About one month after pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, The 19th reached out to all 143 women in the 117th Congress to ask about their experiences on January 6. Twenty-three shared their points of view from that day. We are also publishing each lawmaker’s full account of that day. Here is what Rep. Barbara Lee of California told The 19th. The transcript has been lightly edited:
I decided to wear tennis shoes that day, because I knew that something was going to go down. I remembered on September 11, I was in the Capitol and we had to evacuate early that morning, too. I had high heels on then and had to run up Pennsylvania Avenue. I’ve been listening to Trump’s rhetoric for four years and his reaction to the white supremacists at Charlottesville, and as a Black woman, I knew what was happening. I watched very closely how he had pumped up the crowds. I watched very closely his reaction to white supremacy, language attacks, rhetoric, actions.
So leading up to the election, I’m listening to how he is setting the stage for people to be angry if he loses and Biden wins. They’d be ready to do whatever he said to do. This is the context of which I knew and was watching very carefully. I had also been reading a lot of right-wing white supremacy sites. A security guard in my district in Oakland had been killed by the Boogaloo Boys or the Proud Boys. I was born and raised in El Paso, and the terrible tragic murders there were also connected to Donald Trump’s rhetoric.
The Capitol Police force did a phenomenal job. It was the command that didn’t. I knew also that there was a risk that anything could happen.
I was next to Cheri Bustos and Eric Swalwell on the House floor when they told us to wear gas masks. We were trained on how to use them right after September 11, but we hadn’t been trained in the last 10 years. I was trying to figure out how to open it and put it on — I think I put it on the wrong way. [Rep.] Ruben Gallego, who is a former Marine, got up on a table and started instructing people in the gallery and on the House floor on how to use the gas masks. I just kept thinking: “I have to be clear about what I’m doing. Don’t panic. Keep your mind on what to do.” I’m also very aware of the possibility of getting COVID-19 in the largely unmasked crowd. I was dodging the virus and trying not to get killed at the same time.
I looked at my phone, and people had said to me that the Cannon building had been overtaken, asking me if I was okay. I’m getting this from people sending me texts. They were coming into Statuary Hall with weapons. Then, we saw [Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Jim Clyburn and Rep. Steny Hoyer taken out]. We were told we were in lockdown. I was looking at my phone and someone sent me a note that it looks like someone was trying to get in the chambers — according to people watching the media.
I saw the chaplain go up to the podium and pray. I’m glad I wore my tennis shoes. I guess for me, when she said that prayer, I thought, “Okay, it’s going to be hard but we’re going to be okay. Be prepared, be ready, this is survival.”
Then we were told we may have to hit the floor because bullets may be coming in. And of course, as a Black woman, you live under domestic terrorism. I’ve been down in a lot of situations involving, you know, gun violence. That’s what we were preparing for. A lot of our colleagues were really helpful in figuring out the technical aspects because we had not been trained. We left the chamber seconds before this mob started trying to get in through the speaker’s lobby. We were escorted out, really crowded because there were both Republicans and Democrats.
We got to where we were going, down a lot of stairs. When we got to the security point, we were directed in two different ways. Of course, I was going the way where people are more spaced out — and that ended up being the wrong way. We were not given clear instructions. I’m thinking about COVID COVID COVID. I ended up getting in the wrong elevator. It was a mess.
When we got to the secure room, we were crowded. I’m over the top on protecting myself, and others, from others. I socially distance; I wear masks; I stay away from everybody. I tried to find a place far away from others, and if someone sat next to me, I’d ask if they could please move away. I was looking around and thinking this is a super spreader event. I saw [Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester] trying to give Republicans masks, and that was a disaster. And during that time, one of the Republican members started to pray. I’m saying I’m a person of faith, and I thought: “Do I get on my knees and pray with this person who is part of this or not?” Just in terms of denying the vote, I was trying to decide whether I pray with this person who purported to be a person of faith but was acting with hypocrisy. I’m a Christian, and I have a problem with that. That was really heavy for me. In my decision, I finally did get on my knees. But it was shocking that I would even deliberate. A Scripture passage came to mine from 2 Timothy: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of a sound mind.”
OK, I’ve been in very bad situations before, and this is the worst. You’ve got to have a sound mind. You’ve got to be clear. You can’t let your fear take over because this is a moment where you could easily be killed. And if you’re not thinking this through, anything could happen so you’ve got to keep a sound mind. This spirit of fear: don’t be fearful. But you’ve got to realize that God has given you power, and you’ve got to have the love of everyone. So that’s what I was praying. Also for people to not get COVID. COVID and the transmission of the virus was constantly on my mind.
It did not feel safe at all because the sergeant-at-arms said that some congresspeople were talking to the media, telling them where we are. During this period, people are texting. I made a few calls. It was very consoling because people were concerned, even those who hadn’t heard from me in a long time. A lot of people said that they were praying for me.