I work for a House Democrat. My boss hasn't pushed hard enough for a Gaza cease-fire, so I'm secretly organizing a campaign to force lawmakers to do more


  • Congressional Staff for a Ceasefire Now is a group of more than 150 Capitol Hill staffers.

  • One organizer told BI they’ve protested on Capitol Hill to amplify their constituents’ voices.

  • They also say the organizing has given staff an excuse to stay during an otherwise difficult time.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with an organizer involved with Congressional Staff for a Ceasefire Now, a group of Capitol Hill staffers pressuring lawmakers to support a cease-fire in Gaza. The staffer has been granted anonymity in order to speak freely without fear of retaliation from their office. This essay has been edited for length and clarity.

At the end of October, when we saw how Israel was beginning to conduct its war in Gaza, I and several other staffers on Capitol Hill were really, really concerned.

We had heard from thousands upon thousands of constituents who were writing to us, emailing us, calling us, and commenting on our offices’ social media accounts, urging our bosses to call for a cease-fire in Gaza.

There was initially just a group of four or five of us that were ready to do something, which gradually grew to a group of roughly a dozen staffers.

Our first major action was a flower vigil on the House steps on November 7, one month after the Hamas attack on Israel. The goal was to directly confront lawmakers with the fact that there is dissent among their staff with how they are handling this, while making it clear that we don’t stand by our bosses’ decisions to whitewash this and to look the other way.

We recognized not just the civilian lives lost in Gaza, but also the 1,200 civilian lives lost in Israel during the horrible attacks on October 7. We laid 10,000 flowers — one for each civilian in both Israel and Gaza who had been killed at that point.

Our group has since grown to more than 150 staffers, and we’ve taken several other actions and demonstrations. In February, after the US cut off funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), we held a fundraiser that brought in more than $8,500. We’ve also read the names of more than 300 infants who’ve been killed in Gaza.

This month, we marched to the steps of the Capitol before a vote on a bill to force President Joe Biden to provide withheld aid to Israel, insisting that Congress try to save Rafah instead.

During our public demonstrations, many of us — including me — wear items such as masks or sunglasses in order to maintain our anonymity.

My boss is largely convinced that they’re right on most things. But they’ve been willing to listen.

I work for a House Democrat who has endorsed Biden’s plan for a negotiated, two-sided cease-fire — but that’s absolutely not far enough.

I believe Israel has not only an obligation but a responsibility to unilaterally implement a cease-fire and conduct itself differently in this conflict if they actually are hoping to secure hostages and eliminate Hamas.

Congressional staffers participate in a flower vigil on November 7, 2023.

Congressional staff participate in a vigil for the lives lost in Israel and Palestine on November 7, 2023.Congressional Staff for a Ceasefire Now

I also believe that somewhere between one-third to one-half of the more than 90 lawmakers who have called for a cease-fire — including my boss — have used that term under pressure, and use varying definitions of the term that avoid placing the responsibility on Israel to actually secure one.

There are varying degrees to which lawmakers are willing to listen to their staffers on this issue. My own boss is stubborn and largely convinced that they’re right on most things, but they’ve been willing to listen, which I admire them for. To that end, we’ve had several staff-level conversations over the last several months.

Recently, I told my boss that they should be focusing more on the reality on the ground today rather than just continuing to harken back to October 7.

Some senior staff in my office seem to know I’m involved with this effort — and they’ve made comments here and there to prove it. But I’m almost positive that the lawmaker I work for doesn’t know, and that if they did, there would be genuine repercussions.

If they’re not listening to us in our offices, we have to find a way to get through to them.

Some people say that it’s not our place as staff to be doing any of this, and that it’s simply our job to carry out our boss’s wishes.

When it’s constituents saying this, I understand: They don’t understand exactly how congressional offices work, they don’t know how Congress functions. But I think it is an argument in bad faith when it’s made by other staffers or by lawmakers.

Congressional staffers read the names of infants killed in Gaza on May 14.

Congressional staffers read the names of infants killed in Gaza on May 14.Andrew Derek Strachan, courtesy of Congressional Staff for a Ceasefire Now

We are the people engaging with constituents. Members of Congress aren’t on the phones, do not respond to emails, and do not respond to social media comments in almost all cases. We have seen an unprecedented influx of constituent sentiment in support of a cease-fire, and in some lawmakers’ offices, that sentiment is not being listened to at the most senior level.

So if they’re not listening to us at our offices, we have to find a way to get through to them.

We want to show that at all levels of our government — from civilians, to staffers, to administration officials, to military members who have resigned in protest of this conflict and the way it’s being handled — there is dissent, and there is a price to pay for not listening to your constituents.

If there’s a sliver of a chance that you can make a difference, I believe you have a duty to stay.

Others might say that if we don’t agree with what our bosses are doing then we should quit. But it’s not that simple.

If you’re high profile enough where you can make a national story by quitting at the State Department, the White House, or the military, that can be a really important and impactful decision to make.

But if you’re an office where there is even a sliver of a chance of making a difference, I believe you have a duty to stay there. You don’t know who’s going to step in and replace you in that job. You don’t know if they’re going to hire someone who just does not believe in the humanity of the Palestinian people.

Personally, I haven’t considered resigning, but I’ve drawn personal lines for myself: I won’t write content that I feel is grossly out of line with the human values that I support.

Thankfully, I work in an office where — slowly but surely — it seems like the ship is turning. Even though I think my boss is turning a blind eye to more things than I’m comfortable with, I continue to believe that their mind is still changing and is not rigid on this. That is enough for me to see a reason to stay on.

For the most part, staff are not wholly responsible, or even largely responsible, for the votes that their bosses take.

Pro-ceasefire staffers marching toward the House steps ahead of a vote on an Israel aid-related bill on May 16.

Pro-ceasefire staffers marching toward the House steps ahead of a vote on an Israel aid-related bill on May 16.Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

We have already made an impact

One thing that’s been really reassuring for me is how cross-cutting this issue is, especially at a time when politics is more polarized than ever.

We’ve had Democrats and Republicans at some of our House protests, as well as Israelis and Palestinians, people who are Jewish or Muslim, who are every religion and identity in between.

I think that staff action, and demonstrating how constituents are feeling about this issue, is responsible for having so many members of Congress not only calling for cease-fire in one way one form or another, but actually being comfortable for the very first time in history with the idea of conditioning aid to Israel.

We’ve given staff the courage to speak up in their offices and to have those kinds of conversations with their bosses. And I think that we have been essential to providing staff an excuse to stay in a time when working in this institution is incredibly difficult.

Unless and until the government is responding to constituents, we continue to plan to be their voice in the halls of power.

Read the original article on Business Insider





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