Starting Us Young In Politics

April 26, 2010

I started watching Tom Brokaw on NBC Nightly News when I was about two years old. Sure, maybe I wasn’t making a conscious decision as a toddler to tune in to the news every weekday evening after my dinner, but I’m nearly positive this was when my interest in politics must have started. I watched Operation Desert Storm unfold. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union I learned the word “coup”. By the time George H.W. Bush raised taxes as part of a 1990 budget agreement, I knew the names of many members of his cabinet. A two year old who knows the name of the president is cute. A two year old who knows that Jack Kemp is the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development is scary. Somewhere, there is video evidence of this. One might think that this child would turn into some sort of political prodigy running for office at 21. Instead, I am the intern who fumbles with the Xerox machine.

I haven’t had much experience in an office environment. Actually, I have had zero experience in an office environment unless you count sitting around in my dad’s insurance agency drinking coffee and eating Nutrigrain bars. My experience with a copy machine has involved making copies of my hand and my face. I am also terrible with names. When someone tells me their name I immediately forget it. This is not helpful when taking telephone messages for a Member of Congress. However, I’d like to think I have improved, although pushing the hold button on the phone properly has been somewhat difficult for me today. Maybe I am not marketing myself very well here, but my point is that working on Capitol Hill takes more than just an interest in politics. Some street smarts are also necessary.

Have you ever been asked if you are book smart or street smart? When asked this question, it’s implied that you can usually be one or the other. I know that I lack street smarts, and this is probably because I grew up in a town of very few streets. About one block of downtown does not equal booming metropolis. With this, I think I decided early on that obsessing over school and anything that made one “book smart” would be the best route for me. Then I came to Capitol Hill as part of this great opportunity–as a Star Fellow for Running Start–and I realized that I would need to develop a delicate balance in both street and book smarts.

One may wonder how exactly street smarts have anything to do with working for a Member of Congress. You may think street smarts are necessary when trying to navigate a big city. How about when trying to navigate the various underground tunnels when making your way to another office building, or to the Capitol Rotunda? You have to learn the lingo of Capitol Hill as well. Before this experience, I couldn’t tell you who or what an LD, LC, or LA was. Now I’d be happy to have the Legislative Director, Correspondents, or Assistants speak with you, give you additional contact information, or take a message for them. You also have to choose your words wisely. Writing a 30 page paper defending or explaining your point of view is a lot different than writing a one minute statement for the House Floor. You have to be on your toes in Member’s office, and ready to combine knowledge with practical solutions. This could be as complex as coming up with a statement on health care reform, or as simple as figuring out the most efficient way to create mailing labels.

Now that I think about it a little more, maybe I am actually made for an office. I have been known to sit on an office chair after hours. Just ask my housemates, they have seen me eat dinner, watch television, etc. in an office desk chair. Also, I do really love my cubical. It’s my refuge of post-it notes, cups of tea, coffee, and any other form of caffeine. The goal of Running Start is to train young woman to run for office. I could think about my personal political platform and possibly where I would want to run (watch out Pennsylvania), but I have some ideas for my office environment as well. Mandatory tea breaks? Yes. Bagels and schmears at least once a week? Definitely. A perfectly crafted Pandora station? Please. I also hope the other Running Start Star Fellows are making plans for public office and their actual office space as well. I look forward to working with you, and in the words of Tom Brokaw, “See you along the way”.

– Sarah F., Star Fellow Spring 2010

One response to “Starting Us Young In Politics”

  1. Melissa says:

    What great insight! I love the combination of practical real-life scenarios and the humanness of navigating the big city for a small town girl.

    Let me know when you do run for office, I would move so I could vote for you :-).

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