Question 1: In terms of the events on January 6th, what were you doing when you were notified rioters had breached the capitol, and what was going through your mind?
Kim: I was on capitol grounds. I was notified about it and at first I didn’t know what was happening. I was not on the house floor, so I didn’t understand that potentially there was a potential breach at the capitol. We had had some bomb threats earlier in the day…I wasn’t sure if it was anything like that, but we were told immediately to shelter in place. And I’ve worked in Afghanistan and Iraq before, so when I get a shelter in place notice I know that is something that is very important to follow. Um, but ah yeah it was a lot to process. It was just such a surreal experience in many ways. I’m actually talking to you, we’re sitting in the rotunda right now, and it’s still hard for me to really walk around the capitol without thinking about just how bad things got that day.
Question 2:Would you say your relationship with the capitol building has shifted since January 6th, now that the potential security vulnerabilities are so evident?
Kim: No, I hope not. I don’t want my relationship with this building to be any different. You know, this building, it’s not just about my relationship with this building, it’s about the American people. I love seeing this building filled with Americans walking through the rotunda and just having the experience to marvel at such a remarkable building. I believe that this is the most beautiful building in the country. And, for me, I feel grateful to have the chance to work here each and every day. I feel safe here. And I know it’s going to have it’s challenges, and we’re going to make sure we take some safety precautions. But, my main concern right now is not about my relationship with the building, but the American people’s relationship with this building. And I hope to be able to, you know, make sure we preserve that going forward.
Question 3: Since you weren’t present in the capitol at the time of the attack, what was it like walking inside and seeing first-hand all the damage the rioters had caused?
Kim: Well, it was a lot. It was a lot to process. And I think for me, I really loved seeing how, you know, I loved seeing this building in its, you know, in its beauty and its perfection. As we walked through it, and to feel like it was being disrespected and desecrated, I’ll never forget that. I was sad about it. It just hit me on such a fundamental level, how much trouble we had that day…We want to make sure that as we’re doing the votes we need to do to certify the election, that we’re also doing what we need to to get the capitol back into shape, and to make sure that we are showing the American people and our democracy is resilient. So that was certainly a big part of it for me.
Question 4: Concerns of unrest caused by Trump’s rhetoric had been circling since before the riots happened. Even so, were the events of January 6th surprising to you, or did you expect some sort of disobedience to ensue?
Kim: I expected some unrest, and I had asked my staff to not come into work that day because I had suspected maybe there would be some unrest, but I never expected what actually happened…Insurrection is when they actually penetrate into the capitol building. I expected there to be maybe some unrest outside, but to get inside? To not just get inside, but to literally seize control of the building, for several hours. For several hours on January 6th the United States government was not in control of the United States capitol. That is just a very shocking, and crazy realization still, to this day. So that’s something that I still really think about.
Question 5: What compelled you to help clean up from the viral photo?
Kim: Well, I just wanted to do something. You know, it was really instinctual. I didn’t actually think about cleaning up, it was just something that I just started to do. You know, I saw this room, this room that I love, the United States rotunda, the capitol rotunda, and I just wanted to do something. And, so I just thought there’s a trash bag there, let’s start to clean up and do my part. So, it was for me, a very personal decision very quickly that I made that this was something I needed to do. Just literally roll up my sleeves and try to get this building back in order…I’m glad that I was able to do my part. I don’t necessarily think I deserve the attention that I got for it. But if it’s an action that gave some people some sense of hope, and gets them to think about what public service really means, I’m happy to do that.
Question 6: What was it like going from cleaning up trash in the damaged capitol building, to just days later attending President Biden’s inauguration?
Kim: Well, you know, it was definitely a lot of understanding on inauguration day. And I couldn’t help but to think about how, you know, the site of that inauguration, where we were standing and sitting, that was where the insurrectionists had been gathering and they took over the capitol just two weeks earlier. So, it was certainly something that weighed on our minds. But I think it was very refreshing to be able to try to replace some of those memories. Not forget the memories, but be able to replace some of that with something that shows that our country is at work, shows that resilience of our nation, and that we’re able to continue with our democracy and demonstrate that we are not going to be perturbed by people who are trying to disrupt the progress and process of our democracy. So, it felt very important for us to be able to make that kind of statement. It wasn’t just about attending the inauguration, the act in and of itself I felt was just a very important step.
