On Martin Luther King Day, 2021

I am looking at a picture of the U.S. Capitol I took the last time I visited. I was with colleagues on a tour led by our intern’s mother. The Capitol looms large. It is stately. It is majestic. And it makes the people who wander nearby or climb the steps look small. I remember thinking politics is messy, but the edifice is sacrosanct.

The clouds behind the dome are multiple shades of gray, dove-like, slate, almost but not quite black. Threatening and foreboding, given the benefit of hindsight.

On that day I took great pleasure in seeing one of my favorite statues, that of the women’s rights advocates Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony. Carved from white Carrara marble by Adelaide Johnson, it was installed in the Crypt in 1921. Often derided (and called the Bathtub Statue because the women’s full bodies are not shown), it was not until 1997 that the statue was given its due and moved to Statuary Hall where it stands today.

As we honor Martin Luther King, I am reminded of the shared beliefs that he and Lucretia Mott espouse. To speak out, to stand for justice and equality, to make a difference, to change the world—all through peaceful means. Goals that have never seemed more pressing, more sorely needed at a time when we have been betrayed by fellow Americans.

For the rioters have come and gone leaving behind a city seemingly rudderless and a country filled with outrage and grief—the Capitol besmirched, glass broken, papers ransacked, six lives lost with many more threatened, a world bewildered. A 7-foot fence now surrounds an area dozens of blocks long. The National Guard and police officers stand at the ready, guns at the ready. “STAY SAFE. WEAR A MASK” inside the outline of the Capitol are stamped in blue on the sidewalk. They say the fence is to stay in place for 30 days.

On Wednesday, Joe Biden will become president, and Kamala Harris will make history as the first Black female vice president. We pray for a non-violent transition. And may the inauguration of 2025 be one without fences and the halls of Congress open to unarmed visitors. May they be welcomed and come in peace.