“… and staff”
An open letter to new Congressional Staffers following the tragic events of January 6
Dear new staffers:
We hope you’re okay. It’s not included in the briefing materials, or the job descriptions, but please know that the moment when you recognize that taking this job might put you in danger is a rite of passage for staffers. It shouldn’t be, but it is — although what you experienced on Wednesday is beyond what any of us ever dreamed would happen in this country.
I vividly remember that moment for me, when I sat through my first active-shooter briefing, delivered by a new coworker, a former Army medic. He was calm and matter-of-fact, thorough, and reassuring, even as he walked us through the details of what it would feel like to face an imminent threat. I remember going home feeling shaken, but also incredibly grateful for my team, who had put thought and hard-won experience into a plan for how we were going to protect each other. But even with a thorough briefing, the danger can feel so abstract.
That feeling is not limited to big events; sometimes it is the culmination of many small things. I remember once, after a few rough weeks — including some threatening voicemails and an upset constituent whose behavior bordered on stalking — crying in my therapist’s office about how the street-level window at my back in our district office gave me trouble breathing sometimes.
Solidarity is built in hard work and in difficult times, and working in Congress, you will have no shortage of both. ‘Alumni’ networks of current and former staff are famously tight-knit, and I cherish mine: people I know would have my back if I needed them, then and now.
The coverage yesterday had a frequent refrain: “…and staff.” While the photos were of your bosses scrambling out of Chambers in escape hoods, we know that you were there too, facing the same danger. We hope this is a reminder to all watching that Members and staff face the same challenges — Members may work 70 hour weeks, but staff hours and pay are also on average comparable to long-haul trucking, with the occasional bomb threat thrown in. Staff, let this also be a moment of advice: the Hill can unfortunately foster work environments without the respect for humanity that you all deserve. Do not accept behavior from bosses or colleagues that doesn’t acknowledge and respect the fact that you are putting yourself in potential harm’s way.
As a friend and coworker said in an internal message yesterday, one of the few things we can hope for is that the experience of being together ‘in the trenches’ yesterday will lead to a new solidarity on Capitol Hill, one that might nudge this old and fraying institution toward rebirth. This is not only true for Members, but also “…and staff.” No matter which side of the aisle you’re on, you’re inheriting the same broken system, and its consequences, and the same responsibility for making it better. As Committee on House Administration Ranking Member, Rodney Davis said recently to new Members, you too are now part of the institution you ran against.
Lean on each other. Know that you’re not alone. And make the institution something you can be proud to work for.
Hang in there.
Anne Meeker is a former Congressional Staffer and the Tech, Science and Data Program Director at POPVOX.