I was 18 years old the first time I visited Washington, D.C. and the Capitol, on a school trip sponsored by Westside High School. Even with the nonchalance that comes with youth, I palpably felt the solemnity and uniqueness of our great country. The Library of Congress brings silence to me in its sheer beauty, but the Capitol building spurs me to action.
Over the years, I visited Washington a few more times and still found the awe I experienced as a youth. In 2014, my husband was elected to Congress and the Capitol took on an entirely new meaning.
During orientation for new members of Congress and spouses, there was a reception in the Capitol for all of us. It was hosted by Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. They delivered a message of working together for the sake of our democratic union, to the benefit of the American people. They noted those newly elected were among fewer than 11,000 people in history to have been elected to serve the longest continuous democracy.
The Democratic members in attendance that evening adjourned to a dinner in Statuary Hall. It’s one of the most sacred places in our country. It was the location of the first House of Representatives chamber in the Capitol and has plaques on the floor where Americans of note had their desks located. It is an awe-inspiring experience to stand where Abraham Lincoln had his desk as a congressman.
The magic of the Capitol is that it is not just a monument. It is a living, breathing place full of hope, dreams, arguments, successes and failures. It is a bright shining beacon and representation to the world of what democracy looks like. It was constructed largely on the backs of slaves and indentured servants, and their sacrifices are palpable there. They built the most tangible symbol of our democracy while not being the beneficiaries of our ideals of freedom and equal opportunity.
For all of our faults and foibles, the Capitol represents the best of what our nation can be. It is a place of inspiration, not insurrection. It is the location for spirited discourse, not trampling our free press. It is a site to establish and continue our democracy, not to fill with hands grasping zip ties seeking to savage lawmakers, including the vice president.
The Capitol embodies the peaceful transition of power with the inauguration of new presidents. It is not meant as a battleground for people who cannot accept truth. Our Capitol is a workplace for staffers to pour their hearts into public service and contemplate potential futures as elected officials. It is not a place to cower under tables behind blockaded doors wondering if the threats yelled on the other side will come to fruition.
Our Capitol is the place where the states each exhibit two statues of notable individuals from that state. It is not meant to be broken, marred, trampled upon nor smeared with the excrement of spineless terrorists. Our Capitol was saved on 9/11 by the brave passengers, pilots and flight attendants aboard United Flight 93. They did not save it so a president could incite his followers who believe his lies to march on it and seek out perceived enemies.
The events of Jan. 6, 2021, were unimaginable prior to the last four years. But the last four years have been leading up to this moment. The horrible result is that five people died as a result of the events that day. A president who lost re-election is such a damaged person that he spurred on hate. Some members of Congress, homegrown terrorist organizations and even the fundraising arm of the Republican State Attorneys General assisted in making the unimaginable a reality.
We are better than this. We must come together. We must fully prosecute everyone who took part in this and take all conceivable actions to prevent it from ever happening again. And then we must figure out how to talk to one another, truly hear, and then act with the common good for all Americans as the only barometer.
Our Capitol deserves better. The legacies of the slaves who built it deserve better. Our children deserve better. Our world deserves better. We deserve better.
Ann Ashford, of Omaha, is an attorney and human resources professional.