By: Paul Miller, Partner, Miller Wenhold Capitol Strategies
The event at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, is not something we can ever allow again. Violence cannot become the people’s method to be heard. What we saw after January 6 is a sight that we cannot allow to become a permanent picture of democracy. We should not require 20,000 National Guard troops camped out on the Capitol to ensure its safety. We are better than this. Our country deserves better than this.
The U.S. Capitol, or “The People’s House,” is a great symbol of our democracy. Wrapping it in fencing, heavily guarded by our military makes it impossible for people to see our system of government up close and personnel. In this form, we cannot expect to be viewed as the greatest democracy in the world. The security issues we face after January 6th are very real, however, we cannot let that fear dampen the spirit of our democracy. Over the years, it has become harder for constituents to gain access to their elected leaders, keeping congressional members more insulated from the people they represent than ever before. Barricading our Nation’s Capital makes it impossible to have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Civic engagement is a vital component of our democracy. It is incumbent upon We the People to have access to our government. The same security concerns being raised today were raised after the events on September 11, 2001. Some of those barricades remain in place to this day. The longer these barricades stay in place around the Capitol, the more likely they are to become a permanent fixture, like those implemented after 9/11.
As lobbyists, we spend our days on Capitol Hill walking through the very buildings now on lockdown. The security issues of today are real, but they cannot overshadow the need for the people to have access to our governing body. Our fear cannot overshadow the need to allow people from every city in the country access to the individuals they elected to Congress. Our fear cannot overshadow the need to keep our democracy open for those from around the world to see it up close. And our fear cannot now be used as an excuse to keep those of us who represent the voices of millions of Americans from participating in our democracy. Virtual meetings and town halls have been necessary due to a global pandemic. They have helped fill a void during these lockdowns. Some will argue we can advocate virtually as we have been since March of 2020. This argument cannot become the rationale for locking our government down, nor should it be a permanent model going forward. Virtual democracy does not work. It insulates our leaders from their constituents, making it harder for them to hear directly from those who elected them. This should only be used during times of a national crisis.
The barricades need to come down.
The People’s House needs to be opened back up to the people. I am confident we can do this while ensuring the necessary security is in place to make every person safe while visiting our Capitol and surrounding buildings. The lobbying community, through the work of the National Institute for Lobbying & Ethics (NILE), is doing its part and is willing to work with Congress to ensure the safety of our government. NILE is crafting a three-point plan that addresses physical safety, protection from COVID-19, and cracks down on the ever-growing practice of shadow lobbying.
The need for safety and transparency on Capitol Hill is not new. NILE had been talking with key members of Congress before the pandemic hit to address these very issues, working on measures that balance the need for safety with the need to keep The People’s House open and transparent. NILE continues those discussions today and urges Congress and the Administration to work with the profession on this plan. We must allow the continuation of an open democracy while keeping people safe and providing the necessary transparency the public wants to see out of Washington.
Our democracy only works when We the People have access to an open and transparent government where everyone is represented and can have a voice.