How to Talk at Work about the Violent Attack on the US Capitol — and Why.
My family and I live in Washington, DC. We live in a tidy little home, my husband and I, and our two kids, who are 6 and 8 years old. My husband is a Congressional staffer and most days he commutes in to work. The kids like to point out, “that’s daddy’s office!” when they see the dome, driving down North Capitol Street. When violent mobs attacked the Capitol a week ago on January 6, we were terrified, and angry, and gave the children as much PBS Kids as they could take to make sure they didn’t see the fear on our faces. As we watched a mob of white supremacists and others aligned with Donald Trump attack and vandalize the Capitol, friends and family began to reach out, to make sure my husband was safe, our family was safe. That gesture meant a lot to us. It was natural, of course, for him and his colleagues to talk about what they experienced — it happened in their office. For a lot of other folks, talking at work about the violent insurrection at the Capitol may be harder, but it cuts just as deeply, and needs to be talked about at work just as we did after the September 11th attacks.
In the days since, I’ve talked to friends, colleagues, and clients about how this is affecting them at work. Here is what I’ve heard, and we’ve compiled some resources to support you and your teams right now.
This is something to talk about at work — don’t ignore it. But have a plan.
If you need a place to start, Ella F. Washington, Allison Hall Birch and Erika Hall state unequivocally that “[p]olitical views may vary but there is no tolerance for the spreading of disinformation, racism, violence, or attacks on democracy in a civil society or a respectable organization.” Their article, How to Talk with Your Team About the Violence at the U.S. Capitol, provides an excellent template for leadership action, from creating space to talk about what we saw on January 6 and what has unfolded since, to providing resources, reinforcing values, offering support and more. Start there.
If you’re preparing what to say, acknowledge that these events are uniquely American.
We’ve heard many say that what they saw wasn’t America, or wasn’t the America they know. As Vu Le, the author of Nonprofit AF points out, “[f]or many racialized and marginalized communities, this is EXACTLY the America we’ve known, a country with an ongoing legacy of white supremacy. To say otherwise is to gaslight entire communities.” Hadeil Ali, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, writes heartbreakingly about the thoughtless comparison of the violent mob attack on the Capitol to the Arab Spring.
Be personal, vulnerable, and honest.
Many of you have seen the talk posted by former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, addressing the violent extremists and their attack on the Capitol to undermine a free and fair election. Part of what makes his talk so compelling is his personal and vulnerable story of what it was like to grow up in Austria after the collapse of the Nazi regime. While Governor Schwarzenegger’s Austrian childhood example is different from many of ours, all of us have a personal connection to the pain of this moment. Speaking from a place of honesty and vulnerability is a crucial part of undermining what Sam Sanders of NPR calls the lie — “the fabrication, nostalgia and euphemism” that America is built on.
Have a plan for the coming days.
News reports indicate that armed protests are planned for the coming days at all 50 state capitols. Washington DC’s Mayor Muriel Bowser has asked people to stay away from the inauguration and is expecting more violent extremists to take action here. In this moment businesses need to create a plan that’s right for their teams in for the days leading up to and including Inauguration Day. Whether it’s closing the office (even if the office is entirely virtual), limiting events for that day, or cancelling meetings, now is the time to discuss how to approach these events. Know that the above recommendations for talking about violent extremism in America will be needed just as much in the days after inauguration day as they were immediately after the Capitol attack.
Share broadly, talk about what you need.
If your organization hasn’t made any announcements or started a conversation about this, it may be in the works, but it’s certainly time to talk, process, and plan. You can share this newsletter and the resources in it as a place to start and let leaders know their action is needed now.
In the meantime, we hope you and your family are safe.
Audrey Roofeh is CEO of Mariana Strategies, a Washington, DC-based workplace culture consulting firm.