Every house has its domestic drama, and the People’s House, better known as the U.S. Capitol, is no exception. But whereas drama at the family home might simply involve raised voices and slamming doors, recent drama at the home of the U.S. Congress involved pepper spray being utilized, shots being fired, and windows being broken. The People’s House found itself in the middle of a mob.
The lyrics to British band Madness’ song “Our House” aptly describe the events of January 6, 2021. (It didn’t take long for the new year to hit the skids, now did it?) The second verse of this pop hit released in 1982 states, “Our house, it has a crowd. There’s always something happening and it’s usually quite loud.”
Newsworthy events typically take place at the seat of our country’s legislative branch, but they are normally verbal battles between sparring political opponents. A mob overrunning the premises is something new and quite disturbing. And the buzz about what happened is really loud.
The People’s House, of course, is nothing like the house you or I live in. For one thing, it is way older than any of our residences. The original structure was completed in 1800 and has undergone a number of expansions and renovations.
As you likely did not learn in school in American History, the Capitol Building’s expansion accomplished in the 1850’s utilized slaves for construction labor. Yes, the Northerners wanted to make sure this job was completed before they invaded the South to do away with the terrible institution of slavery. Apparently it was do as we say and not as we do….
The sheer size of this “house” distinguishes the Capitol from the residence of John Q. Citizen. The Capitol Building, a National Historic Landmark, is the 5th tallest structure in Washington, D.C., and its grounds cover approximately 274 acres. Its location would warm a realtor’s heart concerned with location, location, location. The People’s House is situated on Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall.
And you think you get tired of visitors to your house? You’ve got nothing on the legislative branch. Three to five million people from around the world visit the People’s House each year. Nevertheless, the numbers have plunged since the Capitol Building has been closed to the public due to the pandemic.
The uninvited mob which rudely and illegally entered the People’s House on January 6th will, of course, unexpectedly add to the number of visitors in 2021. An accurate number of those who “stopped by” for a visit that day cannot be obtained. Even a reliable estimate of the unruly crowd is difficult because aerial photos are not permitted in Washington, D.C. due to security concerns. And, after January 6th, I’d say the security concerns are way bigger than folks imagined they were.
While Americans were shocked at the violence which unfolded on January 6th, this event was not the first time that violence has touched the People’s House. In 1814, just a few years after the building’s completion, it was partially burned by the British during the War of 1812.
But that’s a long time ago, right? Well, fast forward to March 1, 1954. On that date four Puerto Rican nationalists attended a debate on an immigration bill by the House of Representatives. In a desire to publicize their desire for Puerto Rican independence from the U.S., they shot 30 rounds from semi-automatic pistols from a visitors’ balcony in the House chamber. Yes, they definitely got everyone’s attention. Five representatives were wounded, but thankfully all recovered.
Sounds like the People’s House needs to have some security, huh? Perhaps a big dog like some homeowners? The security in place is the U.S. Capitol Police, a force established in 1828 with a currently authorized sworn strength of over 2,000 officers. (NOTE: That number is down since two officers died as the result of the events of January 6th.) The mission statement for the Capitol Police is to “Protect the congress…so it can fulfill its constitutional and legislative responsibilities in a safe, secure and open environment.” That was apparently Mission Impossible on January 6th.
The Capitol Police were expecting protestors on that date, but they were not prepared for the size of the crowd. Reports indicate that the crowd was likely double what was anticipated per FBI reports. Accordingly, the People’s House Protectors were caught off guard.
The Capitol Police knew company was coming, i.e., people participating in the planned “Save America March.” Barriers were in place around the perimeter, and riot gear was handy. President Trump addressed the crowd on the Ellipse that day–the day Congress was meeting to count the results of the Electoral College vote and to certify Biden’s victory in the presidential election. After his speech, the crowd marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Building.
And the rest, as they say, is (sad) history. Barriers were breached and rioters forced their way into the People’s House. They took the Senate Chamber, physical altercations occurred between mob members and the Capitol Police, shots were fired, and gazillions of selfies were taken. The occupation lasted several hours during which time offices, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s, were entered and looted. Talk about a messy House!
Because of the insanity in the nation’s capital, the mayor of Washington, D.C. declared a 12-hour curfew beginning at 6:00 p.m. Undaunted, Congress reconvened around 8:00 p.m. to continue their legislative duties. Vice President Mike Pence addressed the reassembled legislators saying: “To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today: You did not win. Violence never wins….And this is still the People’s House…Let’s get back to work.”
The Congress, as well as the entire nation, has some tough work to do. The country is clearly a house divided. Getting our house in order will take more than replacing the broken windows in the People’s House. The house in “Our House” may have been in the middle of a street, but the People’s House was in the middle of a mob and is now in the middle of a national crisis.
Had you heard the U.S. Capitol referred to as the People’s House before? Have you ever visited the Capitol Building? Did you think violence like what occurred was possible in this country?