What I realized on January 6, 2021

Posted on January 6, 2022.

A year later, the most vivid memory I have of Jan. 6 is the moment I returned to the House chamber after the riot had been quelled. I stepped over broken glass to get into the chamber. What ensued over the next hour was the most powerful experience of my career.

House cahmber

People spoke with hushed whispers. We touched each other's shoulders gently with comfort as if at a funeral, everyone still in a daze, swimming in uncertainty of the uncharted moment. I took a seat along the center aisle as the speeches began.

Congressmen hugging

I glanced around the room. This is the room where our nation united during some of our darkest moments. Where FDR gave his Pearl Harbor "Day of Infamy" speech. Where leaders gathered after 9/11 to show resolve and unity. Where decisions of war and peace were made.

FDR giving his Pearl Harbor speech

Could it happen again? Would we finally unite? For a brief moment, I thought what happened would be a shock to the system, like a defibrillator pulling our country back into rhythm. The speeches were raw, talking about the need to pull together.

But then something changed. When speeches switched back to electoral college debate, I felt something change in the room. I watched people pull out the same speech about election fraud they were going to give before, as if the riot never happened.

The prospect of unity lasted only 35 minutes and 53 seconds.

That was when I knew this would not be the unifying moment we needed. The shock of Jan. 6 was not enough to shatter the Big Lie.

Many ask me if my colleagues who spout the Big Lie believe what they say. At that moment I knew for certain they did. They believed every single word.

I started to walk out of the House chamber in disgust. While the riot damaged our Capitol, I felt that the scene I just witnessed would ultimately do more harm. The lasting damage of Jan. 6 was not the roaring riot, but the selfish silence and purposeful amnesia afterwards.

I walked out the center doors of the House chamber. The same doors that Presidents walk through to give the State of the Union. Just hours earlier they had been smashed and barricaded with guns drawn. Again, guns were drawn on the House floor.

As I walked the halls away from the chamber I kept thinking, maybe our nation lost its ability to be shocked. After a pandemic and now Jan. 6, could something actually shock us to the point where we rediscover our shared identity and common good, like our nation has in the past?

Then I entered the Rotunda. To see that room, the most beautiful room in the most beautiful building in America desecrated, broke my heart. I got on my knees & started to pick up. As I picked up debris, I wandered down a side hall and saw something.

cornerstone

I saw a plaque: "Beneath this tablet the cornerstone...was laid by George Washington." I stood there carrying a bag of torn flags and broken glass, reminded that this building is bigger than all of us. I realized at that moment that I am but a mere caretaker of this building.

Andy Kim Oath of Office

This realization of being a caretaker fundamentally changed the way I see my job. It changed how I see the responsibility of being a citizen. Our democracy was handed to us, and on our watch, we must do our best to preserve it and then pass it off to those that follow.

I've been fixated on a singular question: how do we heal this country? But what does it even mean to heal? I spent a year searching for the answer, and came see they it was right above me painted at the center of the ceiling of the Capitol dome. To heal is "E Pluribus Unum."

E Pluribus Unum

E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one. The phrase expresses our nation's goal, but doesn't tell us how. What makes the "many" become "one"? Unity doesn't just happen on its own. The motto is thought to have been adapted by our founding fathers from a Roman named Cicero over 2000 yrs ago.

Cicero also lived in tumultuous times. In one election, the loser and supporters stormed the Roman Capitol during the ceremonial counting of ballots and "disrupted the vote counting...assembled voters fled in terror before the election could conclude"

Cicero learns from political division and teaches "When each person loves the other as much as himself, it makes one out of many." The missing verb in E Pluribus Unum is to love. The way to show our love for each other is through acts of service. Healing begins with service.

It's not too late to unite this country. I was wrong to think unity needed a shock to the system to catalyze. We don't need a shock. We need service. Today we remember a year ago, but I propose that going forward we make Jan. 6 a day of common good, to renew our understanding and appreciation for our democracy. A day of E Pluribus Unum.

andy with people in uniform

The goal is not to reset the clock to Jan. 5, but instead to understand clearly the job in front of us. Our job is to be caretakers. Our job is to heal this country and hand it off to our successors.

andy's children posing in front of the capitol

In unity,

Andy