Answering the Phones – John Priddy

OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute. Learn more about the internship at victoryinstitute.org/vci

As an intern in Senator Doug Jones’s Office, I was granted a variety of unique and substantive opportunities during my internship. These opportunities ranged from writing decisions memos, gathering data on healthcare and education policies, and attending briefs and hearings on the Hill. However, one of my main tasks was answering the phones on the front desk. Answering phones is seemingly the most mundane duty for interns on Capitol Hill. Most interns dread spending time on the front desk, relegated to answering phone calls from a variety of constituents. However, it was my time on the phones, answering calls for the people of Alabama, that taught me the most during my internship.

The phones in Senator Jones’s Office were a direct line to the entire state of Alabama. People who called were happy, upset, angry, and everything in between. It was answering the phones, where I heard firsthand the direct impact of the policies and actions of the United States Senators and Representatives. Often times in this day and age – with the seemingly endless distractions provided by the internet – it can be easy to drone out the news. It can seem never-ending, the constant alterations and policy discussions flooding the major news networks on a 24-hour cycle. Suddenly the news becomes overwhelming to keep up with. A deep sense of apathy and a longing to tune out all the chaos sets in. However, the ability to ignore the news also comes from a place of privilege. Certain policy changes and actions will never affect those with options. Cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security only hurt those who deeply depend on those programs. Legislation looking to ban gay couples from adopting doesn’t change the ability of a heterosexual couple to adopt a child in need. Policies separating families at the border don’t change the citizenship status of current United States citizens. But these policies, these actions, just because they may not affect a person, does not mean we should disengage and allow them to become law. This is a lesson I learned from the people of the great state of Alabama.

Every single day, people from Alabama would call Senator Jones’s Office and tell me their stories. It was the person who had been fired from their job for being gay and feared the nomination of a conservative Supreme Court Justice. It was the person who themselves was an immigrant and cried and begged for action to keep the families together. It was the older couple who explained their fear of being unable to survive without proper healthcare. As I sat and listened to these stories, I often found myself deeply moved. These people refused to sit back and allow their voices to go unheard. Instead, they called their Senators, they marched on Washington, and they voted. Sitting on the phones, I heard from constituents from Huntsville to Mobile, Florence to Dothan, and everywhere in between. Despite stereotypes about the people of Alabama, I heard their honest worries and concerns. I learned that even though I am from a small town in Colorado and I have the opportunity to go to a prestigious private University and I’ve only been to Alabama a few times in my life, there is more that we share in common than what makes us different. And I think that is the simple formula to creating effective change. Finding what unites us, rather than what divides us. This is certainly a unique time in American politics, but I have hope that we will move mountains. It was Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” My time in Senator Doug Jones’s Office has taught me that change can originate from all places, places as diverse as a group of 12 Victory Congressional Interns or the people of the State of Alabama.