Question 7: As someone who confronted these two conflicting facets of America– one being the damage at the capitol and the other being the patriotism from the inauguration– which would you say most accurately represents the whole of the country?
Well, I really do think that our country is very strong and resilient. And I had so many people reach out to me after January 6th– both Democract and Republican– saying that does not represent our nation. We definitely have challenges ahead. So, we have to understand the fact that we have deep problems and a lot of wounds that we need to work to heal. And it’s not guaranteed, we can’t just assume that we’re going to heal and move forward. It takes real concerned effort. But, I for one do believe that the images of our government are moving forward: the inauguration, the unity that we tried to demonstrate…these traditions and acts that have gone back to the founding of our nation. That is touching and so important now. So, I for one am hopeful about what happens next. It doesn’t mean I take anything for granted, I will be fighting hard to bring back that kind of healthing that our country needs. But I think the vast majority of Americans agree with that. They want to heal, they want to move this forward.
Question 8: How do you think we can repair the division in our country, and what are some ways ordinary students can help?
Well, I think that it takes a lot. We do need to make sure that we’re pushing hard and having accountability that we need to, whether it’s about January 6th or other acts that we endured. But a lot of it is just about trying to re-engage what it means to be American. What it means to be a citizen, what are our values here. And I certainly really encourage all of the students, whether at East or elsewhere, to think about it very carefully. Not just about the ability to vote, not just think about that element. Voting in our elections is certainly a critical part of our democracy, but it’s not the totality of our democracy and what responsibility citizens have. Make sure that we are staying engaged, that we’re staying informed, that we’re seeking the information from a diversity of sources, and being very thoughtful about the accuracy about that. We have a lot of misinformation happening in our society right now and we need to be careful about that. We have to check our own biases. We need to make sure that we’re thinking about what biases we’re coming at, what silos of information we might be engaged or involved in ourselves. Sometimes I have to do that myself. Just make sure that I am hearing from a variety of sources and opinions, and making up my own mind, not just falling back into some of the muscle memories that might not give me the full picture. And I think I’m not alone in my district. My district is a district where President Trump won twice, so I think about this a lot in terms of opinions and the differences of information in my own district. So I urge people to really just get engaged. And the last thing I’ll say is that Cherry Hill East, and some of the experiences I had there, and some of my experiences I had subsequently at my time there, taught me a lot about service and serving this country. That doesn’t mean that people have to work in government or work in military or be a civil servant, but those are all things I hope people consider. But it’s just about being of service to the country, [and that can be] in a number of ways. The doctors and the nurses and the healthcare professionals right now are on the front lines of the COVID crisis. They are serving our nation. People that are teaching in our schools and other places, teaching the next generation, that’s service to our country. And I hope that when we can cultivate that spirit of service in our nation going forward. And that’s something that I feel very strongly about, and I think that starts a lot in schools. Thinking about our civics education, thinking about the work that we do, the clubs that we participate in, the activities that we choose. And hopefully some of those will be ones that try to push towards this understanding of community and the idea of service.
Question 9: What advice do you have for East students who may be afraid to speak up or do what’s right in the face of injustice?
Look, I mean, I would just say…just inform them to really dig in and understand what does justice mean to us. To understand the history of those that have gone before. When I was a student at East that’s when I was first learning about the incredible work during the Civil Rights Movement and activists like John Lewis. And I think really, I idolized him. You know, he was a teenager when he started in the Civil Rights Movement, someone who was not much older than I was when I was at East, and he became an extraordinary figure that just inspired so many. And I had the great honor to be able to work alongside him in Congress for my last term. And what I came to realize is that John Lewis, as amazing as he was and his accomplishments, he was an ordinary man during extraordinary times. And I don’t say that to diminish what he accomplished…I think that that was very empowering for me, to see how he was, and to meet him in the flesh. So I just tell people, just don’t be intimidated. We’re all ordinary people trying to go about our work, and we happen to live in extraordinary times right now. And now the question is, what do we want to do about that? What is our role in that? And not everyone’s role is going to be the same. Not everyone can, or should, or wants to run for office or different things like that. But it’s just a matter of just trying to figure out what is the impact you want to make, and how do you realize that?