What’s in a Landmark? What’s in a Capitol?


Courtesy of Leah Millis, Reuters

The Capitol Building was the target of a mass riot and break in intended to protest the results of the 2020 election.

Maggie Cavanaugh, Staff Writer

I was out on a run when the first texts started rolling in, “Hey Girlie. I’m seeing what’s going on in DC rn and hope you and your fam are safe.” Seconds later, one group chat lit up “dude- they’re actually storming the Capitol.”  There was nothing else to do at that point but start sprinting home, wondering what on Earth could be happening in my hometown. 

There are many moments I have loved growing up in Washington DC, or rather the Bethesda, Maryland suburb of the city. It’s a unique town in many ways and a handful of memories stand out. My high school track team used to run our sprint workouts on the Georgetown Pike (normally one of the busiest highways in the area) when the Secret Service shut it down due to President Obama’s presence at Walter Reed Military Hospital. Occasionally the Secret Service would even cheer us on. When picking up groceries, I once found a left-behind grocery list, unremarkable except for the fact it was written on CIA stationary. My peers and I frequently took our prom photos at the Lincoln Memorial. And every so often someone’s mother would call them in sick at school, and they’d post on Instagram from a protest downtown a few hours late. 

There have also been moments I have not loved this city. On days like the Affordable Care Act vote, the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, and the final few days before any election, the tension and sense of uncertainty in the city can be palpable. We get through these times by remembering they are temporary, but the landmarks around us are permanent. 

As a kid, my landmarks were simple; I figured if I was still going to school and being asked to do homework obviously the world would keep turning. But as a young adult, I’ve found that there are times when it is acceptable to not do schoolwork, so my landmarks have become more of a physical nature. Places like the St. Thomas of Villanova Church, Tolentine Hall, and yes, the US. Capitol offer us a sense of security. These places are a physical reminder that no matter how the world changes, there will always be someone praying in the church that they’ll pass their finals, there will always be another set of stairs to climb in Tolentine, and there will always be lawmakers engaging in debate in the Capitol.

But Wednesday, January 6, changed that. Lawmakers were barricaded into their chambers before hustling to the “secret” tunnels that connect the office buildings to the Capitol. 

A shirtless man in a buffalo hat stood on top of the Speaker of the House’s dias. Someone stole the Speaker’s podium. A woman was shot and later died. Two improvised explosive devices were recovered, one from in front of the Main Republican Party’s office. A Confederate Flag, a flag that once was once carried into battle against the American flag and represents some of the world’s most egregious human rights violations, was lifted high outside the Senate chamber. 

For five hours I texted friends who lived near Capitol Hill with questions about their safety. For five hours my brother and I received texts from our college friends, who only knew we lived near DC with questions about our own safety. 

The next few days, the next month, and likely the better part of the next year will correctly be spent analyzing today’s events. What went wrong in security? What went right? Who were these people? How do we find them and charge them for the crimes they have committed? Who is responsible for their actions? How do we prevent this from happening again? And most importantly, where the hell do we go from here? 

But the Capitol is secure. The transition of power is happening. The pandemic rages on with no signs of slowing down while vaccine distribution chugs along. Georgia elected new Senators. The world is still turning. 

The People’s House is once again in the hands of people we elected to fight, with their words and not their fists, but to fight nonetheless. Hopefully, those we elected will be more thoughtful with their actions and words in the future. The Capitol has withstood today, and our actions will decide if it can withstand whatever comes next.