I know the true Capitol. The sacrilege done to our temple of democracy is unimaginable to me. Much of the history of my life resides there.
My father had an office beside the long National Mall that leads to the Capitol, in a temporary building constructed during World War II. I visited Dad often at work, enthralled by the nearby museums, statues and monuments.
When I was 13, I took the bus from Falls Church, Virginia, each weekend and walked the Mall’s length to the shining magnificence of the Capitol. Serene, it was the sacred edifice where the collective dream of a more perfect union was made manifest. I could not take my eyes off it. To this day, the view awakens reverence.
I volunteered in the office of Sen. Ralph Yarborough of Texas, who helped fashion Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. I did the little jobs a wide-eyed youngster could do. The payoff was a sense of majesty at being part of the working symbol of our democratic republic and the knowledge that the responsibility we extended to constituents extended outward to a world looking to emulate our unparalleled promise of freedom.
I observed Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy and Hosea Williams, wearing fedoras and overcoats against the winter, on their way to the Capitol to negotiate the Voting Rights Act. Such encounters with greatness left me with the belief that “the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.” All things are possible by walking its arc. I was not then or now naive in thinking that our determination to perfect a democratic system magically cured all ills.
After King’s murder, I took part in the Poor People’s Campaign, camped on a muddy Mall. We looked up toward the Capitol. Freedom of Speech is protected as our essential principle. There is an open invitation to dissent. It is withdrawn only when freedom is trampled on a hellish path of violence, hatred and mad fears.
Later, I attended George Washington University and worked on the sacred ground each afternoon for Sen. Frank Church of Idaho. My Senate Employee card opened doors. Despite the Vietnam War, security was more lax than the armed camp that D.C. became after 911 and even more after the invasion of Trump’s deplorables. Tens of thousands of us attended protests beneath the Washington Monument, marched around the White House and left thousands of candles on its fence. My senator led a nonviolent march through Georgetown. To violently seize the Capitol and hunt down representatives to kill was unthinkable.
The aura of history never leaves. I absorbed statues of the greats and monumental historical paintings. Nights I wandered Statuary Hall, corridors between the chambers, the Crypt, the Rotunda where Lincoln, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Lewis and other beloveds lay. I joined people devoted to the task of service to governance in the realms of freedom and scurried from meeting to meeting.
The iconic Sen. Margaret Chase Smith came and went from a nearby office, rapidly propelling her wheelchair down the hall with the same intensity with which she took on Joe McCarthy.
I delivered papers to the senator on the floor of the Senate, attended receptions with the likes of George McGovern, William Fulbright and William O. Douglas, listened to cocktail talk as they confronted the Vietnam War. From the gallery, I watched such greats as the crew of Apollo 11 address Congress.
The Capitol remains the edifice of the people to which my eyes turn for social evolution. May it long inspire we fortunate Americans who have been lifted to a new epoch of human history.
Documentary filmmaker Kell Kearns, whose work includes the two-part “Ghandi’s Awakening” and “Ghandi’s Gift,” as well as “In Remembrance of Martin,” lives in Santa Fe.