News & Politics

There’s a Campaign to Send Thank You Notes to the Custodial Staff That Cleaned the Capitol After the Riots

A government-studies teacher-turned-constitutional-law Instagrammer says "it's the least we can do."

PHOTOGRAPH BY EVY MAGES

Sharon McMahon, a former government-studies teacher, spends her days on Instagram  (@sharonsaysso) breaking down political headlines and answering questions about American government for her 173,000 (and counting) followers. On Wednesday, she had planned to tune into C-SPAN and share updates about the electoral vote count, but instead watched the riots at the Capitol unfold and answered questions including what the riot would mean for the congressional proceedings. At one point, something she heard on CNN struck her: “The building has been cleared and is now being cleaned so Congress can return.”

“It just hit me,” says McMahon, who spent nine years teaching in Montgomery County but now lives in Duluth, Minnesota. “Someone has to clean this up. Someone has to come in and clean up the blood and the feces and the broken glass and the water bottles and the trash that rioters purposely left behind.”

Beyond the task itself, McMahon says, was the significance of its timing: “It needed to be done for a very specific reason—it needed to be cleaned so Congress could safely return. So the process laid out in our Constitution 250 years ago could unfold. I had tears in my eyes thinking about it: In order to have democracy, someone needed to clean up.”

Photographs of custodial staff cleaning up the wreckage began to pop up on social media and news outlets, and McMahon shared one on Instagram as she answered questions and relayed news about Congress returning to continue the count. “When I saw the pictures of the men and women who worked for democracy in a quiet way, I was moved,” she says. “I wanted them to know we were so grateful for what they did to restore order and to pave the way for the process to continue.” By Friday, the thought was still on her mind, so she posted: “Okay, hear me out: How can we find out who cleaned the Capitol. And how can we get their Venmos?”

Last month McMahon was approaching 50,000 followers and someone suggested she use the milestone to raise money for people who’d experienced loss and struggle in 2020. She’d hoped enough followers would donate as little as 50 cents to raise $1,000. Within two weeks she’d raised $125,000. “So a Venmo-money campaign isn’t new to my community,” she says. However, at least one follower pointed out that there are rules about monetary gifts to government employees, so she decided to switch gears and start a thank-you note campaign for the custodial office. “They need to know we are grateful for their selfless work. It’s the least we can do.”

Through her Instagram community, McMahon says she thinks she’s gotten the contact information she needs, and she’s planning to call Monday to confirm before she posts a plan to Instagram. “My hope is that they are flooded with notes of gratitude, and that they will take heart knowing America is behind them.”

Update: McMahon posted details for sending letters on Instagram (@sharonsaysso) on January 13 under a post labeled “Democracy is Undeterred.”

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Amy Moeller
Editor, Washingtonian Weddings

Amy leads Washingtonian Weddings and writes Style Setters for Washingtonian. Prior to joining Washingtonian in March 2016, she was the editor of Capitol File magazine in DC and before that, editor of What’s Up? Weddings in Annapolis.