu­al gath­er­ing of pro­gres­sive lead­ers that NPI par­tic­i­pates in every year. Rather than being held in a hybrid for­mat as orig­i­nal­ly planned, with an in-per­son com­po­nent in Wash­ing­ton D.C., the con­fer­ence is tak­ing place exclu­sive­ly online, with atten­dees gath­er­ing vir­tu­al­ly via Socio and Zoom.

One of the ini­tial ses­sions at this year’s con­fer­ence was a fea­tured pan­el mod­er­at­ed by Melis­sa Ryan that exam­ined the last­ing attacks of the Jan­u­ary 6th attack on the Unit­ed States Capi­tol by a ter­ror­ist mob incit­ed by Don­ald Trump.

Ten months have passed since that awful day, and it remains trau­mat­ic for many peo­ple who only viewed it from a dis­tance on tele­vi­sion or social networks.

But there are those for whom the impacts rever­ber­ate even stronger, for whom it isn’t an event they can push aside — and that is the thou­sands of peo­ple, from ser­vice work­ers to mem­bers of Con­gress, who work on the Hill every day.

The pan­el, gath­er­ing to dis­cuss these effects and how our nation can move for­ward from this attack, con­sist­ed of Sarah Groh, Chief of Staff for Con­gress­woman Ayan­na Press­ley; Ted Lieu, U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Cal­i­for­ni­a’s 33rd Dis­trict; Sarah Iddris­su, Chief of Staff to Con­gress­man Jamaal Bow­man: and Matthew Fuller, Senior Pol­i­tics Edi­tor at the Dai­ly Beast.

All four pan­elists were present on the Hill when a vio­lent mob, incit­ed by for­mer Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, laid siege on our nation’s Capitol.

“I want to make plain,” said Groh, “that these threats are persistent.”

The dis­cus­sion start­ed with each pan­elist recount­ing their expe­ri­ences before, dur­ing, and after the event.

“I was enraged that there was no trans­porta­tion plan,” said Iddris­su, describ­ing a moment fol­low­ing the attack with a woman who had no means to go home aside from tak­ing the bus, despite the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty the attack posed on staff mem­bers. “The lack of pro­tec­tion that our staff and ser­vice work­ers felt reverberates.”

Those vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties were sec­ond­ed by Fuller, who was one of the last peo­ple to be evac­u­at­ed. While the sto­ries of mem­bers of Con­gress have been wide­ly report­ed, the lack of sup­port and pro­tec­tion was keen­ly felt by the cus­to­di­ans, food work­ers, and ser­vice work­ers on the Hill, who, in his words: “don’t have the perch or priv­i­lege to make their sto­ries known.”

Fuller gives tours of the Capi­tol, and talked about how jar­ring it was to come to work every day with glass still shat­tered, and blood still on the floor for weeks fol­low­ing the attack. It was “like liv­ing and work­ing in a crime scene,” he said.

Lieu, who was in Can­non House when the attack occurred, described the moment he real­ized the nature of the attack.

“Not only was this mob attack­ing Capi­tol Hill, they were incit­ed to do so by the then-Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States,” he said.

It was then he and his col­leagues start­ed draft­ing the arti­cles of impeachment.

“The then-Pres­i­dent was still going to be in office until Jan­u­ary 20th. We [did­n’t] know what oth­er crazy things he was going to do.”

In addi­tion to the trau­ma of work­ing in this envi­ron­ment, secu­ri­ty on the Hill has been upgrad­ed too. Mem­bers of Con­gress like Lieu are now giv­en 247 secu­ri­ty by Capi­tol Police, mea­sures that weren’t seen as nec­es­sary before.

While all pan­elists expressed a per­sis­tent feel­ing of a lack of safe­ty on the grounds, they stressed that this threat was dou­bly so for peo­ple of col­or on the Hill.

“It was white suprema­cy and trib­al­ism that attacked our iden­ti­ties, not just the Capi­tol,” Iddris­su said.

Ryan then asked the pan­elists how they approach what their staff needs in terms of support.

Iddris­su said that nor­mal­iz­ing men­tal health was nec­es­sary in con­tin­u­ing to work in a site of ongo­ing trau­ma. “We need to be nor­mal­iz­ing ther­a­py in our workspaces.”

Groh added that account­abil­i­ty was “crit­i­cal” fol­low­ing these attacks.

Though many, includ­ing Press­ley, drew com­par­isons to the attacks to Sep­tem­ber 11th, 2001, Groh expressed con­cern that the pub­lic nar­ra­tive was­n’t address­ing the issue with the grav­i­ty it deserved. She not­ed that for her and oth­er mem­bers of Press­ley’s staff, these sorts of threats were not new.

Ryan then asked Fuller how real­is­tic it was to expect reporters to remain objec­tive. Fuller described a shift in the land­scape of jour­nal­ism fol­low­ing the attacks–where before, there seemed to be an expec­ta­tion for reporters to prac­tice neu­tral­i­ty and objec­tiv­i­ty, that pres­sure has shifted.

“You won’t see peo­ple quot­ing [peo­ple like] Josh Haw­ley with­out acknowl­edg­ing their role,” he said. For him, part of the work of account­abil­i­ty was this sea change in the work of the press to be hon­est, and acknowl­edge the dam­ages caused by these events.

The pan­el then moved onto what account­abil­i­ty should look like in Congress.

