A few words…

September 29, 2009

A few words: Frustrating. Educational. Overwhelming. Monotonous. Eye opening. Data entry. Hectic. Exhausting. Inspiring. MAIL. Receptions!

Last Monday I started my internship in the office of a Congresswoman.

Everyone in the office has been really nice. It is easy to feel self-conscious during the first few days of a new job, but for the most part the staff at my office has been friendly, patient, and open to questions. There are a lot of people on our staff and each one juggles a lot of responsibilities. There is the Chief of Staff, the Press Correspondent, the LAs, the LC, the LD (I’m really getting the hang of this Capital Hill lingo, huh?), the Scheduler, Staff Assistant, and of course there’s me…the intern.

I work in a desk crammed into an office with Legislative Aides (LAs) and it has been great getting to know them all. My fellow interns are also a lot of fun, and help a sometimes long workday pass by just a little bit faster.

The office is full of inspirational women. The staff assistant and scheduler literally keep our office alive and running smoothly. D and S are two young women who work as LAs for some really important issues including health care and foreign policy. The Chief of Staff is also an absolutely amazing woman; T is a woman of color and so inspiring. She is so friendly, personable, and level headed, and of course, super accomplished. I really admire her.

Now I am entering the second week and I’m already feeling like a pro. A good rule of thumb is to always think a few steps ahead. Since I usually live my life about 10-20 years in the future (needless to say it’s not always a great habit!) this concept suits me just fine.

Living in DC has also been wonderful. Watching the news, sometimes it feels so strange to know that a lot of the things I see are just a few yards away (literally) from where I work and live. It has been an especially interesting time because of the major health care reform that President Obama is advocating for. Everyday another hot button issue also pops up. During the first week I heard tons about Joe Wilson and ACORN too.

Speaking of phone calls…I had a little trouble with the phone at first. What can I say? I’m very good at blocking out things that annoy me. My Congresswoman’s name is also quite a mouthful so it took awhile to graciously get out my opening line (Good morning/afternoon Congresswoman ___’s office, how may I help you?”). I’m the first and sometimes the only voice that someone calling our office will hear, so I have to make sure to make a good impression off the bat.

Fielding calls and mail from constituents is one of my main jobs, and I see and hear a range of things. Each message has a unique emotion and style. Sometimes it’s a form letter or a pre-printed post card with a personalized PS, and sometimes it’s a short note written on scrap paper or a long note written on lined paper in beautiful hand script. All in all it’s a story of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Fortunately, a few of the first kind usually make up for a lot of the last two.

As someone who does a lot of activism and advocacy it has been an incredible opportunity to view it all from the other side. In college I often organized or participated in activism and advocacy events that included making phone calls, starting letter writing campaigns, etc. Being the person who picks up the phone rather than the one making the call, and shifting through the TONS of mail that the office receives every day has been really eye opening. It’s been an amazing experience to see our government at work on a day-to-day basis.

As an activist I’ve learned that the next time I’m working on a campaign, I need to find meaningful and direct ways to get my message across. I’ll have to pick my battles and my front lines. The world is not always a happy place and it can be overwhelming to try to address all the things about it that make me frustrated, angry, or unhappy. But picking a specific issue and having a focus and specific goals in mind, and being thoughtful, well informed, and deliberate, makes a big difference.

-Anna H, Star Fellow Fall 2009

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