Congress now knows the fear of American school kids

Domestic terrorism has been in America for a long time, just not at the Capitol

Students get off buses after being evacuated to the Recreation Center at Northridge after at least seven students were injured during a shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch on May 7, 2019, in Highlands Ranch. (Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

They all knew it could happen. They hoped it wouldn’t. Then one day it did.

“We all got onto the floor and under the desk,” one survivor told The New York Times.

They feared for their lives. Some ran. Some took cover. Others heard gunshots and the breaking of doors and glass. Confusion and panic took hold as they tried to hide from those hunting them down. Those who lived were escorted safely out of the building, holding their hands up over their heads, streaming out in a daze amid chaos and sirens.

This wasn’t the scene from last Wednesday’s insurrection. This was the story of high school students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida, where 17 children and adults were massacred.

Feels like a punch to the gut, right? 

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In America, it’s a sad reality that many children have been through more lockdowns and shootings than their adult representatives. Last Wednesday, this changed when members of Congress had the unfortunate experience of walking a mile in their pint-sized shoes.

The descriptions of events echo in eerie familiarity.

In an interview with 60 Minutes, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi escorted camera crews through remnants of vandalism in her office: broken doors, broken glass and furniture strewn about. She recalled the shouting and yelling. Then, solemnly, she described the panic of her young staff as they “hid under the table for hours,” listening to the armed attackers trying to break in. They, too, had feared for their lives.

Five died during this attack — 12 less than in the Parkland shooting. Four of the five had perpetuated the violence. 

I do not point this out to belittle a deadly coup attempt. It was a horrifying display of the worst our nation has to offer. However, I do intend to contextualize the rising level of existing terrorism in our nation.

In 2019 — before COVID-19 sent Americans home and drove mass shootings out of the national spotlight — there were more mass shootings than there were days in the year. Twenty-five of these were on school grounds. It was the most in a year on record — 417. The prior three years ranked closely, at 337, 346 and 382.

This is not normal.

For years, a nationwide majority has strongly favored reforms. We marched. We formed activist groups. We wrote our legislators. Some even ran for office. Yet a two-decade-long chokehold by most Republicans in Congress has largely undermined any real attempts at legislation. Instead, Republicans have settled for pleasing their donors, sending “thoughts and prayers” and, when terrorist attacks do occur, attacking Democrats for making violence political, as if somehow it isn’t.

U.S. Capitol police officers point their guns at a door that was vandalized in the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021. in Washington, D.C. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. A group of Republican senators said they would reject the Electoral College votes of several states unless Congress appointed a commission to audit the election results. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The result? Americans have been forced to live with the growing domestic terrorism in our communities and schools.

But last week’s events highlight just how political domestic terrorism really is. Insurrections don’t happen overnight. They happen with a steady normalization of violence in society over time — the very normalizations we’ve been seeing in our schools, grocery stores and synagogues. Now, with warning after warning set aside, America is crumbling from within.

No one can undo the events that have transpired. But with aggression now targeted directly at members of Congress, I can’t help but wonder: Will it finally translate into policy reform on firearms, domestic terrorism and white nationalism? Certainly, a trifecta of blue in the federal government will help, but is it enough?

Even with calls from within their ranks to hang their own party’s vice president of the United States, many Republicans still do not appear to have heeded the lesson.

With every attempt to forgo member removals and find unity without consequences, Republicans who have been complicit in inciting violence are once again sending their equivalent of “thoughts and prayers.” Where was unity in protecting our Capitol and legislators? Where was unity in not inciting an insurrection and deadly coup attempt? Where was unity in lowering our flag to half-mast in honor of fallen Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick — an act that took days instead of minutes?

Other developed nations have not normalized such domestic terrorism. America doesn’t have to either. For the millions of Americans, especially children, who have already experienced domestic terrorism — and now for our democracy — accountability is the only path to unity. 

Republicans, it’s your call.

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