Lieu empha­sized his­toric account­abil­i­ty — this was one of the rea­sons he and his col­leagues draft­ed arti­cles of impeach­ment. In addi­tion to being “the right thing to do,” this action gives per­ma­nent record that a for­mer Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States incit­ed an insur­rec­tion on the Nation’s most hal­lowed grounds.

He also stressed polit­i­cal account­abil­i­ty through the bal­lot box, mak­ing sure that Democ­rats win midterms. And final­ly, he said there must be account­abil­i­ty through some of the com­mit­tees that have been set up.

At the time of the record­ing, the Jan­u­ary 6th Com­mit­tee is con­tin­u­ing to inves­ti­gate the insur­rec­tion, call­ing wit­ness­es, to even­tu­al­ly present a “fuller pre­sen­ta­tion to the Amer­i­can peo­ple to make sure this nev­er hap­pens again.”

Ryan then asked the pan­elists about staff mem­bers work­ing along­side mem­bers who were part of the efforts to incite the attack.

“Those who had a role [in the attack] do not have an inter­est in gov­ern­ing,” said Groh. “They don’t spend their days in com­mit­tees or intro­duc­ing bills.”

Iddris­su added that the actions of Repub­li­can mem­bers of Con­gress beyond the insur­rec­tion con­tin­ue to con­tribute to a hos­tile work environment.

“Lit­tle things like not wear­ing a mask, or pre­tend­ing to cough as a joke […] that make it impos­si­ble to work with peo­ple who don’t care for the well­ness of our coun­try,” she said.

Both Lieu and Iddris­su acknowl­edged that Repub­li­can mem­bers of Con­gress seemed to be exist­ing in a dif­fer­ent real­i­ty alto­geth­er, one where the events on Jan­u­ary 6th isn’t a big deal. Lieu said this sort of incom­pat­i­bil­i­ty did­n’t exist dur­ing his nine years in the Cal­i­for­nia State Leg­is­la­ture pri­or to his tenure in Con­gress, and it’s only in the last four years that this style of Repub­li­can­ism has emerged.

“We would work with the same set of facts,” he said. “But when some­one tells you an apple is actu­al­ly a banana, you can’t work with that person.”

But despite the dour depic­tion of the dynam­ics inside the Capi­tol, the pan­elists expressed opti­mism and hope for the future.

Ryan not­ed more and more offi­cials hold­ing white suprema­cist, patri­ar­chal, and xeno­pho­bic views are fill­ing leg­isla­tive seats in states across Amer­i­ca, before ask­ing: “Can democ­ra­cy sur­vive if the things that are hap­pen­ing in the halls of Con­gress are also hap­pen­ing in state halls across country?”

The answer across the board was a resound­ing yes.

Lieu acknowl­edged the impor­tance of draft­ing con­gres­sion­al maps, and cit­ed numer­ous instances where mea­sures of account­abil­i­ty have held strong or been suc­cess­ful, such as the Mueller report.

These, he said, are proof that our democ­ra­cy may still hold.

Groh said that it was impor­tant that we acknowl­edge the facts of the event — that we con­tin­ue to call the insur­rec­tion exact­ly what it was: “an infil­tra­tion by orga­nized and vio­lent white supremacists.”

Iddris­su agreed that this attack was not new — indeed, events in our his­to­ry, from slav­ery to Tul­sa, to the ongo­ing threats of police bru­tal­i­ty against Black peo­ple, Latine peo­ple, Native peo­ple, and Asian Amer­i­cans are part of our nation’s story.

Through­out the dis­cus­sion, pan­elists men­tioned an accu­mu­la­tion of aggres­sions, from the paint­ings depict­ing vio­lence against Indige­nous peo­ple in the halls of Con­gress, to the white suprema­cist rhetoric present online, that sug­gest and under­cur­rent of the sen­ti­ments that moti­vat­ed the attacks. But by acknowl­edg­ing this, the pan­elists seemed to say, we can con­tin­ue to hold our nation accountable.

Fuller, who works as a jour­nal­ist, added that his pro­fes­sion needs to pro­vide ongo­ing scruti­ny of Repub­li­can can­di­dates going forward.

“If you’re a Repub­li­can,” he asks, “what’s moti­vat­ing you to run for office? Are you try­ing to fix things, or are you going along with the Trump narrative?”

The pan­elists round­ed off its dis­cus­sion by empha­siz­ing the need to ele­vate ser­vice work­ers and vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple who make up the Capi­tol staff.

While there is a lot of uncer­tain­ty, and every­one is till recov­er­ing from a trau­ma that will clear­ly take time to heal, the mes­sage is clear that as long as there are mem­bers of Con­gress and jour­nal­is­tic integri­ty to com­bat this white suprema­cist vio­lence, there is opti­mism for the future.

“I look for­ward to the day when I can look at the E front door and say “that’s the East front door — that’s where the Pres­i­dent walks through,” said Fuller.

About the author

Caya is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor based out of Spokane, Washington, writing about Lilac City politics, the Evergreen State's 5th Congressional District, and related politics. She previously hosted the inaugural episodes of NPI's PNWcurrents podcast. She works at the Unemployment Law Project and is a graduate of Central Washington University, with a bachelor's degree in liberal arts and sciences. Caya also has a minor from CWU in law and justice.

Adjacent posts