As white supremacists stormed our nation’s Capitol on Wednesday, the text messages and e-mails were coming so quickly that it was just easier to copy and paste a form response to nervous friends, family, and loved ones: “I’m home safe. Thank you for checking on me. This is horrifying.”
Like the rest of America, I watched the chaos unfold on TV. Although I was about a mile away from the Capitol building, I feared for the safety of my colleagues and friends who were in the complex, as well as the thousands of staff — especially the Black and brown support workers — who dutifully keep the sprawling Capitol complex humming every day.
We never pass without a smile and sometimes a gentle nod that signals, “I see you, brother, I see you, sister.” This exchange is spiritually familiar to every Black Hill staffer who is accustomed to going long stretches without seeing another Black face in their workday. I feared for them on Wednesday.
I’ve had the honor of working in the Senate for Senator Elizabeth Warren for over six years. I’m proud to be on her team. I’m proud to be Black in this space and in these halls of power. It carries a profound sense of duty and responsibility to my community. One that I carry close to my chest, because that’s how we work.
One of the core philosophies of being a Hill staffer is to do the work quietly, in the wings of history. We are not in the spotlight. We support our bosses, whom the people elected, and help advance their priorities for the country and, in my case, for Massachusetts.
The action is on the House and Senate floor. We are the supporting players, and most of us prefer it that way. But seeing staff fleeing a violent mob, hiding in barricaded offices, calling and texting loved ones to say “I love you,” just in case — the tragedy had moved to the wings. It was almost too much to watch.
This is the image I can’t forget.— Josh Delaney (@jddelaney) January 7, 2021
I’ve walked this hall 100s maybe 1000s of times w/pride & sense of duty around being a Black staffer in this space.
But this message is loud & clear.
Spent yesterday texting friends & fam I’m ok. Seeing this picture I realize. No, I’m not. pic.twitter.com/x7hGazMkHQ
The image that shook me was the Confederate flag being carried confidently and brazenly through the halls of Congress. Historians have noted that not even during the Civil War did this violent symbol of white power and oppression penetrate the halls of our Capitol. And yet, a white mob had successfully and violently ushered this hate into the bowels of Congress. The chilling contrast between these images and the images of violence used against mostly peaceful protesters for Black lives last summer was profound.
Growing up in Georgia, I saw that flag several times a week in front of homes, restaurants, and stores as a symbol of hate that carried a simple message: You are not welcomed here.
But this was the first time I’d seen that message on display at my place of work. I’ve walked the halls of Congress so often that I probably take for granted how my very presence in the building is a miracle — the result of years of hard-fought civil rights victories and justice work. And consequently, a threat to racists and white nationalists who wish to take us back to whenever they perceived America was “great.”
I spent most of the afternoon letting friends know I was OK and safe, but this photo made me realize, no, I’m not. And the rioters in that mob did not intend for me or my colleagues to feel safe.
My native state of Georgia proved this week what our civil rights giants, including fellow Georgians the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Representative John Lewis, told us: Progress is not inevitable, but it’s possible with lots of hard work. And this week’s historic and momentous elections of the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to represent Georgia in the Senate allow me to carry a well of hope that it’s darkest before dawn.
But Jan. 6 was an ugly day for our democracy and for our nation. It was also traumatic for the countless public servants who proudly serve without recognition or glory to keep our country moving forward.
We are resilient. We will heal from this trauma together. We will get back to the quiet, important work of the nation. We will keep marching forward. But for now, it’s OK to acknowledge that no, we are not OK.
Josh Delaney is deputy legislative director for Senator Elizabeth Warren.