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I work for a House Democrat and disagree with my boss on Gaza. So I'm secretly organizing behind their back.

Bryan Metzger   

I work for a House Democrat and disagree with my boss on Gaza. So I'm secretly organizing behind their back.
  • Congressional Staff for a Ceasefire Now is a group of more than 150 Capitol Hill staffers.
  • One organizer told BI they'd protested on Capitol Hill to amplify their constituents' voices.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with an organizer involved with Congressional Staff for a Ceasefire Now, a group 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 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.

Initially, there were just four or five of us ready to do something, but the group gradually grew to about 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's dissent among their staff about how they're 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, 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 to maintain anonymity.

My boss is largely convinced 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 it actually is hoping to secure hostages and eliminate Hamas.

I also believe that somewhere between one-third to one-half of the more than 90 federal lawmakers who have called for a cease-fire — including my boss — have used that term under pressure and used 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 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 past several months.

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

Some senior staff in my office seem to know I'm involved with the congressional-staffer cease-fire 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' wishes.

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

We are the people engaging with constituents. Members of Congress aren't on the phones, don't respond to emails, and don't 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 working on Capitol Hill.

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 the State Department, the White House, or the military, that can be a really important and impactful decision.

But if you're in an office where there is even a sliver of a chance you could make 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's 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.

We have already made an impact

One thing that's been reassuring for me is how crosscutting 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 actions and demonstrating how constituents are feeling about this issue are responsible for so many members of Congress not only calling for a cease-fire in one form or another but actually being comfortable, for the first time, 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 in providing staff with an excuse to stay at a time when working in this institution is incredibly difficult.

Until the government responds to its constituents, we plan to be their voice in the halls of power.

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