Hill staffers gathered on the steps of the Capitol Thursday for a demonstration of solidarity with those rallying over the grand jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases.
Senate Chaplain Barry Black began the proceedings by reading a specially prepared prayer. “Today, as people throughout the nation protest for justice throughout the land, forgive us when we have failed to lift our voices for those who couldn't speak or breathe for themselves," Black said, a reference to Garner's last words of "I can't breathe," also now used as a rallying cry among protesters.
After the prayer, the staffers all posed on the steps in the now-iconic, “hands up, don’t shoot” position first used by protesters in Ferguson, Mo.
Representatives for Congressional Black Associates, one of the event’s organizers, said the demonstration came about after a staff organizations asked about issuing a joint statement. The organizers took exception to portrayals of the event as a walkout or protest against the wishes of their bosses, saying the event was a show of solidarity.
The demonstration enjoyed support from several members of Congress. Dan Roth, communications director for Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., said the congresswoman is very supportive of any staffers who want to voice their support for what is “clearly an American issue.”
A spokesperson for Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who did not attend, said the congressman “encouraged his staff to attend, if they desire.” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., showed up to the demonstration to lend his support. (Some media outlets mistook him for Lewis.)
One congressional staffer involved with the event said, “I think this is the first step of a multifaceted effort to kind of take hold of this issue. … This demonstration is an opportunity for people to express their displeasure and say that we need to do something about this.” He added, “As you work in the public sector, it’s your job to, at least in this organization, to hear your constituents and make sure their voices are heard. You see what’s happening in our communities. I think with the expression we just did there, it shows that ‘Hey, we feel the same way that you do. Your voices are heard and we’re going to communicate it.’”
Black was pleased with the turnout, noting that the demonstrators were not composed of only black and Hispanic staffers, but a significant number of whites as well. “I’m so impressed with the commitment and passion of young people, because these young [Hill staffers] have great jobs and they could just be dismissive of the things going on in their world. And yet they are the ones who are saying, 'No, no, we’ve got to say something and we’ve got to do something.' I think that gives me a tremendous confidence in the future of the country.”
Added Black, “You better get ready, because the status quo is not going to be maintained.”
Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.